When political parties don't do their homework, bad things can happen. Everybody knows that. But few are as bad or clunkier or stranger than what's happened since the Broward Republican Executive Committee (BREC) put its trust in a young man named Rupert Tarsey.
Earlier this year Broward Republicans elected Tarsey, 28, their secretary. Executive Committee secretary is an important position within local party ranks. Certainly Tarsey won fair and square in a three-way race.
But then again, party faithful didn't know about his background. Why would they? Nobody in the party checked him out before he ran for office.
Said Robert Sutton, chairman of the Broward County Republican Party, "All I know is, (Supervisor of Elections) Brenda Snipes issued him a voter's registration card and he came highly recommended by a well-known, well respected attorney, state committeeman and former chairmain."
As it turns out, had the rest of the committee known then what they're just beginning to learn now, Tarsey probably doesn't get in the front door.
Note, I said probably. The Tarsey family has plenty of money. More important, Tarsey claims stories of his violent background are either totally false or wildly exaggerated. He disavows even the 2007 stories in Los Angeles newspapers. "They aren't what you'll find on court records," he told me Monday.
Monday my access to those records, to Tarsey's side of a very bizarre story, was closed for the holiday. But other information was available.
Who knew the Rupert Tarsey of 2017 Fort Lauderdale is the Rupert Ditsworth of 2007 Beverley Hills, Calif.? Google Rupert Tarsey, you get nothing; Google Rupert Ditsworth, you find the local party secretary has a past that's begun to spill on the Broward Republican Executive Committee like a can of wrong-color paint.
Ditsworth/Tarsey was arrested and charged in 2007 with premeditated attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly beat fellow student Elizabeth Barcay with a claw hammer, "causing lacerations to (her) head, face and legs, District Attorney Lisa Tanner said."
Pay no attention, Tarsey told me Monday. Nothing is as it seems.
- He was never convicted of a felony. "'Charged with' and 'convicted' are two very different things," he said.
- He didn't change his name between California and Florida to repackage himself for a new life in the Sunshine State. It was legally changed because his parents were divorced.
- He was given a voter's registration card because he was never convicted of a felony. Ultimately, two of the three charges against him were dropped and the third was reduced to a misdemeanor.
- What the newspapers don't include, he said, is how the case ended. "I was charged with a misdemeanor, not a felony ... and given a suspended sentence." Ditsworth, listed on his arrest sheet as 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, said he hit Barcay with a claw hammer "in self-defense" because she had him pinned against his car.
See the attachment to "download," shown in blue, at the end of this article, called "Rupert Tarsey Retaliated Against ..." It's his side of the story. Tarsey said he emailed it to 500 people over the weekend, when he found out news stories about him from 2007 were circulating.
He blamed poisonous politics, saying he had been targeted for "voting with the majority of the Board in favor of removal of the chairman (Sutton) in the Board vote. Prior to the Board vote, I had been informed by Tom Lauder, a close supporter of Mr. Sutton, that if I helped to oust Mr. Sutton, I would have negative articles spread about me."
Mostly, though, Tarsey blamed Benjamin Bennett, a licensed private investigator and the committee's sergeant-at-arms, "who said that he is ... working for Mr. Sutton, who began asking me questions." Bennett, he said, is a former cop convicted 32 years ago of dealing drugs. "He has no business questioning anyone," said Tarsey. He even supplied me with the copy of a 1985 Sun-Sentinel story about Bennett.
In the meantime, it's understandable the name Ditsworth might not work for Tarsey anymore.
When the claw-hammer incident happened, Ditsworth was a 17-year-old student two months shy of his 18th birthday. Like the victim, he was attending the $32,000-a-year Harvard-Westlake prep school. According to the Los Angeles Times, police said the assault left Barcay with a broken leg and a broken nose. The girl's mother, Barbara Hayden, said her daughter was struck 40 times and that her scalp was split. "It was a completely unprovoked attack," she said. "He wasn't a boyfriend, and he was barely an acquaintance. The fact is, he is a danger not only to her but the community."
To see a complete story of the incident from the viewpoint of Barcay's family, read this in the June 7 Chronicle, the Harvard-Westlake School newspaper -- "Injuries don't keep senior from prom, graduation."
News stories say Ditsworth posted the required $1 million bail; Harvard-Westlake confirmed it expelled him hours after the incident happened and he was not allowed to graduate. His parents took him to a psychiatric hospital for treatment immediately after the attack, stories say.
A day after his 18th birthday he was rounded up and rearrested so he could be charged as an adult.
Barcay's family filed a civil action against Ditsworth and his mother, Patrice Tarsey. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount of money.
If Tarsey acted in self-defense in 2007, why did he and his mother settle the civil action case? "To make it go away," he told me.
Patrice Tarsey is a real estate heiress whose father Jason Tarsey owned the Dunes Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, according to The Wall Street Journal. Rupert Tarsey now works in real estate in Fort Lauderdale with his mother. He calls it "the family business."
It looks as if Tarsey was in a mental hospital for up to three years, then beginning May 4, 2010, was allowed to do his "community supervision" in Florida. See this report.
Tarsey, who married in 2014, says this: "I was given probation, however I never completed my probation as it was later terminated by the court (See the Minute Order from California in the blue "download" attachment below). There was no 'deal' involved in my termination of probation or the amendment to misdemeanor. Penal code 245, under which I was convicted, is called a 'wobbler.' It can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the court."
Sergeant-at-Arms Bennett said if Tarsey wants to retaliate against him by comparing pasts, so be it. "He can be my guest. I have not hidden behind another name. I ran for Republican state committeeman last year. I have no concern whatsoever who wants to put out something that is public record."
Said Bennett, "The truth is, neither party does a good job of vetting candidates for office -- for party office or for government office. We fall down at running background checks. ...
"Basically, Rupert Tarsey lied his way into the party," Bennett contends. "Sure, as a member of the Knights of Columbus, he's in good standing. But that's not enough information and nobody made an effort to check a little further."
What will happen next? Hard to say. Republican Party of Florida Chair Blaise Ingoglia said, "It's a local party issue. If the people who elected him didn't have all the information about him when he was elected, then certainly they should be made aware. If we have to drain the swamp, that's what we'll do."
In general, dismissing the need for background checks -- or making excuses for lame ones that turn up rotten eggs -- is a nonpartisan habit. It wears no particular party label.
Ever notice? The secret sauce is money. In the age of the multi-million-dollar campaign, a person of substance -- millionaire families expecially welcome -- can buy anything in politics their hearts desire, even an internal office like executive committee secretary, or a carpetbagger's dream -- a district primary 100 miles away from home.
It's my considered opinion that the background oversight of the well-to-do Tarsey name was always going to happen.