County Commission candidate Joe Mullins, who is running for the District 4 seat, speaks during a candidate forum March 7. (File photo)

Fact-checking Joe Mullins

The County Commission candidate responds to challenges to his residency and allegations that he requested a photo of a woman taking a shower.
By: 
Mar. 22, 2018

By Jonathan Simmons and Brian McMillan

In a recent interview, the Palm Coast Observer asked Flagler County Commission District 4 candidate Joe Mullins about several accusations against him, many of which were brought up in news articles when he ran unsuccessfully in 2015 for the Georgia House of Representatives. 

His version of events differs from other sources’ versions.

Mullins: Text messages were ‘manipulated’

After the November 2015 election in Georgia, Joe Mullins took a trip to Las Vegas to unwind. On the plane ride there, he began a conversation via texts and Facebook messages with a 25-year-old Georgia woman named Madeline Rogers, whom he had seen while she was working at Twin Peaks, an establishment similar to a Hooters Restaurant.

The Metro Spirit, an alternative weekly in Augusta, Georgia, interviewed Rogers a few days later, and she shared dozens of texts that Mullins had sent to her, including invitations to join him in Las Vegas and requests to send him pictures of herself in the shower.

Rogers spoke with three people at the Metro Spirit office: reporter Stacey Eidson, publisher Joe White and radio personality Austin Rhodes. During their interview, Mullins texted her again. Rogers called him, and he answered. 

Eidson reported that all four of the people in the room, listening to Mullins, “clearly recognized his voice,” and yet Mullins later denied to Eidson “the existence of the conversation, or the numerous texts and Facebook messages he appears to have sent her over the past several days,” Eidson reported in the Metro Spirit. One of the texts published by Eidson in her story included a selfie of Mullins. 

“I have no clue who that is,” Mullins said to Eidson when asked about Rogers. “I don’t even control my Facebook messages. I have no clue what she is talking about.”

Mullins, however, had a different response during his Palm Coast Observer interview. He said: “The texts were from me, but they were not complete sentences. … They were manipulated, chopped off, or certain parts were omitted.” Then he said, “I don’t know that any of the streams even occurred. I didn’t read (Eidson’s story). I didn’t look at it.”

Moreover, contrary to what Mullins told the Metro Spirit, he told the Palm Coast Observer that he did, in fact, answer the phone call from Rogers:

“Oh, they did call … ” Mullins said. “I had never spoken to (Rogers) on the phone … before, and I was very clear, didn’t say anything inappropriate. ... I talked about the election. ... It was on the way home from Vegas from a private number, and I answered it.”

Mullins pointed out that Rogers is a former roommate of Rhodes’ daughter, implying that she cannot be trusted, given a history of legal battles between Mullins and Rhodes. Rhodes had a restraining order upheld in court against Mullins.

In a March 21 interview with the Palm Coast Observer, Rogers said she was aware of Rhodes’ interest in exposing Mullins. She also was aware that her coworker at Twin Peaks had previously claimed to have been approached by Mullins “under the guise of offering her a job” and then was asked for photos. So Rogers accepted Mullins’ friend request on Facebook as an experiment. “I wanted to give him enough rope to hang himself,” she said. “ … There was no direction (from Rhodes) of, ‘Say this, say that.’ I was kind of curious, like, ‘Let’s let (Mullins) lead the way and see what happens.’ … He initiated the friend request, the contact.” 

Rogers said she read every word of the Metro Spirit account of her text messages with Mullins and said it was accurate.

Mullins: Tax return was ‘copied’ by opponent

Questions about Mullins’ residency also made the news in Georgia before the 2015 election. 

In 2013, while Mullins was living at the West Lake Country Club in Augusta, he told club management he wanted to cancel his membership. A manager at the time asked him to keep the membership and said Mullins could claim Florida residency to qualify for a discounted out-of-state rate because Mullins also owned property in Flagler Beach. Mullins agreed.

“At the time, I was trying to help him,” Mullins said to the Palm Coast Observer. He added, “He was trying to retain members because they were having a rapid amount of drop-out.”

But a story by the Augusta Chronicle newspaper in 2015 challenged the idea that Mullins did it mainly as a favor to a manager. The article showed Mullins went to some effort in an attempt to retain his discounted rate. 

The Chronicle’s Steve Crawford reported that in April 2014 the board from the West Lake Country Club rejected Mullins’ petition for “non-resident status.” Mullins disputed the board’s decision and provided a federal tax return and a Florida driver’s license to prove he should get the rate after all.

When, in September 2015, Crawford showed Mullins the tax return that had been submitted to West Lake a year earlier, Mullins told him, “That’s not mine,” according to Crawford’s story. Mullins blamed his opponent in the House race, saying, “What it looks like is that they have taken my (Georgia) tax return and copied it.”

A month after Crawford’s story about the West Lake membership was published, Mullins confessed to Crawford that his claim of being a Florida resident had been untruthful.

He told the Palm Coast Observer he believes his falsified residency ultimately cost him the 2015 election. “I regret doing it, and realized I had made a mistake,” Mullins said.

Mullins said he has paid for the West Lake Country Club lie, and that he also has turned his life around from previous opioid addiction. He said he serves on the Georgia Opioid Task Force and is passionate about helping Flagler County make progress in its fight against opioids.

“In 2011, when I went into recovery, that’s when I learned I don’t have what people call a conscience — that is the voice of God in me,” Mullins said. “What I thought was a conscience my whole life, that’s the voice of God that was pulling at me. So not until recovery did I learn to have a relationship with him.”

Mullins: ‘I just did the form that I was told to fill out’

The Augusta Chronicle also reported Mullins held driver’s licenses in Florida and North Carolina at the time he declared his candidacy for the Georgia statehouse in July 2015. 

According to government websites in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, proof of residency is required to obtain a driver’s license. 

Asked about the claim of having two driver’s licenses, Mullins told the Palm Coast Observer, “That's not true. Never had more than one driver’s license.” He added: “A driver’s license doesn’t determine your residency. You can have a driver’s license in a different state.”

Mullins explained how one could end up with two licenses: “If I go to North Carolina today, and I try to get another driver’s license, my driver’s license will pull up with my Social Security number. And it’s their responsibility to invalidate that other driver’s license.”

Mullins said he had different licenses during a short period, but he said he turned in previous licenses to officials whenever he obtained the new one. 

Mullins said he moved from Georgia to North Carolina in 2013 to stay with his mother, and he said he intended to make North Carolina his primary residence but never did. While he was there, he inquired about registering company vehicles in North Carolina. “And they said, ‘Look you can’t register in North Carolina without having a North Carolina driver’s license,’” Mullins recalled. “So I figured what the heck.”

He said in a March 19 Facebook message to the Palm Coast Observer, “I didn’t speak to anyone about (residency). I just did the form that I was told to fill out and get my vehicles registered that stay in North Carolina.” 

Mullins said he was living in North Carolina until his mother died — Nov. 29, 2013, at which time he moved back to Georgia.

The Georgia election was Nov. 3, 2015, just shy of Georgia’s two-year residency requirement to run for state office.

Although Mullins’ timeline indicates confusion over his permanent residency and whether he met Georgia’s residency requirements, Mullins said residency was not an issue for the Georgia election because, if it had been, “I wouldn’t have gotten on the ballot.”

Mullins: ‘Our community is at stake’

Mullins said to attendees of a Flagler County Republican forum on March 7, “How important is it to have ethical, honorable, elected officials representing the people of Flagler County? I think that’s very important, but I’m not going to sit up here and say that I’m a perfect person.”

To Flagler County residents who are concerned about his past, Mullins said, “I’m running on what my skill levels are … and my skill levels have been able to bring jobs to communities.

“Our community is at stake. Our future is at stake. My kids live here. They’re going to go to school here. I want them to have the opportunity to stay here their whole life if they choose to. So, I’m not going to let this stuff divert me. I’m happy answering it. I feel I have answered it.”

Email jonathan@palmcoastobserver.com.