Both sides claim several breaches of conduct and ethics in the Plant City police corruption investigation.
By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2002
TAMPA -- The investigation into the Plant City Police Department has prompted a slew of misconduct allegations from lawyers on both sides of the aisle.
The full extend of the animosity is now coming to light.
Two defense lawyers, Ed Page and Ron Cacciatore, filed a 29-page complaint against prosecutor Jeffrey Del Fuoco in January that alleged a number of ethical and procedural breaches.
Del Fuoco has fired back with two complaints to the Florida Bar against Page and Cacciatore. His attack included a sworn affidavit from one of the convicted cops that said his superiors had asked him to "dig up" as much "dirt" as possible on Del Fuoco.
The Florida Bar ruled in September that there was not probable cause to proceed with the complaints against Page and Cacciatore, two veteran lawyers in Tampa. The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment on the status of the complaint against Del Fuoco.
Cacciatore and Del Fuoco could not be reached for comment. Page did not want to comment.
"This is certainly not a situation you find happening a lot," said attorney Scott Tozian, who represented Page and Cacciatore. "Saying it was contentious is a pretty apt description."
The inquiries stem from a 3-year-old investigation into the Plant City Police Department that has resulted in the conviction of three officers. Two pleaded guilty before going to trial.
The third, Armand Cotnoir, went on trial in July. Two former officers testified that officers from the Special Investigations Unit routinely stole from suspect's homes, faked search warrants and lied to judges. Cotnoir decided to plead guilty before the trial ended. He and another officer are scheduled to be sentenced in the next six weeks.
The witnesses testified that several officers and supervisors knew about the illegal activity and either condoned it or looked the other way. The officers named included Page's client Richmond Porter and Cacciatore's client Chief Bill McDaniel, neither of whom have been charged.
Since pleading guilty, Cotnoir has appeared before the grand jury in the case. No one else has been indicted.
Page and Cacciatore's complaint accused Del Fuoco, among other things, of using improper threats and coercion to induce cooperation from Cotnoir, intruding on attorney-client relationship and using the grand jury to induce perjury.
The two lawyers also wrote that Del Fuoco and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent investigating the case used a ruse to convince an officer to speak with them. The last of the 17 allegations stated that Del Fuoco influenced a jury in an unrelated case by unnecessarily using profanity to describe an argument from a defense attorney.
They urged the U.S. attorney to assign another prosector who "can return credibility, fairness and integrity to the fact finding process."
Del Fuoco countered in a complaint and five supplements to the Florida Bar, saying that the "vicious, personal and untrue attack" on him appeared to be an "attempt to "chill' him in his duties as a federal prosecutor."
He pointed out that the profanity he used in the closing argument was a quote from a witness, which is not prohibited. Robert O'Neill, now chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, swore in an affidavit that he warned Page to double check the circumstances in which the profanity was uttered. O'Neill wrote that he told Page to check if Del Fuoco was quoting what a witness had said.
Eventually, Page and Cacciatore withdrew that part of their complaint.
In August, Del Fuoco sent the Florida Bar investigator a five-page affidavit from Cotnoir, who had pleaded guilty a month earlier and had decided to cooperate with the ongoing investigation. In the affidavit, Cotnoir said Del Fuoco had not misled him and that the alleged threat made by Del Fuoco and the FDLE investigator had not occurred.
Florida Bar officials wrote to Del Fuoco saying that they could not investigate allegations of slander or libel, which are usually litigated in civil court. As for the other charges, they decided not to proceed any further.
Since then, Del Fuoco has been transferred from the special prosecutions unit to general crimes and is no longer running the Plant City investigation. U.S. Attorney's Office officials would not say at the time why the move was made. The U.S. Attorney's Office does not often comment about personnel changes outside of the management ranks.
-- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or email@example.com .