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Judge, mayor surrender after ballot charges in Fla.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The mayor and a circuit court judge surrendered yesterday on a felony charge that alleged they paid a campaign worker to collect absentee ballots, and the mayor was suspended from his post.

A defense attorney denied charges against Mayor Buddy Dyer, Circuit Court Judge Alan Apte, and two others who also turned themselves in on similar indictments -- Dyer campaign manager Patti Sharp and Ezzie Thomas, a campaign consultant to Dyer and Apte.

A grand jury issued the indictments a day earlier.

The grand jury was looking at whether Thomas illegally collected absentee ballots in predominantly black neighborhoods for Dyer's and Apte's campaigns a year ago in this city of 186,000 residents.

The mayoral race, in which Dyer avoided a runoff by only 234 votes, drew accusations of fraud, and the runner-up has gone to court to try to have the results thrown out.

Dyer has said he signed checks and approved invoices worth about $10,000 for Thomas during his reelection campaign.

The documents do not say what Thomas was being paid to do, and Dyer has said he didn't know, either.

He, Apte, and Sharp declined comment to reporters as they left the Orange County Jail after booking, but Sharp's attorney, Bill Sheaffer, said the defendants had committed no crime.

Thomas's lawyer said the indictment doesn't guarantee Thomas will prosecuted, and that both men were surprised they were indicted. ''My client never had any intent to commit any crime," Dean Mosley said.

The four were charged with violating a state law enacted after Miami's 1998 mayoral election was thrown out because of fraud committed in the collection of absentee ballots.

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