Longtime Florida official Peter Antonacci dies at 74

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Longtime Florida official Peter Antonacci, who was most recently tapped to run the state’s new elections crime unit, died Friday. He was 74.

The governor’s office confirmed Antonacci’s death in a statement but didn’t mention a cause.

“He (Antonacci) was a dedicated, tenacious, and assiduous public servant, lawyer, and respected professional – a friend to all in the State of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in the statement.

Antonacci became the head of Florida’s newly created Office of Election Crimes and Security in July. The office was created as part of a voting law package approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year. The unit reviews fraud allegations and conducts preliminary investigations, with the law requiring the governor to appoint a group of special officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to pursue alleged violations.

Besides his most recent position, Antonacci had a decades-long resume in state government serving under Democrats and Republicans. He was appointed to various positions by Govs. Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist, Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis and served as deputy attorney general under Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth from 1991-1997. His positions included statewide prosecutor, CEO of Enterprise Florida, a member of the Ethics Commission and executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.

Sen. Rick Scott, who appointed Antonacci to several position during his two terms as governor before running for the U.S. Senate, said Antonacci was a dedicated public servant and a devoted family man.

“Pete was a proud Floridian, raised in Hialeah, and devoted decades of his life to serving Florida families as a prosecutor, master of the law and leader,” Scott said in a statement.

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for governor again this fall as a Democrat, praised Antonacci’s ability to work with both parties for the good of the state.

“Peter Antonacci was a dedicated and respected public servant with a long history of working with members from both sides of the aisle to better Florida,” Crist said in a statement.

DeSantis, an ascendant Republican and potential 2024 presidential candidate, pushed the state legislature to create the election police unit to address voter fraud concerns that have proliferated in the GOP following former President Donald Trump’s false claims that his reelection was stolen.

Voter fraud is rare, typically occurs in isolated instances and is generally detected. An Associated Press investigation of the 2020 presidential election found fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud out of 25.5 million ballots cast in the six states where Trump and his allies disputed his loss to Democratic President Joe Biden. DeSantis has previously praised Florida for carrying out a smooth election in 2020.

Preexisting state law had allowed the governor to appoint officers to investigate violations of election law but did not require him to do so.