Two veteran officers with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office were arrested on Friday in unrelated cases. Both are accused of grand theft, and one is also charged with organized fraud. All of the charges are third-degree felonies. Both officers resigned in the wake of the investigations, and a third officer has been put on leave.
In one case, a sergeant is accused of grand theft after allegedly borrowing an estimated $2,784 from a Vice and Narcotics unit fund used for drug buys. He did pay some of the money back, but he was apparently not authorized to borrow from the account. He turned himself in Friday.
The sergeant’s supervisor may have known he had borrowed the money, but either had no authority to approve the loan or did not do so. The supervisor is not accused of any wrongdoing but has been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation.
In the other case, a Sheriff’s deputy is suspected of having taken money from two accounts without authorization. The man had served as treasurer of Lodge No. 74 of the Fraternal Order of Police between 2006 and 2010. He is accused of using the lodge’s debit or credit card to withdraw cash from ATMs and make personal purchases at local stores in amounts totaling around $14,000. He is also accused of taking $1,040 from a memorial fund for an officer who was killed in a car accident in 2009.
The deputy is now facing a charge of organized fraud and two counts of grand theft. He turned himself in on Friday morning and has been released on $4,000 bail.
In Florida, each third-degree felony count carries a potential sentence of up to five years in prison.
At a press conference, the Hernando County Sheriff commented that he was frustrated, angry and disappointed that the two officers betrayed their oaths, as he sees it. Indeed, many citizens share those feelings when law enforcement officers are accused of crimes.
Just as with any criminal defendant, however, it is crucial for us in the public to remember that we don’t know all the facts. Merely being charged with fraud or theft is enough to destroy reputations and end careers long before trial. These officers deserve the full benefit of their constitutional right to be presumed innocent until they are actually proved guilty.
Source: Tampa Bay Times, “Two Hernando sheriff’s officers resign after being charged with theft of money,” Tony Marrero, Dec. 27, 2013