Cape council member suspended in wake of arrest
Executive suspension order; full arrest document, including witness summaries, attached
The city of Cape Coral was notified late Thursday that Cape Coral City Councilmember Patty Cummings has been suspended by the governor in the wake of her arrest on allegations she falsified her address to run for office.
The executive order of suspension by Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibits Cummings “from performing any official act, duty, or function of public office; from receiving any pay or allowance; and from being entitled to any emoluments or privileges of public office during the period of this suspension which shall be from today until a further Executive Order is issued or as otherwise provided by law.”
A special City Council meeting has been called for 3 p.m. Friday.
Cummings, who was arrested Tuesday, faces three felony charges related to her residency.
She has been charged with fraudulent application for driver license and two counts of false swearing in connection with or arising out of voting or elections.
Cummings has steadfastly denied the allegations, which she maintains are politically motivated.
“I am and will be pleading not guilty and I am innocent until proven otherwise,” she said via email Thursday morning in response to a Breeze request for comment. “I have no intent to address pending legal matters.”
She said in the same email that she did not plan to step down.
“I’ve always voted in good faith and I have no intent of stepping down from my position of city council woman,” she said.
The lead investigator’s conclusions detail the reasons the State Attorney’s Office believed there was probable cause to arrest Cummings on the felonies with which she is charged.
SAO investigator Martin J. Kenney’s conclusion into a complaint that alleged Cummings did not live in District 4 when she sought the seat, as cited in a 26-page booking document, states:
“Investigator Kenney believes that probable cause exists showing Cummings violated FSS 322.212(5)(a) when she knowingly concealed a material fact, or otherwise committed a fraud when she entered the Lee County Tax Collectors office knowingly to obtain a Florida Driver License and submitted as proof of residence a fraudulent voter registration card, and a falsely certified FLHSMV Form 71120 (Certificate of Address) containing the false legal primary permanent residence address to a property that was not her fixed abode. Investigator Kenney believes probable cause exists showing Patty Lee Cummings intentionally and willfully violated Florida State Statute (FSS) 104.011(1), when on June 14, 2022, Cummings swore or affirmed in person, and presented as proof of identity a Florida Driver License, before Cape Coral City Clerk Kimberly Bruns, a DS DE 302NP (Candidate Oath of Nonpartisan Office), both containing a false legal primary permanent residence address to a property that was not her fixed abode. Lastly, Investigator Kenney believes that probable cause exists showing that Cummings intentionally and willfully violated FSS 104.011(1), when by means other fabricated narrative of maintaining a fraudulent legal primary permanent residence address to a property that was not her fixed abode, fraudulently qualified and was elected City of Cape Coral District 4 Councilmember; and that on November 18, 2022, Cummings did knowingly and willfully swear to her oath of office.”
Based on the conclusions, the State Attorney’s Office, 20th Judicial Circuit, obtained a warrant on Monday and charged Cummings with the three felony counts.
Cummings turned herself in Tuesday afternoon and later bonded out of the Lee County Jail on a $7,500 bond.
Kenney found there was probable cause to believe that the law was violated on May 9, 2022, through Nov. 18, 2022.
The summarized findings include:
1. On or about May 9, 2022, in Lee County, Florida, Patty Lee Cummings did unlawfully and knowingly make false statement, knowingly conceal material fact, or otherwise commit fraud in an application for driver license or identification card, contrary Florida State Statute 322.212(5)(a).
2. On or about June 14, 2022, in Lee County, Florida, Patty Lee Cummings did unlawfully and willfully swear or affirm falsely to an oath or affirmation in connection with or arising out of voting or elections, contrary to Florida State Statute 104.011(1).
3. On or about November 18, 2022, in Lee County, Florida, Patty Lee Cummings did unlawfully and willfully swear or affirm falsely to an oath or affirmation in connection with or arising out of voting or elections, contrary to Florida State Statute 104.011(1).
Her attorney, Paul M. Sisco, said Tuesday that Cummings has been targeted by political adversaries and some Council members who wanted her out after she won the District 4 seat last year. Going to the State Attorney’s Office was a “contingency plan” for those who want to unseat her, he added.
“I believe the State Attorney’s Office is a victim of the larger effort to have her removed from City Council,” Sisco said. “The State Attorney’s Office was shown a micro-level sketch of a few facts, and it was removed from the greater context of the fact that Councilmember Cummings upset the ‘machine’ and some of the powers-that-be would like her off of there. And they can’t beat her in an election, so they want to prosecute her.”
The months-long investigation by the State Attorney’s Office included interviews with various public officials, including Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle, Cape Coral City Council members Dan Sheppard and Robert Welsh, as well as the homeowners of the District 4 address at which Cummings said she lived.
Also questioned were neighbors at residences at two other addresses.
The initial complaint letter sent to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and copied to Gov. Ron DeSantis alleged that Cummings never lived at the Palm Tree Boulevard she listed as her address to qualify to run for the District 4 seat.
The person who lodged the signed complaint, Julia Ettari-Bartlett, initially requested whistle-blower protection.
The homeowners, Jill Hiatt, and her husband Robert Hiatt, have owned the Palm Tree Boulevard home listed as Cummings’ address since 2011 and were interviewed as part of the investigation, the court document states.
The document states that Mrs. Hiatt, told investigators there was a handwritten document between her and Cummings “stipulating terms and conditions to let her use my house while we were gone, because we are gone lot, especially over the summer.”
“She stated that she wasn’t leaving her home for good; that she allowed Cummings access to her home from approximately April 2022 until they returned home in late August or early September 2022; and that her intention was, ‘I offered this as a temporary stop gap until she found a place, and then we had a hurricane.’ She continued that, ‘No, I would not say that was my understanding, she was going to reside there. The terms and conditions of our written agreement that I wrote was come and go as you please, so she could stay the whole time, she could stay there one night. I didn’t care it was up to her, whatever she needed.
“She stated that she offered Cummings their extra bedroom and bathroom; that she assumed Cummings stayed there; that she can neither confirm or deny Cummings did or didn’t stay there; and that she did not require Cummings to notify her when she came or went. She stated that only she and her husband reside in their home; and that Cummings access was only temporary while they were gone on vacation; that it is not up to her to define residence; and that she doesn’t know, nor does she care.”
She said she had not informed her husband of the arrangement and he told investigators he had been unaware of any arrangement.
Robert Hiatt told investigators that they “have never rented their home to anyone.” The document further states that he said he “was not associated with Cummings’ election campaign; that he had (a) lawn sign for her election in his front yard; that Cummings’ election campaign was not run from his home; and that he believes Cummings may have received mail at his home.”
Other addresses that were part of the investigation included 2842 SW 50th Terrace and 2425 Embers Parkway W.
According to documents and audio recordings with Cummings and LCEC, service started on Oct. 17, 2022, and stopped on March 21, 2023, at 2425 Embers Parkway West. The report further states that services at 2842 SW 50th Terrace began on Nov. 5, 2021, and stopped on Oct. 17, 2022.
The owner of 2842 SW 50th Terrace rents his property through Milhoff-Aubuchon Realty Group. The lease for the property was for the move in date of Nov. 5, 2021, and move out date of Oct. 10, 2022. The investigation stated that the “form disclosed Cummings forwarding address as 2425 Embers Parkway West.”
Cummings, according to the report, had a term of the lease for 2425 Embers Parkway West from Oct. 9, 2022, to Feb. 8, 2023.