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Floridians and businesses charged with violating local COVID-19 mask restrictions know they can count on Gov. Ron DeSantis to grant them full pardons.
Despite the governor’s promise to defend anyone cited over facial-covering rules, it turns out that’s not always the deal. You could still wind up in criminal court.
This cautionary tale for anti-maskers is found in the case of a woman arrested in January after she refused to wear a mask at Einstein Bros. Bagels in West Boca and deputies escorted her out.
Cindy Falco DiCorrado turned in her DeSantis “get out of prosecution free” card,l but a court on Thursday refused to accept it. Charges of misdemeanor trespass and resisting arrest continue.
Palm Beach County Judge Bradley Harper ruled after the governor’s office recently advised prosecutors that the 62-year-old Boynton Beach woman is not entitled to any breaks.
DiCorrado on Friday declined to comment, texting the South Florida Sun Sentinel that she prefers to wait until after the matter is resolved. An activist who calls COVID-19 the biggest fraud in history, DiCorrado is serving as her own lawyer.
It’s all happening despite DeSantis’ insistence that cops should “focus on the real criminals” and leave mask violators alone.
“Floridians should not be penalized for rejecting the overreach of local authorities through unnecessary mask mandates,” the governor tweeted on May 13, after a national appearance on FOX News.
DeSantis a month later made good on his word by signing an executive order that issues pardons for “all non-violent offenses related to local government COVID-19 restrictions.”
It’s not clear how many people across the state have benefited from DeSantis’ protection. Requests made to his office Friday were not answered before the close of business.
But court records filed with DiCorrado’s case explain why she is not entitled to immunity from prosecution and how others could wind up in the same predicament.
The bagel shop confrontation happened about 11 a.m. Jan. 14 when DiCorrado refused to wear a mask inside the store and argued with the manager and another customer. The exchange and subsequent arrest were recorded on smartphone video.
“I’m standing my ground because I’m an American and I’m allowed to breathe,” she said, also claiming a religious exemption to the bagel shop’s mask order.
A deputy warned she would be arrested for trespassing for refusing to leave the premises.
“I have done nothing wrong, I am not a criminal,” she said, before she was forced from the store and handcuffed.
DiCorrado pointed to the governor’s comments when asking the court to dismiss the charges.
Following DeSantis’ June 16 order calling for pardons, Judge Harper asked prosecutors to explain why the DiCorrado case shouldn’t get tossed.
Assistant State Attorney Jeremiah Romano explained that his office went to DeSantis’ lawyers for guidance.
Chief Deputy General Counsel Ray Treadwell reviewed the case and came down on the side of Einstein Bros., citing “the best interests of a business to order patrons to leave for a lawful reason,” records show.
Treadwell said DiCorrado did not deserve a pardon like Michael and Jillian Carnevale, owners of a Plantation gym who were cited for violating Broward County’s COVID mask restrictions last summer. After DeSantis stood up for the Carnevales, Broward prosecutors dropped all charges.
Palm Beach County prosecutors argue that the DeSantis pardons are meant for individuals whose only offense is breaking a mask rule.
“However (DiCorrado’s) criminal charges stem not from her choice not to wear a mask, but from her refusal to comply with lawful orders from business owners and law enforcement alike,” Romano wrote.
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The judge agreed the “plain language” of the governor’s order does not apply to the charges.
“That is a problem with the clemency order by Gov. DeSantis,” Nelson said. “A lot of times the charges don’t say COVID violation or mask violation. It’s a trespassing charge or a disorderly conduct charge or something like that.”
Nelson said this could come as a surprise to folks expecting a pardon.
DiCorrado’s case could be over soon anyway. She’s due to appear in court Sept. 15 for a possible plea deal hearing.