clerk campaign volunteer, Lee Belmonte was caught red-handed stealing campaign signs from the campaign he was working against, candidate Dean Martin.
Belmonte has been placing signs for his candidate, Pat Key.
Key and Martin are first time candidates for the County Clerk
Martin’s family and campaign manager, David Tackett have been following Belmonte around for weeks because thousands of their campaign signs had gone missing, many were even on private property and replaced with Pat Key signs. Sometimes, according to Tackett, Key’s signs were placed on rebar from Martin’s signs.
Martin’s son, Jared, was tired of spending 20 hours a week putting out thousands of signs, on top of his 60 hour work week, to see his dad’s signs disappear completely, or be hidden by a Pat Key sign. He decided to search for the thief.
One night he followed a white van with a man, he described as Belmonte, taking Martin’s signs out of the ground and putting them inside his van. The cell phone video his wife took was hard to see because it was dark outside. Tackett emailed Key’s campaign and described what the Martin family saw. Key’s response was the Martin campaign was guilty of the same doing the same thing to her signs.
“All along my dad has said we are going to run a clean campaign,” said Jared Martin. “We could have tried to retaliate and I am sure a lot of people would have thought that would have been the best way to handle it; but that is not the way we do things.”
Jared Martin explained why he believes in his father.
“My dad raised me to be a man of honor and integrity, and I am just not going to go steal other people’s signs,” said Jared Martin.
Instead, Jared Martin bought a $100 GPS dog collar and placed it on the back of one of his dad’s signs on Saturday on private property along East 124th Street South and Memorial in Bixby.
Sunday morning, he got an email.
“We knew if we could track it's exact location than we could get the guy,’ said Jared Martin. “About we got an email that our puppy tracker was moving.”
They followed it and called the police saying someone stole their sign off their friend’s private property. The GPS lead them to 106th and memorial, which was just a few blocks from where the sign was placed.
They recorded cell phone video of Belmonte being arrested and the police pulling 30 Dean Martin signs out of his white van while parked in a Sonic parking lot.
“To put signs out and then to have the signs not only taken but then replaced with the opponent’s sign is frankly, insulting,” said Tackett.
In another email to Pat Key sent on August 13, 2012, Dean Martin wrote:
In the last few days our large signs have been taken down and replaced by your signs. In some instances our rebar is fastened to your signs.
In the primary I was impressed with the competitive but honorable campaign you were waging. I thought it showed your good character, integrity and your Christian values.
I want to assume what is happening with my signs now is due to an over aggressive person you have assigned to your sign placement. I'm hoping that bringing this to your attention will allow you to have a discussion with them about the costs of these signs and the legal consequences of their actions.
Pat Key wrote back:
I think there is plenty of aggression on the part of both sides. My signs are disappearing and being taken down and thrown down. In many cases taken altogether. I will speak to the people putting my signs up, but i would appreciate it if you would do the same.
In response to Key’s volunteer’s arrest, the Key campaign states:
Neither Pat Key nor her campaign manager, Marvin Branham, have ever authorized or condoned volunteers to remove opponent’s signs. We are not aware of Sunday's circumstances. We seriously doubt a sign was removed from private property, knowing that would reflect negatively on the campaign. We believe this is nothing more than a desperate attempt from a campaign to smear Pat Key's good name and reputation.
Lee Belmonte was booked on one count of possession of stolen property.
The election for Tulsa County clerk will be Tuesday, August 28th, 2012.