Record cleared, consultant's back
A campaign consultant once banned from working in politics returns with a clean slate.
By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published September 9, 2007
Once a rising star in Tampa Bay area politics, Peter Schorsch appeared to be finished as a campaign consultant this spring.
In March, Schorsch pleaded no contest to two counts of grand theft and one count of scheming to defraud two candidates and the Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club.
Sentenced to house arrest, probation, community service and restitution, Schorsch was banned from working in politics while on probation. Soon he was accused of violating that, too.
But in a deal that wiped out his sentence, Schorsch last month was released from the conditions of his probation.
And he's back in business.
Schorsch, 31, of St. Petersburg, has a new company called Rogue Political Consulting, and he hopes candidates throughout Pinellas will hire him to run their campaigns, starting with St. Petersburg's municipal elections this fall.
"I still face issues with my reputation," Schorsch said. "I'm going to have to prove to people what I have learned the past two years about being accountable for my actions."
Before he got in trouble, Schorsch, then 29, was off to a career filled with promise.
At the Mallard Group in Clearwater, he worked on campaigns of high-profile Republicans, including state Rep. Frank Farkas, state Rep. Leslie Waters and state Sen. Dennis Jones. He shared in awards for political radio advertising and ran a popular political blog.
But after Schorsch parted ways with the Mallard Group and started his own firm, PS Creative, he began to run into trouble.
St. Petersburg City Council member Leslie Curran said she fired Schorsch after a check he used to pay for campaign signs bounced. Council member Earnest Williams said he fired Schorsch after he failed to deliver mail pieces and didn't send out absentee ballots.
In 2006, Schorsch was charged with writing 16 worthless checks totalling more than $1,200 for cash at Publix. He pleaded guilty and was fined.
Schorsch told the Times that he wrote the checks to cover debts he incurred gambling on basketball games.
Then, in 2006, Schorsch was arrested on charges he stole nearly $10,000 from the Democratic club, and from Ed Helm and Eve Joy, who ran for mayor and a seat on the St. Petersburg City Council, respectively, in 2005.
Schorsch took their money and did no work.
After pleading no contest, he was sentenced to two years of house arrest and three years of probation, during which he was prohibited from working in campaigns.
He also was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay restitution.
But Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone agreed to withhold a formal finding of guilt for Schorsch, who had no other felonies, which meant he would no have a record as convicted felon.
In August, Schorsch appeared at Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court again: Authorities said he violated probation by not making restitution payments.
Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said Schorsch was "jerking" people around. Circuit Court Judge Frank Quesada said Schorsch came in "yammering" about how he could not pay.
Prosecutors said they would forgive the house arrest portion of the sentence if Schorsch paid full restitution immediately instead of making payments over several years.
Even if Schorsch paid up, though, Assistant State Attorney Lalitha Alladi and Joy asked that Schorsch be kept on probation.
But Quesada offered to take Schorsch off of probation if he paid the restitution in full right away.
It was a way to encourage Schorsch to borrow money and pay the victims now rather than later, Quesada said.
If Schorsch could prove he personally did not have the means to pay restitution, Quesada said, the judge could do no more than keep him on probation.
Without the offer, "he has no incentive to go beyond his own resources and get the money," said Quesada. "I can't tell him, 'You must borrow the money and pay it off.'"
Schorsch paid a lump sum three weeks ago. He said he sold personal possessions and borrowed money.
Just five months into his sentence, without doing any community service, he was free to work in campaigns again.
"In my opinion, he's a felon," said Joy. "He should have been adjudicated as such, but I think everybody has to move on."
Aside from its background in politics, Bartlett said the case was handled as other similar theft cases might have been.
"He's not a convicted felon," said Bartlett. But "I don't think he can avoid the fact that he has this on his record."
And that's not all of his trouble. Schorsch also still has not paid a $66,500 fine levied in 2006 by the Florida Elections Commission for unrelated election violations.
Still, while on house arrest, Schorsch said he realized he likes helping voters participate in the democratic process. He said he can help candidates use tools like social networking Web sites such as MySpace and YouTube to disseminate their message. He wants to start picking up clients for the 2008 political cycle.
There will be a "long-shot candidate that wins because someone took a chance on me," he said.
No one running for office should be "that stupid," Quesada said.
"That is my opinion," the judge said. "He has a history of dishonesty."
Jose Cardenas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 445-4224.