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A Florida election fraud chief died last year in the hallway of Ron DeSantis' office

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Peter Antonacci to lead a new elections fraud office in July 2022, just a few months before Antonacci died inside the Capitol building.
Jim Vondruska
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Peter Antonacci to lead a new elections fraud office in July 2022, just a few months before Antonacci died inside the Capitol building.

Florida's top election fraud officer collapsed in the hallway of the governor's office after a heated meeting last year, then lay dead or dying for 24 minutes before someone came to his aid, according to a new report from a local watchdog group.

Peter Antonacci, who was appointed to lead Florida's controversial new elections fraud office in July 2022, died at the state Capitol building weeks later, on Sept. 23, 2022.

Initial reports of his death were scant on details, saying only that he died of a heart attack "while at work in the Capitol building." The 74-year-old had a known history of heart disease and cardiac conditions, according to his wife.

On Sunday, a law enforcement investigation into the death was released by the Florida Bulldog, an independent online watchdog group that monitors state politics and government.

The 17-page investigation, retrieved through a public records request, paints a fuller portrait of Antonacci's death, including that he'd just left a contentious meeting with some of the state's top officials inside the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

What's in the records?

The investigation states that Antonacci had been meeting with 11 people, but only a few are identified by name, including:

  • James C. Byrd, Florida's secretary of state
  • Bradley McVay, Byrd's general counsel
  • Scott McInerney, a director of executive investigations with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FLDE) 
  • Shane Desguin, FDLE chief of staff
  • Mark Glass, FDLE commissioner
  • Ryan Newman, FDLE general counsel
  • Scott Strauss, Antonacci's deputy

DeSantis was not named as an attendee.

The meeting was called to discuss "an election topic," according to Desguin, but other details on its agenda appear to have been redacted from the records. The records also contain references to surveillance video (without audio), but that material wasn't included with the public records release, the Bulldog reported.

Several of the attendees offered investigators a similar account on Antonacci's demeanor.

Glass said Antonacci had been "agitated." McInerney said that the meeting contained a "back and forth discussion with everyone involved," and Antonacci "abruptly got up from his seat and walked out." Desguin said that Antonacci had moments of being "frustrated" and left after roughly 30 minutes of discussion.

Antonacci was seen leaving the conference room at roughly 1:46 p.m. ET. Surveillance video shows him "staggering as he moved forward until he collapsed to the floor," striking his head on a door frame on the way down, according to investigators.

It was another 24 minutes before anyone was seen coming to his aid.

Glass had stepped out from the conference room and into the hallway to speak with his general counsel when he caught sight of what appeared to be Antonacci's slacks and shoes lying toes-down around a corner, according to his account in the records.

Glass found that Antonacci did not have a pulse and appeared blue in the face, but he began doing chest compressions.

Glass called for Desguin, who left the conference room thinking there was possibly an active shooter on the premises. Desguin un-holstered his gun; those in the conference room started to move under the table.

But after assessing the scene, Desguin ordered someone to call 911, tried CPR and retrieved an AED machine and "Ambu Bag," an artificial breathing unit.

Capitol police and EMS staff also tried the AED machine, but the device "never indicated that a shock was advised," investigators said. Antonacci was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead by medical staff. An autopsy was not performed.

Investigators state clearly in the records that no foul play or suspicious circumstances appeared to be involved.

What has Antonacci's office been investigating?

The Bulldog said it requested the records in February after receiving a tip that Antonacci had died following an argument with DeSantis, but the records contain no mention of the governor.

NPR requested comment from the governor's office but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

DeSantis established theOffice of Election Crimes and Security with legislative approval in 2022, as former President Donald Trump continued to peddle claims of widespread election fraud.

The governor hand-picked Antonacci, a former election supervisor for Broward County, to head the effort to root out election fraud, even though such fraud is exceedingly rare in the state. DeSantis himself praised Florida's election integrity in 2020.

So far, the office's work appears to have focused on ex-felons who received voter registration cards after a state ballot initiative passed.

Judges have largely dismissed attempts to prosecute these voters, saying the state can't punish people for election fraud after indicating they were eligible to vote.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.