Melissa Howard
Photo provided by Melissa Howard

State House candidate Melissa Howard admits she lied when she claimed to be a college graduate, but added it was “never her intent to deceive or mislead anyone” even though she apparently bought a fake college diploma, posed for a picture with it and claimed “the truth will set you free.”

In posting an apology on Facebook, Howard said she was staying in the district 73 race and intended to win. Her apology was first reported by the website Florida Politics.

“I would like to apologize to my family and my supporters for this situation. It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone. I made a mistake in saying that I completed my degree. What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service. I am staying in the race and intend to win and lead by example from now on.”

Howard Faked Her Diploma
Photo from Melissa Howard

Howard made no mention of the photo she posted Friday showing her holding a college degree, a document Miami University of Ohio calls a fraud. The audacious move involved her flying to Ohio and posing for a picture with her mother and the diploma.

FLA News first reported that the National Student Clearinghouse certified that Howard didn’t have a degree as she claimed on her campaign website and in other campaign literature. Howard called our initial story a “lie.” Late Friday, after Howard posted the picture on social media, Miami University confirmed that she never graduated and her diploma was inconsistent with a real diploma the university would have awarded in 1996. Her campaign called that story “fake news.”

Howard’s use of the term “intent to deceive” in her apology is a clear indication she understands she could face criminal charges for her deception. As FLA News reported Sunday, Florida statute 817.566 makes it a first degree misdemeanor to use a fake degree to misrepresent academic standing. The trigger phrase in the statute to prove a crime was committed is “with intent to defraud.”

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Monday afternoon that Donna Hayes, former chair of the Manatee Republican Party, has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Howard’s conduct.

With just two weeks before the August 28 Republican Primary, Howard is hoping her mia culpa will allow voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties to overlook her serious lack of judgement.

Her story has drawn attention from media outlets across the country primarily because of the great lengths Howard took to cover up her deception.

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David Bishop is a native Floridian, husband and father. During his 30 year career, David has been a journalist, political operative and communications consultant.