POLK COUNTY – Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested Polk County Commission candidate Martin Grenfell July 29 on charges that he falsified his candidate oath form — an oath stating he was eligible to hold elected office.
Detectives allege that Grenfell knowingly lied on the form and that his rights were never fully restored after a past felony arrest.
“What our investigation was, was to determine ‘did he sign it?’ and ‘did he know?’” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd explained during a press conference later that day.
Grenfell was convicted in February of 2013 of trafficking in counterfeit labels, for which he was sentenced to three years of probation.
Judd referred to a plea agreement Grenfell signed in November of 2012 related to his federal felony charges. The agreement detailed that “The defendant also understands that defendant will be adjudicated guilty of the offenses to which defendant has pleaded and, if any of such offenses are felonies, may thereby be deprived of certain rights, such as the right to vote, to hold public office, to serve on a jury, or to have possession of firearms.”
A PCSO press release regarding the arrest also referred to a sentencing memorandum from Grenfell’s earlier criminal case with similar language regarding his right to hold office.
“So, yes, he knowingly signed documents associated with his plea agreement that he clearly knew he was a convicted felon and that one of the civil rights that he lost as a result of his felony conviction was the right to hold public office.”
The arrest and press conference drew attention from outside Polk and the immediate region.
It is also the third such instance of a similar situation in Polk this calendar year — wherein an individual who had been convicted of a felony and who had not had his eligibility to hold office restored sought office.
However, Grenfell was the only ineligible candidate to have been arrested, something Judd attributed to a matter of jurisdiction since the other two instances were related to municipal elections in Haines City and Lakeland.
Like Grenfell, Claude Holmes also signed a candidate oath claiming to be eligible to hold office. Holmes actually won his election in an attempt to get on the Haines City Commission in April. A few days later, a civil lawsuit was filed against Holmes and a judge wound up ruling that Holmes could not take his seat on the commission because he never had his rights fully restored and named the incumbent the winner.
Haines City Police Department spokesperson Mike Ferguson told the Sun that detectives decided not to file criminal charges against Holmes on grounds that the matter was already being addressed in civil court.
Also in 2020, Greg Massey signed a candidate oath claiming he was eligible to compete for a Lake Wales City Commission seat. According to Massey, the Lake Wales Police Department investigated his eligibility and referred his case to the state attorney for further review after discovering Massey may have never had his rights fully restored after a past felony arrest.
Massey said before the election, a state attorney investigator called him and advised Massey to drop out of the race voluntarily or face criminal charges.
According to the Polk County Sheriff's Office and multiple sources speaking off the record, Massey and Holmes could have been arrested, but were not.
Tenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney spokesperson Jacob Orr said that, while there was probable cause to arrest Grenfell, the state attorney is in the process of reviewing the case. The decision on whether Grenfell will be prosecuted has yet to be made.
On Monday, August 3, Grenfell officially ended his candidacy for Seat 1 on the Polk County Commission in a statement.
“When I completed my election related paperwork I was unaware that my voting rights were a subset of my civil rights and the Voting Rights Act of 2018 restored my voting rights only,” wrote Grenfell. “Ironically, I was arrested at the post office while I was in the process of purchasing stamps to mail my withdrawal letter after receiving 3rd party clarification from people with no vested interest in the outcome of the commission race. … To anyone who was harmed by my mistake I would like to apologize.”
Sheriff Judd said future ineligible candidates who falsely sign a candidate oath put themselves at risk of arrest.