JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – You may have seen a new political ad in the special election for Jacksonville sheriff. It’s from the campaign of T.K. Waters, and it claims his opponent, Lakesha Burton, can’t be trusted, pointing to arrests in her past.
The 30-second ad makes three separate allegations: that Burton may have violated campaign finance laws, that she pleaded guilty to theft and battery, and that she almost lost her house after not paying property taxes.
When News4JAX asked Burton what’s true and what’s not, she agreed to meet us for an on-camera interview.
One claim in the ad is “Lakesha Burton doesn’t respect the law, she was caught potentially violating campaign laws, taking potentially illegal contributions.”
“Absolutely it is not true,” Burton told us in response to that claim.
We reached out to the Florida Elections Commission, which would investigate a complaint like this. It can’t give information about a case — or even confirm a complaint was filed — until after the investigation is complete, and the commission told us that there was nothing they could disclose about any complaints against Burton. The commission’s investigations can take months, and if a candidate is found to have broken campaign rules, the penalty is generally a fine.
The second allegation in the ad is “Burton was arrested and charged with theft and battery and pled guilty.”
“This was clearly distorted,” Burton told us.
Burton, who’s 47 years old, admits she was arrested in Columbia County in 1994 when she was a single mother in college. She said her encounter with police after her arrest motivated her to climb the ranks in law enforcement.
“It was the theft of a TV, and what I did was I sold it and I was able to pay my light bill,” she said. ″I was in survival mode, and as I reflect, people often ask me, what would I change in my life? And I wouldn’t change anything. My entire career, I’ve been openly telling my story and telling people not to give up and also show others that it’s important to give other people opportunities.”
We checked court records. The theft case was resolved through pretrial diversion. In the battery case, she pleaded guilty and adjudication was withheld.
As far as the third allegation in the ad, Burton told News4JAX that she did not almost lose her home for not paying property taxes, saying it was an error by her mortgage company after her mortgage was sold.
Burton’s property tax records are confidential because of her law enforcement status, but tax officials tell us that a tax certificate as described in the commercial doesn’t mean you are necessarily in danger of losing your home.
Burton, a Democrat, had this message for her opponent: ″I would hope T.K. would hear this today, I would take a bullet for him, he’s my colleague, we are just competing for this, I’m not going to go dirty and negative, I’m running on truth.”
Waters, a Republican, did not agree to do a sit-down interview Thursday about his commercial, but his campaign did issue this statement about the political advertisement: “The ad is thoroughly sourced and is an accurate representation of Lakesha Burton’s reckless disregard for the law throughout her career.”
The election for sheriff is on Nov. 8. It’s a special election to fill the remainder of former Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams’ term after he retired amid controversy about his move from Duval County to Nassau County.
Elections will be held in the spring for the full four-year term, which begins July 1.