An influential Republican donor and close ally to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who died by suicide was under active investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, officials said.
“This investigation remains ongoing at this time and will continue until its completion. As with all active investigations, there is limited information available to release at this time,” Jacksonville Sheriff T. K. Waters told the Florida Times-Union of Kent Stermon’s death. “However, as soon as this investigation has been completed, all applicable information will be available for release to the public.”
Sources close to the office told the Times-Union the investigation involved alleged sexual misconduct. Stermon was found dead in a truck at an Atlantic Beach, Florida, post office parking lot on Thursday, though foul play is not suspected.
Stermon’s death marked a confounding moment within Florida politics because of his close kinship with a myriad of political figures including DeSantis, whose political operations have received more than $60,000 of his and his family’s funds. When DeSantis was iced out of his congressional district in 2016 after redistricting, he moved into a condo co-owned by Stermon in order to run again, according to a 2018 Politico story. The governor later named Stermon to his transition team.
Stermon, who ran the defense contractor Total Military Management, has spent an overall $140,000 in state political contributions.
“The Governor and First Lady were shocked and saddened to hear of Kent’s passing, and their prayers (and our entire office’s prayers) are with his family during this difficult time,” the governor’s office told Politico, though it said it had no prior knowledge of the investigation.
His connections weren’t limited to the governor’s mansion. An investigation by WJXT found Stermon—a prolific donor to former Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams—had an access card to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office headquarters for the last five years despite not working there.
After hundreds of swipes since 2017, it stopped being used on Nov. 15—just after Sheriff T. K. Waters was sworn in as sheriff.
The disclosure was first made by attorney John Phillips, who is representing a former JSO deputy, on Twitter, noting a rumor that his badge access was set to change. It prompted a reply from, of all people, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. “You aren’t worth a reply as you are a media whore with no compass,” Curry wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “But you mention my friend, Kent, and I am compelled to reply. Pound sand, chump.”
He was also paid handsomely in political appointments. In 2019, DeSantis appointed Stermon to the state’s 17-member Board of Governors, the influential body that oversees its state university system. Stermon’s appointment was set to run through 2026, according to its website.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Governor Kent Stermon,” the Board of Governors told Politico. “For the last three years, Kent has served on this board with distinction. He has been a champion of higher education and student success in Florida and a long-time supporter of the University of North Florida in many ways throughout the years. The Board of Governors sends its heartfelt condolences to Kent’s family during this difficult time.”