Anti-Muslim activist owes Florida more than $500K
“Consumer harm” was called “quite significant” by the state, which revoked Act! Jacksonville leader Randy McDaniels’ contractors license
Randy McDaniels loves the spotlight.
In January, the former contractor helped found Act! Jacksonville, a local chapter of a national anti-Islamist group that quickly made the fight against Parvez Ahmed its top priority. The University of North Florida professor and Fulbright scholar’s nomination to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission led to hundreds of e-mails to City Council members, news conferences by McDaniels on the steps of City Hall and DVDs accusing Ahmed, a Muslim, of having extremist ties.
McDaniels has aggressively pointed a spotlight on Ahmed’s background, but not so to his own history. His record with state licensing boards show that he owes more than $500,000 in fines to the state for contracting jobs he botched or, in some cases, took money for but never performed.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to categorize Mr. McDaniels’ cases or give an opinion,” said Sandra Rentfrow, the Jacksonville regional program administrator with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s division of regulation. “But I will tell you that the consumer harm in the cases we had against him was quite significant, and the number of complaints against him were quite significant.”
His efforts against Ahmed brought attention to what is a generally tame confirmation process and gave him the ear of several City Council members. Six of them voted against Ahmed’s nomination.
Several of those council members said this week they didn’t know about McDaniels’ background or that he didn’t play a role in their decision.
McDaniels declined to be interviewed. Upon his request, The Times-Union sent the former Marine e-mailed questions to which he responded on Saturday with a full-page letter and a request it be printed in its entirety.
McDaniels wrote that he was a successful businessman for 10 years but fell on hard times. He said he didn’t file bankruptcy in hopes his customers’ claims could be reimbursed by the state recovery fund.
“I choose [sic] to do what was right and use all available resources to complete as many projects as possible while also not jeopardizing the ability of my customers to collect these funds,” McDaniels wrote.
He said he left only five or six jobs incomplete, with most substantially finished, and that he could hold his head high knowing he did everything he could for his customers.
The state, however, shows that McDaniels accepted $170,316 in partial, up-front payments for jobs he never started or didn’t finish to satisfaction.
From 2001 to 2007, customers filed more than 20 claims about McDaniels’ contracting work. At least 18 were from customers who said he never finished or performed any work at all.
The state turned over parts of its investigations to three state attorney’s offices in 2006. Criminal charges were filed in two counties but later dropped. McDaniels never appeared before the discipline board to defend himself and his contractor’s license was revoked.
McDaniels was hit with $511,712 in related state fines, and at least 14 civil cases in Duval County dating back to 1998 show nearly $400,000 in final judgments against him. It’s unclear if he’s settled the civil charges, but he has yet to make one payment to the state.
The matter is being turned over to the state’s collection agencies, according to a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
McDaniels also has a criminal arrest record in Jacksonville that shows a DUI, a domestic battery and a charge of passing worthless checks. The domestic battery and worthless checks offenses were later dropped; McDaniels pleaded no contest to the DUI last year and received probation. Records show paid the $1,541 in court fines that would be required for him to regain his driver’s license.
The Ahmed fight
McDaniels’ opposition to Ahmed resonated with several elected officials, some of whom were unaware of his past.
Then-majority leader of the Florida House, Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, joined council members opposed to the nomination. He called then-council President Richard Clark and council member Clay Yarborough and discussed the issue at the Capitol with state Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville.
Hasner said during an October GOP campaign event in Jacksonville that he just wanted to be sure council members reviewed all available material.
Current council President Jack Webb, then vice-president, voted against Ahmed, citing, in part, information provided by McDaniels. He said he was in the dark about McDaniels’ past.
“I knew nothing about the background,” said Webb, who would not answer follow-up questions.
Yarborough, another no vote, also said he knew nothing about McDaniels’ past. He said his vote was informed by hundreds of e-mails he received, not just information from McDaniels. Councilman Ray Holt said his vote against Ahmed also was not because of McDaniels.
Ahmed said he takes issue with the fact that politicians are listening, and that the media is still giving McDaniels a forum.
“My disappointment from day one has been not so much what Act! has said, because they are a hate group and their agenda is quite clear,” he said. “It’s disappointing that some of our elected officials are paying attention to this, and I’m also disappointed with the media continuing to chase this story.”
Act! Jacksonville’s parent group, Act! for America, also says it was not aware of McDaniels’ background, and its chapter leaders act independently. McDaniels is involved with the Orlando and Jacksonville Act chapters and says he has mentored 30 Act!-affiliated groups.
Hasner, who could not be reached for comment, worked with McDaniels for a group called the Florida Security Council. It hosted a meeting in 2009 to support Geert Wilders, a conservative Dutch politician who is being sued in France. Hasner and McDaniels both sat on the event’s host committee.
Both Act! For America and the Florida Security Council, which also bills itself as an anti-terror group, claim that the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the organization Ahmed chaired for three years, is actually a propaganda arm for Hamas, which the organization has denied.
Florida Security Council Director Tom Trento said he was aware of McDaniels’ past.
“I am satisfied with his present explanations,” Trento said in an e-mail on Saturday. “I stand with his future efforts related to national security and the exposing of Parvez Ahmed as a Hamas operative.”
In his e-mail, Trento said that a Times-Union reporter is “now on the radar of some very serious counter-terrorism experts.”
“My purpose is to expose to the public any relationship between you and Parvez Ahmed or his associates that is unprofessional or questionable for an objective reporter,” read the e-mail, which also referenced an “investigative video team.”
McDaniels is infamous nearly 300 miles away in one Boynton Beach community, where mostly retired residents in manufactured homes were hit hard by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
McDaniels came through in his pickup truck and assessed the damage, neighbors said, soliciting work and writing contracts for repairs.
Ziggy Zicolello was one of the first. He said the work to his roof, patio and carport was done slowly and not up to par.
“He had to come back and do it again,” Zicolello said. “At the end, I withheld about $800 off his contract. He accepted it and walked away.”
Some neighbors said they didn’t fare as well. Pat O’Shea gave McDaniels about $6,000 from her insurance money up front for a contract to fix the porch and roof of her house.
McDaniels was a good talker, she said, and seemed like the savior they were looking for. But he left with her check and never returned. She called often and sought him out but kept getting pushed off.
“In the beginning, I felt he meant well and got overloaded,” she said. “But the last time I ever talked to him, he really lied to me. And I haven’t seen a dime.”
O’Shea filed a complaint with the state a year later but quit pursuing it. She doubted she would ever see a penny.
Closer to home, Mike Pellegrino also ran into difficulties when trying to get McDaniels to build him a screen room and install hurricane windows in his Jacksonville Beach home.
McDaniels accepted nearly $9,000 from Pellegrino but after eight days stopped without notice. He did not pull required construction permits.
Pellegrino was eventually awarded state money. But most payments from the fund were shut down a year and a half ago due to budget constraints, and other McDaniels customers haven’t seen payment.
‘Some playing along’
Ahmed said he first heard of McDaniels shortly before he was nominated for the commission, when Act! members aggressively questioned him during a panel discussion of a documentary about Islam. They became very familiar in the ensuing months by holding routine press conferences to call him a Hamas supporter. They began following Ahmed to public engagements and videotaping the ensuing conflicts.
Ahmed declined to comment on McDaniels’ background, saying it would be inappropriate because he doesn’t have any firsthand knowledge. But he did say McDaniels’ “belligerence” at recent events seem consistent with his background.
Ahmed has denied all the allegations against him and counts Mayor John Peyton and UNF President John Delaney among his supporters. He said a pattern is clear among Islamophobic groups that try to profit from demonizing Muslims.
“They’re trying to prey on the general public’s misinformation and fear about Muslims,” he said. “And unfortunately, some people are playing along.”
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Original post: Anti-Muslim activist owes Florida more than $500K