Sunday, May 03, 2020

Flagler commissioner Mullins calls anonymous email linking him to escorts a smear effort. (Daytona Beach News Journal)

Flagler County, Florida Commissioner JOSEPH MULLINS (R-Ga.) is exposed in this morning's Daytona Beach News Journal, stating inter alia, "Joe Mullins could soon be under state investigation amid claims he hired at least three prostitutes between November 2018 and April 1."

Last year  Commissioner JOSEPH MULLINS purchased the former "Tires for Jesus" commercial property on U.S. 1 in St. Augustine from JERRY THOMAS CAMERON, acting Flagler County Administrator, was formerly the St. Johns County Assistant County Administrator (defeated by seven votes when he ran for County Commission in 2016 in the closed Republican Primary).

MULLINS repeatedly sends taunting insulting e-mails to people who question his actions, including me. (When I asked for the hourly water use records for his pied au terre in Bunnell, he sent me hostile e-mails before I ever contacted him or wrote a story). Nasty man.

Now, GANNETT, a multinational corporation, is focused on this goofy former Georgia resident, who lost for Georgia legislature and dumped a bundle of money to be elected a Flagler County Commissioner from the wrong district).


Flagler commissioner Mullins calls anonymous email linking him to escorts a smear effort

Flagler County commissioner Joe Mullins. [News-Journal/Matt Bruce]

By Matt Bruce

Posted May 1, 2020 at 2:12 PM
Updated May 1, 2020 at 3:03 PM

Flagler County commissioner Joe Mullins could soon be under state investigation amid claims he hired at least three prostitutes between November 2018 and April 1

FLAGLER COUNTY — Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins said this week that an anonymous email sent to law enforcement and others suggesting he had contact with female escorts is part of an unlawful smear campaign.

The email, addressed to Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly as well as other public officials and the media, includes an assortment of photos and screenshots that suggest Mullins solicited escorts.

Mullins said the information contained in the email, which Staly has passed on to state investigators, is false. The information suggests Mullins made contact with the female escorts between November 2018 and April 1 of this year.

“It’s not true, and I’ve got my email server to back it up,” Mullins told The News-Journal earlier this week. “It’s smut. I’m continually talking about the policy I’m doing, and they attack.”

The commissioner also accused a vocal political opponent of being behind the email. But that person said she has nothing to do with it.

Mullins is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and has a reputation for being outspoken. His public Facebook page also emphasizes that he is a father and husband.

In the email sent to law enforcement, the first-term commissioner is shown flexing, shirtless and stripped down to his socks and underwear in five selfies. The selfies are interspersed with ads from escorts and screen images of email exchanges purportedly between Mullins and those escorts. The email also contains a $450 PayPal receipt from an April 1 transaction between Mullins and a woman whose first name is Gwendolyn. The News-Journal is not publishing the woman’s last name because she could not be reached for comment.

Mullins acknowledged that the selfies of him are real, and said they are photos he took of himself at the gym while charting his weight loss. He said he has lost 25 pounds since starting a Planet Fitness challenge in February 2019 and started taking the selfies then, noting some are as recent as a few months ago.

The commissioner also acknowledged that the April 1 PayPal receipt is real, but said it is a refund to a college student who’d booked one of his eight vacation rental properties. He said the coronavirus crisis forced the co-ed to cancel her spring break travel plans. He said he couldn’t provide The News-Journal a copy of the rental contract, citing the renter’s personal information.

“We as a company can’t disclose personal information of renters,” he wrote in an email. “This is a rental corp. with partners.”

Mullins explained that he recently lost his backup cellphone and the PayPal receipt was on that phone along with the selfies. But he insisted the email exchanges are fake and denied allegations that he contracted with an escort. He suspected his phone was hacked when it went missing last week and the email screenshots are manipulated.

“It’s a secondary phone, so I don’t use it often. And it just sits there, and I just noticed that it was not anywhere around,” Mullins said. “They just collaged it together to make it look like a hit piece. It is a felony to do that. It’s a felony to go into somebody’s cloud like that.”

The emails

The News-Journal was not able to ascertain the identity of the person who sent the email about Mullins to law enforcement and others. When the newspaper initially attempted to reach the sender via email on Monday, someone responded. But the person did not respond to follow-up emails.

The digital conversations the person shared with law enforcement appear to show Mullins making arrangements to meet with various women.

“Can we do an hour and meet in Orlando around five,” Mullins purportedly wrote in a Feb. 22, 2019, exchange with a woman named “Emma.” That email does not include a last name. She responded that she couldn’t make that appointment, but suggested a rain check, urging Mullins to “reserve a two-hour engagement” later that night, according to the emails.

On June 17, 2019, another email from a woman named “Elena” to Mullins gushed over the idea of being a “pleasant, cultured, beautiful travel companion” and asking to get to know him before they travel together. She attached five jpegs to the email. The emails shared with law enforcement suggest Mullins responded the next day asking the woman if she’s ever been to Florida.

“Hey beautiful,” states the email, which includes Mullins’ name as well as the name and phone number of a Mullins company. “My day was very busy. Today I hope is not! Have you ever been to Florida?”

The earliest emails are between Nov. 27 and Dec. 2, 2018. They involve Mullins and a Jeslyn Cantrell, the assumed name of a Tampa-based escort. According to her website, she charges $600 per hour for “elite companionship.” Cantrell brands herself a vivacious blonde who offers a “refined and erotic girlfriend experience.” An ad on her website showcases Cantrell in red stilettos and lingerie.

In a text message to The News-Journal, Cantrell denied ever having any relationship with Mullins.

“I went back through my emails,” she wrote. “I never met him.”

While the email exchanges list Mullins by name and include the signature sign off from his property management firm, The Mullins Companies, Mullins noted they do not show his actual email address. He pointed to that as a sign they are not authentic.

Mullins vowed to get to the bottom of the allegations, indicating to The News-Journal that he plans to file a complaint with Bunnell police and prosecute the responsible parties for defaming an elected official.

“They’re attacking with this fake stuff,” Mullins said. “Those emails aren’t real. None of it flows. They’re from the year before and a year past that. And then all of sudden there’s a PayPal receipt. The PayPal receipt and the pictures are real. That’s what scares me.”

An investigator from the Bunnell Police Department confirmed meeting with Mullins on Monday. The detective said after they discussed the allegations, the commissioner held off on filing the complaint until he consulted with his attorney. Mullins said he proceeded with the complaint later in the day.

But Bunnell police chief Tom Foster said Wednesday he couldn’t confirm that it was filed, citing the fact that Mullins signed a Marsy’s Law document, which protects crime victims by exempting their public records from being released by law enforcement.

Mullins did not return a phone call or respond to text messages late Wednesday to explain why he invoked the confidentiality agreement.

The Investigation

The email suggesting Mullins has had contact with escorts was addressed to Sheriff Staly. It was sent just before 5:30 p.m. Sunday, April 26, from the Gmail account of a sender identified as “Gwendolyn Cantrell.” The list of receivers CC’d on the email included all four other members of the county commission, the entire Palm Coast City Council, Flagler Beach and Bunnell city commissioners, State Attorney R.J. Larizza, and top-ranking Bunnell, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach and Flagler County officials. It was also shared with The News-Journal.

In the email, the sender claims she received the images from an acquaintance and suggests they appear to be evidence of Mullins “procuring and negotiating the services of several prostitutes.” She urged Staly to launch an investigation into the claims.

“If these messages are proven to be authentic, his (Mullins’) behavior is dangerous to the health and safety of his family and also puts him in a position that might force him to make decisions and endorse policies and legislation that are not in the best interest of his constituents,” the email states.

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Brittany Kershaw confirmed Monday that the agency received the email. She said the information was forwarded to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a state investigation per department policy whenever an elected official is accused of criminal activity or misconduct.

An FDLE spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed that the state agency has received the complaint and is reviewing the allegations.

Mullins is a polarizing figure in Flagler County politics who routinely clashes with critics on his personal Facebook page. He was recently lambasted by some of his detractors who during a Dec. 2 commission meeting called him a bully and accused him of harassing residents who disagree with him. Mullins responded by saying he would not curtail comments on his page.

Chelsea Hawk is one of Mullins’ most ardent online critics. She claims Mullins has for months harassed her and several other women who disagree with him politically and object to his rhetoric on Facebook.

“I wouldn’t have had any problems with Joe if he would’ve acted like a decent human being,” Hawk said. “But the minute that any of us push back on any of this radical stuff that he says, we are branded as the enemy. We are evil, we are crazy, we are trying to tear him down. We just want our public representatives to act in the manner that they are supposed to. So all of this information is coming to us because people see that we see who Joe is.”

Mullins showed no signs of relenting Monday, but did seem somewhat rattled by the recent allegations.

“If I did something wrong, I’d admit it,” he said. “But I’ve got a family and this is like crossing the line to make accusations like this. It’s damning, but the way they did it obviously shows that there’s no boundary to it.

“I called an escort two years prior, then I talked to a person a year later and paid another one a month ago? I mean it just doesn’t make sense. It’s just where they’ve scrapped together a bunch of stuff to try to create a narrative.”

Mullins suspected Hawk of being the source behind the weekend email. He said Tuesday he is convinced of Hawk’s involvement based on comments she posted on his Facebook page Monday.

“I apologize for nothing,” Hawk wrote in one of her comments on Mullins’ Facebook page. “Maybe if Joe had apologized for the way he’s treated me for months, I would have left it alone and never been in a position where someone would send me these photos. He brought all of this on himself.”

Hawk also posted a photo of the PayPal receipt as well as the screenshot of one of Mullins’ alleged email exchanges. The commissioner took the posts to be a admission of Hawk’s guilt.

“There’s no doubt. She admitted it,” he said Tuesday. “She’s been stalking me for months.

“I want it to stop,” he added. “I want to know where all this stuff is coming from and how they got personal pictures, because those pictures weren’t out there anywhere.”

Mullins said his police complaint late Monday afternoon will set in motion a criminal investigation. He said he also plans to file a civil suit against Hawk. He indicated his Palm Coast attorney, Michael Chiumento III, drafted a cease and desist order against her.

Chiumento confirmed Thursday that the order had been sent, but Hawk had not received a copy by Thursday morning.

Hawk denies originating the photos. She said someone she doesn’t know sent her the collage of images Saturday night from a fake account on Facebook Messenger. She indicated she was never able to discern that person’s true identity, but maintains she was not the original source, or the person who anonymously forwarded them to local officials.

“Somebody sent that email and set it up,” Hawk said. “I don’t know who it was, I don’t know who the dummy account is. I just know that I got the photos ... and it snowballed from there.”

Hawk said she isn’t surprised Mullins assumed it was her, given their contentious history. But she insisted she’s never met the commissioner in person so there’s no way she could’ve gotten her hands on his phone.

Although she said she didn’t know how the photos surfaced, Hawk said it was right for the person to send them to law enforcement.

“I think it is vital for people to know this,” Hawk said. “I think that we need to know who our public officials are if they are conducting themselves in a way where they’re engaged in illegal activity.”

Mullins, a former sports and entertainment agent, admittedly spent years living in a fast-paced world of drugs and alcohol. He’s spoken openly about his past struggles with cocaine, alcohol and pills. But nowadays he espouses his Christian faith as the foundation that’s kept him sober for the past eight years.

Mullins is married and has five children, according to his Focused on Flagler website. His term ends in November 2022.

“It’s just BS. It’s crazy stuff,” he said. “They attack family stuff, they’re putting all kinds of personal things out there that I have already addressed and talked about publicly. I deal with a past, and it makes me easy to target because I’ve admitted what I’ve gone through in my past.”

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