By JEFFREY POWELL
On July 10 in court, First Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells told Charlie Burke, “Mr. Burke, I have thought long and hard about this sentence. I do not take lightly the fraud you committed against the public when you ran for office. Being in public office is a privilege.”
Wells’ comments came moments before he handed down the sentence in the state’s case against suspended South Walton County Mosquito Control District (SWCMCD) Commissioner Charlie Burke. Burke had been convicted on June 11 of false swearing to any oath or false certification of nomination and submission of false voter registration information. Both charges are felonies and Burke could have served five years in prison and paid a $5,000 fine on each count. He was originally arrested on Dec. 4, 2007 due to suspicions that he did not live in the district he served.
Burke submitted three letters of reference to the judge, each stating that he had been active in the south Walton area. Wells recognized Burke’s good works but stood behind the conviction.
“You have done good things in the community,” said Wells. “It is difficult to craft a sentence for you but I have no lack of confidence in the jury’s decision.”
After adjudicating Burke guilty, Wells sentenced him to two-years probation, for which he will be responsible for costs of $40 per month. Burke will also pay the cost the state incurred to prosecute him, which is approximately $1,900. Wells also instructed Burke to pay back any salary he received as a SWCMCD commissioner and to perform 100 hours of community service.
“I am pleased the court recognized that Burke’s conduct is not acceptable,” said State Attorney Greg Anchors. “Burke had a chance to correct his behavior but he chose not to. The decision is proper.”
Anchors was referring to an offer the state presented to Burke before the case went to court. The state had reportedly offered to drop the charges if Burke would resign his seat with the SWCMCD. Burke chose not to accept that proposal, and represented himself at a jury trial.
Shortly after his June conviction, Burke vowed to appeal the court’s findings. After the July 10 sentencing he was a bit more subdued.
“I don’t have much to say today,” Burke commented. “I am in a rather solemn mood.”