Disgraced Republican State House candidate Melissa Howard may have bigger issues than just facing voters in the upcoming primary election. Use of a fake diploma to knowingly misrepresent academic standing is a crime in Florida, punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Florida statute 817.566 states, “… any person who utters and publishes or otherwise represents such a document, degree, certificate, diploma, award, record, letter, transcript, form, or other paper as true, knowing it to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.”
Days after Howard posted a photo on Facebook of her holding a college diploma, which Miami University of Ohio calls a phony, the campaign has been silent on her next move. She blocked her Twitter account from public access and deleted her campaign Facebook page.
While some residents of House district 73 are voting via absentee ballot, Howard remains in the race – for now. Sources tell FLA News Howard is considering ending her bid in the face of embarrassing, and potentially unlawful, steps she took to cover up that she doesn’t have a college degree – despite claiming to have one. A college degree is not a requirement to run for elected office.
FLA News has learned some supporters have privately called on her to end her campaign. The former chair of the Manatee County Republican Party, Donna Hayes told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that Howard should leave the race. “That’s a very deceptive falsification that she made,” Hayes told the Herald-Tribune. “It makes the Republican Party look very loose and look like they have no principles.” Hayes has previously endorsed Howard’s Republican opponent.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Howard, is sticking with its support. “In campaigns, facts matter which is why we’re interested in learning the facts on both sides of the story,” said Edie Ousley, the Chamber’s VP of Public Affairs.
FLA News first reported last week the records obtained through the National Student Clearinghouse showed Howard did not earned a Bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Ohio, as she claimed on her campaign website and other documentation. Howard called that assertion a “lie.”
On Friday, her campaign sent two pictures to FLA News showing her sitting with her mother and holding a framed diploma allegedly from Miami University. Based on the pictures, FLA News retracted the original story but continued working to resolve the discrepancy between Howard’s alleged degree and the clearinghouse’s records. That retraction was withdrawn when Miami University’s general counsel confirmed that Mrs. Howard did not earn a degree from the university and that the diploma shown in the photos appeared to be a fake. According to the university, the document contained several errors including the title of a degree that isn’t awarded at Miami University and an incorrect name listed as a college dean. Howard also claimed her degree was in marketing when university records show she was a retail major. Marketing (listed as a business degree) and Retail are different programs located in different colleges at the university.
Howard removed the photos from her now-deleted Facebook page Friday after her story unraveled and the university began an inquiry into her graduation claims. It was around the same time Friday that Howard’s husband was taken to a hospital because of a “cardiac event” as the campaign described it. He has since been released from the hospital. The campaign added in its Saturday statement that Mrs. Howard is “focused on her family – not fake news…”