Curtis made several shocking allegations about YEI's criminal activity, much of which involved Feeney. He claims that in 2000, about a month before the election, Feeney asked YEI to prototype software for touchscreen voting machines that could rig the election results. Curtis (then a Republican) initially believed that Feeney wanted to see how vote fraud might be committed to stop the Democrats from cheating. So he delivered it, along with a write-up of how to detect election stealing, to CEO Li-Woan Yang, only to be told that "You don't understand" and "This program is needed to control the vote in South Florida". Shocked that YEI and Feeney actually intended to steal the election, Curtis soon resigned and went to work at FDOT. Before that, however, he became aware of other abuses by YEI, such as espionage on their clients and hiring an illegal Chinese alien.
At FDOT, Curtis was hired by Mavis Georgalis, the FDOT employee who had formerly interacted with YEI for their contract/billing procedures. Georgalis had long suspected YEI of overbilling the department, and received pressure from the top when she tried to investigate it. Ultimately, they "compared notes" and filed a joint report on YEI to the Inspector General's office. The investigator who took their report was Ray Lemme. Curtis claims that he told Lemme everything: Feeney's political influence, the Chinese espionage, the employment of illegal aliens, and the vote fraud software. The IG office refused to do anything on the investigation, and when Curtis complained in 2002, he, Georgalis, and multiple other employees familiar with the YEI contract were fired on the same day.
Following his firing, Curtis was forced to work at the dollar store. There, he claims, Ray Lemme approached him one day and asked him questions about his YEI allegations. Curtis says that Lemme came back numerous times, each time asking him more questions and appearing a little closer to breaking the case. Lemme was essentially continuing the YEI case on the side, outside the official purview of FDOT. What exactly he was focused on is unclear, since Curtis's allegations encompassed so many realms of corruption. I do, however, have email confirmation from Lemme's step-brother that the vote fraud was one of Lemme's focuses. In mid-June 2003, Lemme told Curtis he had tracked the corruption "all the way to the top", that the story would break in a few weeks, and that Curtis would be thrilled with the results.
A couple weeks later, on July 1, Ray Lemme was found dead in a Valdosta GA motel room.
The Valdosta police immediately ruled it a suicide. At first glance, this might have seemed logical, given that a suicide note was found. However, there are multiple irregularities in the "suicide" and in the police's own investigation which cast serious doubt on that conclusion:
- Nobody in Lemme's life indicated he had depression or suicidal thoughts, with one exception: his boss at FDOT. That Lemme's boss, Bob Clift, would be the only one to claim he was suffering from severe depression (incongruous with everyone else) is noteworthy given the prior evidence of a high-level cover-up at FDOT. Despite the stress he was experiencing at work, his life was going well, and he was especially looking forward to his daughter's upcoming wedding. Lemme's actions on the day of the alleged suicide also indicate he was conscientious about his health and his family/co-workers. He was keeping himself hydrated, and didn't cancel an upcoming meeting with FDOT counsel at 1:30 PM despite telling his boss he'd be coming in late, which implies he had some business in Valdosta but planned to return to work.
- Even if he was suicidal, there's no real explanation of why he drove all the way to Valdosta GA if he lived in Tallahassee FL. It would make sense for him to prefer committing suicide outside of his own house, so that his wife wouldn't witness a gruesome scene, but there were plenty of other motels closer to home. And his method of suicide -- slashing his arm -- is not only uncommon for men, but makes even less sense given Curtis's account that Lemme was a gun owner: why would he choose the more painful method when he had a gun on hand?
- Lemme appeared to have a noticeable bruise on his neck. The VPD report, however, said there were no signs of foul play, and initially, they didn't release any photos, claiming that there was a memory card malfunction. In 2005, however, journalist John Caylor was able to obtain these photos and released them online, forcing the VPD to admit that the photos actually did exist. One of the photos was a close-up of Lemme's neck, and showed the bruise.
- The suicide note did not mention his daughter, whose wedding he was looking forward to
- Nothing about the timeline makes sense. This has been the hardest part of investigating the Lemme case because of how much information is missing or contradictory, but I believe I've been able to piece it together. According to his wife, Lemme left his home at 5:15 AM on June 30. Phone records show that at 6:19 AM, Lemme called his boss from a Fast Track store in between Tallahassee and Valdosta, indicating he was en route to Valdosta that morning. Now we have a problem: the suicide note says 8:10 AM. If that's 8:10 AM on June 30, it requires him to have checked in on the early morning of June 30. A motel employee I interviewed, James Holt, says that they sometimes did accept early-morning check-ins, but they charged people for the night before as well as the following day, and Lemme's receipts only indicate payment for one day. Holt, for his part, is pretty sure that Lemme checked in around 6:45 PM on June 30, which is more likely, but raises two questions. First of all, since Lemme was on his way to Valdosta that morning, what was he doing in Valdosta throughout the whole day on June 30 before checking in? Second, why would Lemme, once he checked in, wait around in his motel room for over 12 hours without sleeping in the bed (photos reveal an untouched bed), and then finally decide at 8:10 AM on July 1 to write a note and kill himself? The massive time gaps indicate that Lemme was not in Valdosta to commit suicide.
- Once the Curtis story broke in December 2004, it attracted enough attention for the Valdosta PD to reopen the case. Then they closed it shortly thereafter, following a conversation with "someone at the Florida Department of Transportation". Somehow, the Florida DOT was able to influence a death investigation by a local police department in Georgia. The VPD promised to tell Brad Friedman who that "someone" was, and then stopped returning any of his calls.
- The police appear to have been deceptive about much more than the bruising on Lemme's neck. For instance, the report says that there was no blood on a towel in front of the bathtub, but the photos show there is blood. A belt placed on the towel was curled up into a circle, but the drawing made by Det. Shannon Floyd shows the belt laying straight. There are a water bottle and coffee cup right next to the TV that are clearly visible in the photos, yet there's no mention of them in the sketch or the report. On the bathroom counter, there were a lot of Lemme's personal items, and every one of them was listed under "evidence" except for the key card holder. Notably, James Holt told me that when he went into the room to clean up the blood, he didn't see the water bottle, coffee cup, or key card holder. He went into the room after the police showed up, and to the best of his knowledge, nobody was in the room between the police and him. So the only people who could have disposed of those three pieces of evidence are the Valdosta police. Curiously as well, Holt says that he saw a Heineken beer can in a trash can, but the report and sketch don't even mention a trash can being present in the room at all.
- Some oddities also showed up in the supplemental report where Det. Eugene Bell interviewed witnesses at the motel. The report starts out describing an interview with Michael Davis, but then it suddenly transitions to mentioning a man named "Palmer", who receives no introduction. (One BradBlog commenter noted the curious detail that someone with the last name Palmer worked in the Inspector General's office with Lemme.) Palmer apparently said that they saw Lemme's car parked at the motel since "Sunday afternoon (June 30, 2003)". Which is problematic in multiple respects: Sunday was June 29, and Lemme's wife said he only left Monday morning.
- Perhaps this is minor, but I found it quite noteworthy. The slashes are on Lemme's left arm, which indicate his right hand was doing the cutting, but Lemme's step-brother told me that Lemme was left-handed.
I'm posting about this case here because it's outraged me deeply for quite a while. Furthermore, there's enough solid documentation -- almost all of this information came from official police reports or motel worker James Holt -- and real leads to pursue further -- such as talking to others who worked at the motel.