Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Leland McKee.
Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam has canceled an Orlando fundraiser planned for Thursday night hosted by a number of controversial local figures – including a man accused of extortion and a donor who was caught on video shooting two pet dogs.
The fundraising reception for Putnam's campaign was scheduled at the Belle Isle home of Christopher Comins, a Republican businessman charged with animal cruelty after shooting seven times at two Siberian huskies who strayed into a cow pasture in 2008. Tourists in the area caught the incident on tape.
The pet huskies, Raley and Hoochie, had been let off the leash by their owner and they wandered into nearby private land. The Orlando Sentinel reports Comins was directed by the property owner to fire at the dogs because they appeared to be attacking and threatening the cattle. Both dogs survived the shooting, though Hoochie lost an eye. A judge cleared Comins of the charges in 2011.
Another host at the Orlando fundraiser is Leland McKee, a Republican who ran for Orange County Clerk of the Court in 1996. The Orlando Sentinel reported then that McKee was found guilty of extortion charges in 1997 for threatening an Orlando businessman who accused him of having an affair with his wife. Marcus Turner said McKee sent him a fax threatening to report him for alleged nefarious actions after Turner found out about the affair, according to the Sentinel. McKee, though, disputes the Sentinel's articles, calling them "false, inaccurate and outdated." McKee says he was not found guilty and that the judge in the case dismissed the charges.
"There was not a conviction," McKee said in a statement. "There is no criminal record, except what the Orlando Sentinel has incorrectly and inaccurately reported 22 years ago. The [Sentinel] never followed up with me to correct their record and I just let it go!"
Orange County court records show that in 2012, McKee was accused of stalking by his former lawyer, Jeffrey Feulner, founder of the Men's Divorce Law Firm. Prosecutors, though, ultimately decided to drop those charges.
Randy Ross, a local political activist and chair of Donald Trump's Orange County campaign, was also listed as a host for the fundraiser. Ross was arrested in 2015 and accused of making a false insurance claim about stolen lawn furniture. In exchange for not being formally convicted of the charges, Ross pleaded guilty and agreed to five years of probation, community service and a $4,000 restitution fine, according to court records.
Orlando Weekly reached out to Putnam's campaign for a comment but did not receive an immediate response. After reports surfaced on the Orlando fundraiser this morning, Putnam abruptly canceled the event, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The Florida Democratic Party called on the GOP candidate to take any donations he received from Comins' fundraiser and donate them to animal shelters in Orlando. The fundraiser suggested a minimum contribution of $500 per person.
"Adam Putnam’s campaign right now is funded in part by a man who tried to murder dogs," said FDP spokesperson Kevin Donohoe in a statement. "It’s not enough to just cancel a fundraiser, Putnam needs to make a clean break with a man who tried to murder dogs. In 2018, leaders from both parties should agree that animal cruelty is a moral abomination and will not be tolerated."