Posted on Sun, Apr. 28, 2002

Plant City police chief, mayor accused of cover-up scandal

PLANT CITY - A federal prosecutor said Plant City's police chief and mayor collaborated to hide criminal evidence against police officers targeted in a federal corruption investigation.

Mayor Mike Sparkman paid the legal fees for accused officer Armand Cotnoir to keep him from talking to the government about crimes committed by Police Chief Bill McDaniel, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Del Fuoco. In exchange, McDaniel agreed to hide incriminating information about the mayor, Del Fuoco said.

Neither Sparkman nor McDaniel has been charged with a crime.

The accusations, revealed in court documents, are the latest in a three-year investigation of police corruption allegations, including stealing, lying or looking the other way.

Prosecutors said the officers stole property, conducted illegal searches, falsified police reports and lied to judges. The investigation has prompted the police chief, mayor and a city commissioner to hire a criminal defense attorney.

Cotnoir, 27, was indicted in February on charges of conspiracy to deprive citizens of their civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, obstruction of justice and concealing knowledge of a felony.

Two former officers, Robert David Dixon and Shawn Corgan, pleaded guilty in the investigation by the federal government and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The activity occurred over a nearly four-year period, from 1997 to February.

Chief McDaniel's attorney, Ronald Cacciatore, said the claims were "totally irresponsible."

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.

The government filed a new motion asking U.S. Magistrate Thomas McCoun III to revisit the issue, and McCoun issued an order Friday giving the government 10 days to present evidence to support its allegations.

2002 Bradenton Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.