POLITICS

Rick Scott Pulls Ad In Which He's Endorsed By A Convicted Human Trafficker

08/18/2014 02:28 pm 14:28:25 | Updated Aug 19, 2014

It seems Florida Governor Rick Scott's (R) re-election campaign won't be shedding its bumbling reputation anytime soon. For the second time, the campaign has had to yank an ad for failing to vet one of the people shown endorsing the governor.

Previously, Scott pulled an online ad featuring a South Bay city manager who had resigned over charges of grand theft, corruption and misuse of public office. This time, an ad featured an endorsement from a Tampa man convicted of human trafficking in St. Maarten.

Cuban-born bodega owner Maikel Duarte-Torres gave Scott a "hug and plug" in the 30-second Spanish-language spot touting the governor's job-creation record. Local watchdog blog Broward Bulldog's Francisco Alvarado first reported the following:

“Four years ago, the economy was very bad. Rick Scott helped Florida’s economy and you can see the difference. He’s created jobs. That’s why I support Rick Scott. I’m just like him. I’m like the American Dream,” Duarte-Torres said in the commercial.

Gov. Scott, his campaign staff, and the Republican Party of Florida were apparently unaware, however, that Duarte-Torres was arrested on Nov. 14, 2010, in the Caribbean nation for his alleged role in a smuggling ring that attempted to ferry 10 Cuban migrants from St. Maarten to Miami. Duarte-Torres was convicted five months later by a St. Maarten criminal court judge.

He was sentenced to two years in prison, but served just two days because of jail overcrowding on the island, according to Tineka Kampfe, a spokeswoman with the St. Maarten Attorney General’s office. Kampfe told BrowardBulldog.org that Duarte-Torres was allowed to return home to Tampa on the condition he never steps foot in St. Maarten again.

"The ad is no longer running," Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, adding that it was removed from the air last week.

The campaign announced in June that Duarte-Torres had been named to the Small Business for Scott Coalition, whose mission is to "spread Governor Scott’s message of job creation and economic development across Florida." (The Coalition lists his name as Maikel Duarte.)

The ad was reportedly filmed at Duarte-Torres' store MD Market in May, when according to the Tampa Tribune Scott and Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera made a stop there on Scott's Small Business Tour.

“I grew up working in a grocery store,” Scott told a crowd during the stop. “I love selling things to people.”

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