A series of recorded phone conversations involving a deputy describing how he went after political enemies of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is now the subject of a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigation.
The deputy is Kenneth “Mark” Lewis, who said his responsibilities included investigating special cases on behalf of the department’s top brass. He has also been responsible for uncovering the sources of leaks to the media.
“Whenever we have a bad contractor or person who attacks one of our judges or the sheriff or the state attorney, that’s one of the things I do,” he says on one of the telephone conversations, recorded last week and posted on a Russian website Monday. “I start picking their life apart, and their businesses, their family. … I’ve got to determine, are they a real threat? Or are they just crazy?”
He described digging up dirt on a West Palm Beach Fire Rescue captain who had posted false — but not criminal — comments online about a judge.
And he described in detail the criminal case against one of Bradshaw’s top targets, former deputy Mark Dougan, who has waged an extensive online campaign against the sheriff through a website he created, pbsotalk.com. The site allows police or anyone to anonymously post information about the sheriff’s office.
A PBSO spokeswoman said Wednesday that “an internal affairs investigation has been opened to determine if any policy violations or criminal violations have occurred.”
But she did not respond to other questions about Lewis or the case.
Lewis, a longtime deputy who retired and returned as a part-time employee in 2005, told The Palm Beach Post that it’s his voice is on the recordings, but he isn’t worried about any consequences.
He said he was never told to investigate a case because of a personal or political vendetta.
“Unless I’ve been misled by the sheriff or undersheriff … they don’t get personalities involved,” he said.
Every case had a legitimate criminal, not political, purpose behind it, he said.
“The sheriff is so disinterested in that,” he added. “He knows as a politician that he’s got to have a thick skin.”
But Lewis could face criminal charges for revealing information about an ongoing criminal investigation.
He finds himself in a situation that’s strangely similar to one he opened against a deputy in 2012 — one that landed the deputy behind bars.
In the department’s quest against Dougan, Lewis was tasked with uncovering who was leaking information to the press about the case. He and others suspected it was Lt. Dean Johnson, so they had a fellow deputy wear a recording device during conversations with Johnson.
The recording device picked up Johnson telling the deputy that Dougan was under investigation, and Johnson was arrested on four felony counts related to divulging information about an ongoing investigation. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
On the recordings released Monday, Lewis divulged far more information about the case against Dougan than Johnson ever did.
He said the FBI had two charges pending against Dougan, based on Dougan allegedly falsifying an application for a pilot’s license.
To make matters worse, Lewis was unwittingly talking to a friend of Dougan’s all along, Dougan said Wednesday.
The friend, who lives in Russia, was masquerading as a woman named “Jessica” in an effort to coax information out of Lewis, Dougan said. Lewis, who said he believed something was up after a few days of conversation, suspected Dougan was behind it.
But he said he didn’t give Dougan any information Dougan didn’t already know. Some of what he said on the recordings was detailed, however.
He said PBSO had access to either Dougan’s camera or computer, which allowed them to spy on Dougan during a trip to Russia.
“We had the pictures before he ever published them, and we knew where he was at,” he told “Jessica.”
When “Jessica” asked him why the FBI didn’t simply arrest Dougan, he said the feds were waiting to find out what Dougan was doing in Russia.
“I’ll tell you why I think they’re not doing it yet,” he says on the recordings. “We were just about to arrest him when he made his first trip to Russia. And he’s been back like three times, and they’re like, ‘What the heck is he going back to Russia for?’”
Lewis told The Post that he believes Dougan doctored some of the recordings to make it sound like he said certain things, but Lewis wouldn’t clarify which conversations were suspect.
The recordings also reveal Lewis talking about building cases against other people.
He described being asked to look into a West Palm Beach Fire Rescue captain who was arrested for a DUI and allegedly made complaints online about the judge in the case. The judge had complained, he said. The Post couldn’t confirm details of the case on Wednesday.
When the captain appealed to get his job back, Lewis said he was given a copy of the appeal hearing, and hinted that he had a hand in ensuring the captain wasn’t successful.
“He lied in the hearing,” Lewis told “Jessica.” “He lied about several things, and it’s official proceedings, so it’s perjury. That’s an arrestable offense. And he did not get his job back.”
He also described going to extraordinary lengths to arrest a man who had planned to run against Bradshaw in the 2012 election.
The man was Jim Donahue, a former Michigan officer who said he spent time training PBSO officers. He applied for a deputy position in 2008, but was rejected in 2009. A year later, he went before county commissioners with concerns about PBSO’s budget.
Not a week before he spoke to commissioners, PBSO records show Lewis was given Donahue’s application file for a “complete review.”
Lewis tracked down two of Donahue’s references in Michigan. One claimed he had never given a reference, according to PBSO records. The other said she did give a reference, but cast doubt on other documents that Donahue submitted.
Lewis was proud of his investigation, according to the recordings.
“I went to Michigan, I went to Canada, I went all over the place,” he said on the recordings. “After a two-year investigation, I got him.”
Donahue had filed to run for office but didn’t get a chance to complete the process to appear on the ballot. That’s because he was arrested on four counts of “uttering a forged instrument,” a felony, a few weeks after he said he filed.
He did not appear on the ballot. Prosecutors eventually dropped all charges.
Donahue said Wednesday that he believes the investigation was politically motivated.
“Bradshaw saw me as a potential competitor for sheriff,” he said. “He saw me as a threat.”