State Politics

Ex-candidate lied about her college degree. She learns how much more it will cost her

Melissa Howard has agreed to probation and community service in a deferred prosecution agreement Friday after a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigation said she falsified a college degree.
Melissa Howard has agreed to probation and community service in a deferred prosecution agreement Friday after a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigation said she falsified a college degree. Provided photo

Melissa Howard, who dropped out of the race for a seat in the Florida House after she lied about her college degree, has agreed to probation and community service for misrepresenting her academic standing.

Court documents show Howard on Friday reached a pre-trial intervention deferred prosecution agreement with the State Attorney’s Office. She will serve 90 days probation and perform 25 hours of community service in two months. Her probation begins Friday and is slated to end Dec. 13.

Howard will also pay the Clerk of Court $55 per month toward the cost of her supervision and an additional $50 for court processing fees.

Howard does not have a previous criminal record, according to court documents.

Attempts to reach Howard for comment Friday were not successful. A message left with the office for her attorney, Scott Miller, was not immediately returned.

After an investigation by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, a probable cause affidavit for Howard listed a charge of misrepresentation of academic standing at a post-secondary educational institution, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Howard was vying for the Republican nomination for the state House District 73 seat, but after widespread news coverage of accusations that her college credentials were questionable, and a subsequent apology that said she did not intend to mislead anyone, the Lakewood Ranch resident dropped out of the race on Aug. 14, two weeks before the primary.

If at the end of her probation, her participation and progress are satisfactory to the State Attorney’s Office and the probation office, the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed, court documents say.

The affidavit cited media reports in which Howard claimed she earned her degree, and investigators wrote they saw pictures of Howard posing with the degree. The university she claimed to have graduated from, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, later issued a statement saying she had been enrolled there but did not graduate.

“The defendant Melissa Howard, intended to defraud and misrepresent her association and academic standing with Miami University. Furthermore, the defendant produced the fictitious diploma and uttered it as being awarded to her as true, while knowing it to be false,” investigators wrote in the affidavit.

Howard also posted photos to social media of she and her mother with what appeared to be a degree from Miami University after she flew from Florida to Ohio in a effort to provide proof she graduated. She had previously told the Bradenton Herald she graduated and obtained a marketing degree.

Shortly after the picture was posted, legal counsel from Miami University issued a statement that said the document in the photo did not appear to be an “accurate” degree.

The university’s statement said the degree for marketing majors is a Bachelor of Science in business, and that Howard’s major while enrolled was retailing. The statement also noted that Howard was not enrolled as a student in 1996, when she claimed to have graduated.

The affidavit also noted national media reports, including statements from the university that Howard did not graduate from the school and there was no record of her earning a diploma.

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The sheriff’s office was notified through email by Miami University that NBC reported Howard was seen walking into DuBois Book Store in Cincinnati — about 40 miles south of the university — where she bought the frame that held the fake diploma she posed with in pictures, according to the affidavit.

Investigators tried to reach Howard and get the fake diploma but were not successful. Investigators spoke to her husband Ian Howard on Aug. 21, but he directed them to an attorney, according to the affidavit.

Howard last month apologized in a statement, saying she “made a mistake” when she said she completed her degree, which was also widely reported, and said it was a “terrible error judgment.” She then withdrew from the race shortly after.

“It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone. I made a mistake in saying I completed my degree. What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service,” Howard said in an apology.

Her former opponent for the GOP nomination, Tommy Gregory, will face Democrat Liv Coleman in the Nov. 6 general election. House District 73 includes parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

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