Meet Bernie DeCastro: His Sheriff's Race Could Result in Biggest Third-Party Win in Florida History

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: October 26, 2012 3:55 AM
Bernie DeCastro, Marion County Sheriff's Badge

Bernie DeCastro

Bernie DeCastro is an ex-convict running for sheriff of Marion County on an obscure third-party ticket; and he might win.

That's because the redeemed jailbird-turned-social worker, whom Jeb Bush once referred to as "one of my heroes," is the only man in the race whose name appears on the ballot.

The race wasn’t supposed to end up this way. Republicans command a solid plurality of Marion County’s registered voters, the Democratic Party did not bother to field a candidate, and the GOP nominee was expected to cruise to an easy November victory, facing none but token opposition from a write-in candidate or two.

The current sheriff of 14 years, Ed Dean, announced in February that he would not seek a fifth term of office. Dean, a Democrat, endorsed his second-in-command, Republican under-sheriff Dan Kuhn, to succeed him, and Kuhn won his party’s primary against Chris Blair, who before his retirement in 2010 served in law enforcement for some 35 years, most recently as major/bureau chief of detectives.

Enter Bernie DeCastro, a sexagenarian with one of the most colorful pasts of any candidate running for office in the Sunshine State. He spent 18 years in state prison, after a string of offenses that included drug possession, drug dealing, burglary, and a string of armed robberies. It was the last of these that earned him a life sentence, though he was paroled in 1984, three years after he experienced a profound conversion to Christianity and resolved to turn his life around.

And by all accounts, DeCastro’s made good on that resolution. Since his release, his life has been devoted entirely to ministering to and rehabilitating prisoners and ex-convicts, and he’s received numerous public accolades for his service.

Ten years after his release, an impressed Gov. Lawton Chiles and his Cabinet gave DeCastro a full and unconditional pardon for his crimes, restoring all of his civil rights; that same year he was ordained a minister. Popular former Gov. Jeb Bush once publicly declared that DeCastro was “one of my heroes.”

In 2001, U.S. Congressman Cliff Stearns nominated DeCastro to represent Florida’s 6th District at the National Faith Based Summit in Washington, D.C., and in subsequent years he was nominated by Bush to serve on three different statewide task forces devoted to rehabilitating drug users and other criminals. He currently operates a 132-bed private work release facility known as the Re-Entry Center of Ocala, which he runs through a 10-year contract awarded him by the Florida Department of Corrections.

And that list of accomplishments is far from exhaustive.

What’s he doing running for sheriff?

His original intention was to support longtime – and now, onetime – friend Chris Blair in his Republican primary run against Dan Kuhn. That was until DeCastro realized that Blair was not the constitutional conservative he thought he was.

“In March I sat down with Chris to ask him if he would enforce [state or federal] directives that contradicted the United States Constitution,” DeCastro tells Sunshine State News. “Do you know what his answer was? ‘It depends.’ That was the wrong answer.”

(Sunshine State News reached out to Blair’s campaign to obtain verification of DeCastro’s account. No comment was forthcoming before this piece went to press, but in at least one public forum where DeCastro brought the incident up, Blair did not deny having said it.)

DeCastro shortly thereafter announced his candidacy for the office under the ticket of the Constitution Party, one of the more visible of the nation’s “third parties,” whose platform is a hybrid of classical libertarianism and cultural traditionalism.

“I’m a staunch believer in the Constitution of the United States,” De Castro tells the News. “The Constitution in many ways comes from the Word of God [i.e., the Bible]; certainly, our morals and our values all came from the Word of God and many of the Founding Fathers referred to that fact. The Declaration of Independence talks about our God-given, inalienable rights. It just made sense to me to run on the Constitution Party ticket.”

Asked why he did not run on his constitutionalist platform within the Republican Party, DeCastro refers to his disenchantment with what he refers to as the “duopoly” held by the Republican and Democratic establishments.

“The Republican Party is in some ways worse than the Democratic Party,” he insists. “At least the Democrats tell you they believe in entitlements, the welfare system, and in not securing the borders; the Republican Party says it believes in limited government, limited taxes, and in securing the borders; and what happens? Republicans get in, government gets bigger, you get more taxes, and nothing is done on the border. It’s all just empty rhetoric.”

DeCastro admits the Constitution Party does not have the infrastructure in Florida which it enjoys in a few other states; he knew he’d have to raise all his funds single-handedly. And he’s not new to these sorts of campaigns: in the past three election cycles he ran – respectively and unmemorably – for governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator. No one expected his latest run to turn out differently

But a funny thing happened on the way to the voting booth: Just a couple of months after winning his party’s nomination, Under-sheriff Kuhn’s mistress – who happened to be his wife’s boss at Hale Academy, a private school in Ocala – publicly revealed details of their two-year-long affair. It was later revealed that at least some of their sexual romps took place while Kuhn was working on the taxpayer clock, and had even taken place in law enforcement facilities.

Kuhn dropped his candidacy in disgrace, and in accordance with state and local laws, the Republican Party appointed his opponent Blair to take his place. But there’s a catch: under these same laws, Kuhn’s name remains on the ballot. Voters who wish to vote for Blair cannot manually write his name in the ballot; they must register their vote for the sex hound.

DeCastro hopes to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with the political establishment, and is trying to appeal to conservative “tea partiers,” independents, and even Democrats.

Sunshine State News spoke to Joyce Blake, state committeewoman of the Marion County Democratic Party. Asked why her party declined to nominate a candidate for this race, she said it was because the Democratic incumbent, Ed Dean, had endorsed the now-disgraced dropout Kuhn, and that’s who Democratic votes were expected to gravitate toward. She says she does not think either Blair or DeCastro will appeal to the county’s Democrats; she believes many of them will simply sit this race out.

DeCastro counters that he supports many policies that are popular with Democrats and other center-left voters: He says he will use his platform as sheriff to advocate for the restoration of voting rights to all convicts who have served their sentences, and will not enforce any provision of the Patriot Act or the National Defense Authorization Act, both of which he says violate the United States Constitution.

In addition, he says his administration will not focus on going after nonviolent drug offenders, a disproportionate number of whom are racial minorities. He says he also thinks minority voters, traditionally very suspicious of the police, are warming up to him because he is himself part black and part Hispanic.

He says voters would make a serious mistake if they underestimated just how important a position sheriff is.

“On the local level, the sheriff is the most powerful elected official,” he explains.” Look at Senator Marco Rubio. Your sheriff has more power than he does. Let’s say the Department of Environmental Protection or any other federal agency comes in here and begins to violate the constitutional rights of the citizens of Marion County. Rubio couldn’t do anything about it.

"It is the sheriff who takes a constitutional oath and is charged with not just protecting against the thieves, the rapists, the robbers, and the murderers; he’s also charged with protecting the citizens from the government, which is what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written for: to protect us from the government."

As sheriff, his first priority will be to clean up what he says is an office infested with corruption, at least among the higher-ups. He does not believe Kuhn acted alone in betraying the public trust when he adulterated on the public dime.

“Here you have an agency of 750 people; everyone knows what’s going on in that office,” he says. “People talk. You mean to tell me this guy was bringing this woman inside the sheriff’s office, gave her a security code enabling her to get in at night, having sex with her inside the office; and then using the sheriff’s cell phones, their vehicles, even going so far as from Ocala to Jacksonville to have sex with this woman – and you expect me to believe that no one knew about this?”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently investigating the matter and at least three deputies have been suspended, with pay, pending the outcome.

DeCastro’s other priorities include ending DUI roadblocks, and educating citizens on how to properly arm and defend themselves from aggressors. He said the average 911-call is answered in about 11 minutes, which is too much time for a perpetrator to do his harm. The first people with the responsibility to defend citizens, he says, are citizens themselves. He believes the expenses of such initiatives can be offset by his own personal financial contributions as well as those of local businesses.

If elected, he also vows to donate half of his $142,000 sheriff’s salary to charities which assist wounded police officers.

Finally, he wants to implement what a few sheriffs around the country already have experimented with successfully: a volunteer posse of concerned citizens, trained in how to safely operate firearms, who can be called on to assist professional law enforcement should the need arise.

“Our country’s financial status has already been downgraded once, and will probably be downgraded again,” he says. “We’re turning into a European-style [social democracy], and there’s a good chance our markets could crash, and if it does crash, there could be pandemonium. Right now there’s just 250 deputies on the force. I’d like to have 1,000, maybe 1,500, sworn-in volunteers, all of whom have concealed carry weapons, have been through safety training, and are on alert and ready to be called upon at a moment’s notice if we need them.”

DeCastro doesn’t regret running against the party he once called his political home.

“I may have a checkered past, but I’m not the same man today I was back in 1981, and I have never violated the public trust,” he says. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with political establishmentarians of both parties who, he says, “go [into office] with [their] ideals, and the first thing the party does is get [them] behind closed doors, give [them] a dose of reality, and tell [them] to take [their] ideals and put them on the shelf. They tell [them], ‘This is the way we play the game up here, and if you want to be re-elected you go along to get along.’

"I’m not a ‘go along, get along’ kind of guy. That’s all there is to it.”

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at 954-235-9116.

Comments (14)

james barnes
11:34AM OCT 30TH 2012
its time someone wants to help our children out . atleast he knowes wher it begins like he said its not the smalltime people go for the corropt let them set in jaill . linda you must knot know how people do reform themselves. giving back to the comunity is a way to prove your as good if not a better huminbeaing. and most likley he will get rid of some of the corropt deputies that are out ther.
12:01PM OCT 29TH 2012
Nobody in their right mind would vote for a ex-con as sheriff .Just when I thought it could not get any worse.
george h
7:25PM OCT 29TH 2012
a True person, knows inside of the Prisons, and inside the pulpit, can now legally cary a Gun, we Know what we are getting, God is Good, hope he put some of these Thieving Politicians in the Jails where they belong, now No deals.
11:02AM OCT 28TH 2012
Did anybody take the time to check and see if this guy is an "illegal"...they sure as hell didn't when bomba bum got in office.
Hugh Haggerty
1:57PM OCT 27TH 2012
DeCastro will fit in very well with the local politicians. Image Marion County with an EXCON as the Sheriff. Wonder what the Deputies will do if he is elected.
12:14PM OCT 27TH 2012
I wonder if Floridians are aware that Marion County is Florida's dirty little Payton Place? Yes, Marion County is without a doubt THE most corrupt local government of all the 67 counties in FL. And that is saying something, as Florida was named THE most corrupt government (at all levels, I would say) of the 50 states! Dan Kuhn was the current sheriff's apprentice, which considering all the corruption evident for the last 15 years and more, is NOT a good thing! This place needs a clean sweep of all current elected officials, ASAP! Most of the Sheriff's Dept. knew about the steamy affair Kuhn was involved in and said nothing. Nice! And scandal is nothing new here--the sheriff who preceded Ed Dean was prosecuted for crimes and was dismissed by the governor at the time, who appointed Ed Dean to replace him. As I said, a history of Payton Place scandals. The good ole boy system of North Florida is alive and thriving in this county, and I think DeCastro would be a breath of badly-needed fresh air! Then, and only then, will justice be available to the citizens of Marion County!
4:17PM OCT 26TH 2012
First off, this guy is a criminal either way. He was charged with several crimes and convicted of those crimes. Yes he did find god, "so he says". He also says he changed his life and turned it around. Good for him. All I have to say about that is he is still a criminal no matter if he was pardoned or not. The greatest sin here is he was pardoned for his crimes of past. I think its a travisty that this man can run for the highest lawman position in Marion County based on his repulsive history. People, he has you fooled. He is a sheep in wolves clothing and if anyone knows about that it would be an ex con such as he. DeCastro should not be allowed to run for sheriff no matter how many butt's he has kissed just to get where he is today. If you think the Sheriffs office is bad now just wait. My experience in Law Enforcement, "yes I have the experience", would tell me that this guy is bad news for everyone in Marion County.
Thomas F Reynolds
5:19PM OCT 26TH 2012
Olie , Olie Olie , you going to get fired . You been bad cop . Sheriff DeCastro is going to do a great job . The best part of Sheriff DeCastro is he will arrest anyone who breaks the law , even cops and deputies . Not to worry Olie , Mayberry needs a crossing guard , Sheriff DeCastro will give you bus fare out of town out of his own pocket . Good Luck Olie , you going to need it . Might even want to quit now .
12:39PM OCT 26TH 2012
This man has the right idea. I wish more candidates were on the same page.
10:31AM OCT 26TH 2012
This is just silly. "and will not enforce any provision of the Patriot Act or the National Defense Authorization Act, both of which he says violate the United States Constitution..."

No Sheriff can cherrypick which laws he wants to enforce based on his opinion that the law is unconstitutional. This is a trainwreck for Marion County waiting to happen.

And yes, Sidney Catts win on the third party ticket as an anti-Catholic, anti-German, and anti-black bigot and racist was far more meaningful to Florida. He believed the Pope was going to take over Florida and shut down the Protestant churches. And he was elected!
Thomas F Reynolds
5:10PM OCT 26TH 2012
Larry , Larry , Larry ...... This is the best thing that not only could happen to MC it is the best thing that could happen in Florida . People who have made big mistakes can now see BIG THINGS HAPPEN TO PEOPLE WHO MAKE CHANGES . They do violate the founding fathers law of the land . Besides Larry , Sheriffs do not in general have anything to do with that kind of thing . So ... Larry go back and watch some more TV , we got it all under control ! Hey Thanks for your useless input !
Thomas F Reynolds
10:19AM OCT 26TH 2012
Nice try Buddy , you stole my ideas , but that is OK . Now run with them . You have my backing 1000 % . Becareful , the old school law enforcement will take you out in a heart beat ! If you need me to watch your back , I got it . I am a fat guy , you might need to get me xxx vest . One last thing , I want you to run the biggest spots minded PAL kind of thing . Keep the young ones very busy . Oh , can you upgrade ethics violations to third degree felonies instead of this civil never pay the fines kind of thing ?
Thomas F Reynolds
10:16AM OCT 26TH 2012
Nice try Buddy , you stole my ideas , but that is OK . Now run with them . You have my backing 1000 % . Becareful , the old school law enforcement will take you out in a heart beat ! If you need me to watch your back , I got it . I am a fat guy , you might need to get me xxx vest . One last thing , I want you to run the biggest spots minded PAL kind of thing . Keep the young ones very busy . Oh , can you upgrade ethics violations to third degree felonies instead of this civil never pay the fines kind of thing ?
Prohibition Forever!
8:32AM OCT 26TH 2012
"Biggest Third-Party Win in Florida History"

I say thee nay! Insult not the ghost of Sidney Catts who was elected governor as the Prohibition Party candidate!

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