Airport commission chairman charged with felony in identity theft case

cnudi@bradenton.comDecember 19, 2012 

SARASOTA -- When the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority next meets in January, it is unclear whether current Chairman Robert Waechter will still be on the board.

Waechter, who has been on the board for 10 years and was elected chairman in November, was arrested Friday and charged with using someone else's identification.

The former chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County was accused of purchasing a Visa cash card in a fellow Republican's name and using it to made a donation to a Democrat's campaign during the last election.

Waechter, 70, did not return phone messages Tuesday seeking comment on the felony charge.

The victim, Lourdes Ramirez, is active in the Sarasota County Republican politics and has announced she plans to seek the Sarasota County commission seat in 2014 held by Nora Patterson, according to Joe Gruters, chair of the county Republican Party.

"Bob hasn't said anything yet and I want to get all the facts," Gruters said, "but there's no need for these types of dirty politics."

He said the news of Waechter's arrest was very disappointing, "but he is one of the political power brokers (in the area) and to go down for something like this just doesn't make sense."

Ramirez said she was sur

prised when she received a letter from Keith Fitzgerald's campaign thanking her for the $200 donation and reported it to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office. Fitzgerald ran against incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan for the 16th Congressional District seat.

"I was surprised that someone would go to that length and use my name," Ramirez said, "and then it was another surprise when I found out it was Bob Waechter."

She said she knew Waechter from county commission meetings when they would sometimes take opposing positions on development issues.

As president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, Ramirez would advocate for local residents.

She said Waechter probably heard "through the grapevine" that she was contemplating a run for Patterson's seat and did not like it because he supported another possible candidate.

"At the time I was only thinking about it," she said. "Now this kind of pushed me into going for it.

"I don't like to be bullied," Ramirez said.

Wendy Rose, spokeswoman for the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, said the investigation by the sheriff's office is complete, but they are working with the State Attorney's Office.

Also, "at the behest of the victim, we filed with the Federal Election Commission and have forwarded the paperwork to them," Rose said.

The longtime member of the governing board of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport was first elected to the post in 2000, and served until 2002, when the law was changed and the position became a governor's appointment.

Waechter was then appointed for a four-year term until 2006, then reappointed in 2008 for another four years.

His term was up in November and was eligible to be reappointed, but because Gov. Rick Scott did not made the appointment at that time, Waechter was allowed to continue to serve as a board member, said Rick Piccolo, president and CEO of the airport.

Not able to comment on the arrest, Piccolo did say Waechter did a "fine job" on the board.

"With his tenure he had historical and intuitional knowledge," Piccolo said,

Waechter has not resigned from the board as of Tuesday, Piccolo said. The next airport authority meeting will be held at the end of January.

According to the Sarasota County Clerk of the Court web site, Waechter is to appear for arraignment at 9 a.m. Jan. 11 in front of Judge Frederick Mercurio in Courtroom 3-A.

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