The mayor of Port Saint Lucie, Florida, Patricia Christensen, was arrested this week on charges that stem from alleged misappropriation of campaign contributions and falsification of campaign treasurer reports. Following her arrest, Mrs. Christensen was released on a $3,000 bond. She has also resigned her position as mayor of Port Saint Lucie.
According to news reports, Christensen paid herself approximately $3,800 from her campaign contributions. These funds were allegedly deposited in her personal account from her campaign account. This revelation came to light following an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which began in October 2009.
Clearly, Christensen is in a position where she would benefit greatly by hiring a skilled criminal defense lawyer.
Christensen’s first mistake was allowing her husband to act as her campaign treasurer. She should have retained the services of a professional who knows what he or she is doing. For some reason, many candidates think running for office is a family affair. Just because your spouse is trustworthy and is motivated to see you succeed, does not mean he or she is qualified to be an executive officer in your campaign.
The job of a treasurer is one of the most important functions in any campaign. To avoid the many pitfalls inherent to campaign finance, the treasurer’s job is tedious and requires a level of professionalism that is above and beyond par.
Loving the candidate isn’t enough.
Christensen’s case is a classic example, of the many, where spouses royally mess up campaigns. Aside from the obvious allegations of misappropriation to personal use, it is clear that her campaign had some very discrepant accounting.
For instance, some contributions were recorded as being much higher than they actually were and in some instances much lower. In total, FDLE investigators suspect more than $10,000 in contributions were unaccounted for.
Insofar as a defense is concerned, it must be reiterated that the burden of proof rests solely with the prosecution. It is their job, and their job alone, to prove guilt.
In cases like these, defendants will typically deny criminal intentions and place blame on poor accounting practices. In fact, I am sure poor accounting is part of the problem here.
However, in this particular case, FDLE claims that Christensen admitted to falsifying her campaign treasurer reports. In so doing, Christensen provided prosecutors with the one thing they could never prove… intent.
It is not uncommon for candidates to reimburse themselves for campaign expenses from campaign contributions. For example, if a candidate paid for posters out of his or her own pocket, it would not be unlawful for that candidate to obtain a refund from the campaign’s funds.
The criminal act of misappropriation occurs when a candidate uses campaign contributions for purposes other than furtherance of the specific campaign from which the contribution emanated.
In Christensen’s case, law enforcement claims that she used the funds paid to her by the campaign for personal expenses, as opposed to campaign related expenses.
Given her admission, this case does not sound like it has a chance of success at trial for the defense.