STUART — Ever so quietly, Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard was indicted by a grand jury this afternoon and surrendered to the county jail to be booked on two misdemeanor charges in connection with a public records scandal that already saw another sitting commissioner, Ed Fielding, arrested in November.
It’s the first time in the county’s 93-year history that two sitting commissioners, who as of today appear to have no intention of resigning, are indicted by a grand jury and arrested.
Heard was charged with two misdemeanor violations of public records laws. She faces up to a year in prison per count.
In other developments, former Commissioner Anne Scott, who was arrested with Fielding in November, surrendered again at the jail today and was re-arrested on two extra counts of failing to produce public records.
“I can confirm that both Ms. Heard and Scott surrendered to the jail on warrants,” said Martin County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Christine Christofek Weiss. “They were booked and both were released on their own recognizance.”
The stunning turn of events stems from Thursday’s meeting of a grand jury originally convened in the fall to examine allegations that Heard, Fielding and Scott, a former judge from Chicago, conspired to hide public records.
A source close to the case tells us tonight Heard had made a deal with prosecutors back in November: She would resign if they filed non-criminal charges.
Prosecutors followed through and charged Heard with two non-criminal violations of mishandling public records. She faced a $500-fine and no jail time.
Heard, however, decided she wouldn’t resign, and prosecutors decided to have her arrested and charged with offenses that could see her serve time behind bars.
Scott, Fielding and Heard, who is in her fourth term on the county commission, are accused of failing to surrender emails from private servers to developers investigating why the commission suddenly started voting against them.
The emails were requested by Lake Point, a mining company on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. It was out to prove that commissioners were illegally communicating and discussing public business in private, and conspiring with members of the public against the company’s interests.
It took several years for the trio to produce their emails. When she was asked to show emails from her private Yahoo account, Heard claimed it had been hacked. In a civil lawsuit, several witnesses testified Heard was lying.
Florida law mandates public officials to surrender any form of communication dealing with their elected office within days of requests.
So far, the county has lost one civil lawsuit over Lake Point’s records request and was ordered to pay Lake Point $500,000 to cover legal bills.
And the commission voted last year to settle a second lawsuit brought by Lake Point, for breach of contract. Depending on how to calculate the loss to taxpayers, the county may end up having to pay more than $25 million to Lake Point. The commission, including Heard and Fielding, even voted to borrow money to pay for the settlement.