In recent days, local voters have received anonymous text messages falsely alleging Polk County School Board member Lisa Miller is under criminal investigation.
Miller, a Lakeland resident, is running for re-election in District 7. She faces two challengers, Dell Quary and Jill Sessions.
Miller said she started hearing about the text messages on June 28. The texts do not identify the sender, an apparent violation of state election laws.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the State’s Attorney’s Office for the 10th Judicial Circuit said Wednesday that neither Miller nor her husband were under criminal investigation. A spokeswoman for the Lakeland Police Department also said she was not aware of any investigation involving them.
Miller said Wednesday that she was the victim of a crime and asked the state’s attorney’s office to investigate.
“My opposition attacked me on such a personal level, knowing that I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to standing up for children and people with disabilities,” Miller said in a text message.
Miller hinted that Sessions is behind the emails. She mentioned that Sessions campaign manager James Dunn pleaded guilty in 2008 to fraud against the Texas government.
Sessions denied any connection to the text messages and said she did not know who created and sent them.
“They’re not from me,” Sessions said.
Quary also said she had no role in writing or sending the text messages.
“I heard about it from the public,” Quary said. “I don’t know anything about his origins.”
Not partisan in name only? Polk school board races turn political as major parties take sides
The sessions were endorsed by the Polk County Republican Party, while the Polk County Democratic Party endorsed Quary. School board races are nonpartisan, and Miller is registered as a voter with no party affiliation.
Registered voters from both major parties said they received the text messages, though Miller said they seemed more targeted at Republicans.
Miller said she initially wondered if County Citizens Defending Freedom, a conservative group based in Polk County, might have been responsible for the texts. The CCDF podcast includes a recent interview with Dunn, who also works for two other GOP-endorsed school board candidates, Terry Clark and Rick Nolte.
Miller said CCDF President Steve Maxwell assured him the group was not involved in the text messages. The group has 501c4 nonprofit status, which allows advocacy but prohibits campaigning for any candidate.
In a text message shared by Miller, Maxwell told him that the CCDF does not have a texting platform. She said Maxwell offered to help determine who sent the text messages.
Maxwell agreed to an interview with The Ledger for Friday but did not respond to a voicemail message left for him.
Miller shared five phone numbers displayed as sources of text messages received by local residents. Three displayed area code 863, which includes Polk County, and two displayed area code 786, which covers part of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.
Miller said she provided the state’s attorney’s office with the five numbers.
Call attempts by The Ledger have determined that none of the five are working numbers. The sender likely used technology that displays fake numbers, a tactic regularly used by scammers for phone calls and text messages.
Miller said the malicious text messages only increased his support.
School board elections will take place on August 23.