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Tangled Web: Head of IA for south Florida department had her ex-wife investigated, charged with stalking

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Delray Beach Police Lt. Nicole Guerriero, seen here in 2012 as her department’s public information officer, went to a detective in her own department, who was also her friend, to press stalking charges against her ex-wife, Bethany Federenchik Guerriero. She said she was considered a victim, not a police officer, in the case. [Palm Beach Post file photo]

John Pacenti
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

It started as a routine child care dispute between former spouses who just happened to be police officers.

It quickly blew up when Lt. Nicole Guerriero, then head of internal affairs at the Delray Beach Police Department, went to her circle of friends in her own department to press charges against her ex-wife.

Bethany Fedorenchik Guerriero, a police officer in Palm Beach Gardens, was charged with stalking for sending derogatory texts.

Bethany Fedorenchik Guerriero, a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, gave up her badge for two months after Delray Beach police her charged with stalking. [RICHARD GRAULICH/palmbeachpost.com]

Fedorenchik — referred to here by her maiden name — ended up on desk duty, forced to turn in her guns and badge. She didn’t see her adopted daughter for two months, afraid of violating a restraining order also taken out by Guerriero.

A four-month investigation by The Palm Beach Post discovered that members of the top brass — including an assistant police chief — in one of the county’s largest police departments marshaled the criminal justice system to get a fellow officer booked into jail.

The prosecution of Fedorenchik raises profound questions of corruption and self-dealing in a county well-known for it.

And were it not for one tenacious defense attorney, it might never have come to light.

Fedorenchik’s attorney, Nellie King, took her concerns about the case to the state attorney’s public corruption unit to investigate and hit a brick wall.

Delray Beach Police Detective Stephanie Baker, right, receiving a commendation from Chief Javaro Sims. Baker investigated the ex-wife of her friend, Lt. Nicole Guerriero, on stalking charges. In a deposition, she denied any conflict of interest. [Delray Beach Police Facebook)

“The unwillingness of the State Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit to investigate serious allegations involving law enforcement equates to a green light for corruption to thrive,” King said.

In the vacuum left by State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office are an internal police investigation into abuse of power and perjury, a state insurance fraud investigation and a legal fight — all paid for by taxpayers — to keep the contents of Guerriero’s phone secret.

Speaking of taxpayers, King discovered that the detective who investigated her client was not only a friend of Guerriero’s but also netted more than $5,000 in overtime on the stalking case, which was dropped by prosecutors after two months.

Fedorenchik also has notified the city of her intent to sue for malicious prosecution.

“It’s apparent Guerriero used her power and her own department to settle a personal vendetta,” King said.

“She enlisted the help of her good friend and co-worker to secretly investigate, secure a temporary restraining order and prosecute her wife.”

Guerriero said she should be considered first as a victim of a crime, not as a police officer. She told The Post that King has worked hard to make this “a scandal.”

A nationally recognized police ethics expert, however, decries the way Delray police handled the case, saying the department should have farmed out the investigation to another agency.

“It allowed Guerriero to abuse her power as a high-ranking officer,” said Maria “Maki” Haberfeld, academic director of the NYPD Police Studies Certificate at John Jay College.

“She had no business engaging anybody within the department to investigate this case,” Haberfeld said. “Not only is it not ethical, it’s counter to any organizational behavior. Spouses or ex-spouses certainly do not investigate each other.”

Beneath all this acrimony is epic sadness.

Guerriero told Fedorenchik she wanted a divorce in April 2017, just two months after they formally adopted a foster child.

Around the same time, Guerriero was dealing with the tragic death by a drunken driver of her close friend, Delray Beach Officer Christine Braswell.

Guerriero met Fedorenchik in July 2011 at Florida Explorers Boot Camp where police across the state come together for three days of intensive training.

Guerriero, 46, started her law enforcement career as an officer in Delray Beach in 1999. She was promoted to sergeant 10 years later and then to lieutenant in 2015.

She has served as the spokeswoman for the department and as head of internal affairs, which investigates professional misconduct on the force. She is now a lieutenant on road patrol.

Fedorenchik, too, has spent her 15-year career with one agency, Gardens police. The 45-year-old served briefly as a SWAT team sniper and has worked undercover. She is a longtime field training officer.

The two were married in February 2014 in Queens County, N.Y.

Guerriero and Fedorenchik separated the day after Braswell died in April 2017 from injuries when she was struck by a drunken driver in Key West.

Guerrero approached Detective Stephanie Baker in September 2017 to report her wife for stalking through texts, saying she had become “obsessive.” Five days later, Guerriero filed for divorce.

Guerriero and Baker were friends. Their daughters played together. They attended each other’s landmark occasions, such as a bachelorette party and an adoption ceremony. They appear in social media photographs together, one posted by Guerriero with the caption, “My Girl Steph!”

Baker said she found 200 texts sent by Fedorenchik “concerning,” according to a police report. None of the 44,000 texts between the couple from March 2017 through December 2018 showed a threat of overt violence, but Baker took her friend’s word that she was in fear.

“She didn’t directly say that she would kill me,” Guerriero said in a deposition. “But she said I would get mine and has made statements like that that led me to believe that she wanted to harm me.”

Baker declined to comment through her department’s spokesman, citing the ongoing internal affairs investigation.

The text messages show Fedorenchik vacillating between expressing everlasting love for Guerriero and vicious hate.

“I truly and honestly love and care about you, and one of these days you will see the unconditional love I have for you,” Fedorenchik texts.

And then later, “It’s going to be a real bitch dealing with yourself and what you’ve done.”

In seven days in September 2017, Fedorenchik sent 349 texts. Baker cites in the police report texts in which Guerriero beseeches her to text only about the care of their child.

Guerriero has said repeatedly that when it came to the stalking case she was a victim and not a police officer.

But the “victim” was the one who got verbal approval for her own department to investigate the case from then-Assistant Chief Mary Olsen. There was never written approval.

Baker explained in her May 6 deposition, saying, “I requested that Nicole get approval. She told me she got approval. And I had spoken with Mary to ensure that it was okay that I worked the case.”

Olsen told The Post she is friends with both Baker and Guerriero. Olsen now works for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and is assigned to Aronberg’s sober home task force.

She said her friendship with Guerriero did not influence her decision to approve the stalking investigation.

Olsen told The Post that Baker was Delray Beach’s stalking expert and had experience investigating crimes involving officers as either culprit or victim. The police chief at the time, Jeff Goldman, also knew of the investigation, she said.

Goldman, who retired April 5 and now works security for American Express, could not be reached for comment. Olsen was vying for his job but lost out on the promotion.

“Stephanie Baker’s integrity is above reproach,” Olsen said. “She has already proven to be extremely impartial. Her integrity and investigative experience made her the likely person to do the case.”

Guerriero said it was appropriate for Delray Beach police to investigate her claim of stalking since she lives in the jurisdiction, as does Fedorenchik.

Baker said in a deposition that she did nothing wrong taking on the stalking investigation into a friend’s ex-wife. She has investigated “multiple cases” that involved officers.

“I treated this like every other case I’ve worked and given it even more time to ensure that I’m not being biased,” Baker said.

Other police departments, however, have policies about investigations in which there is an appearance of conflict of interest.

The Seattle police manual says there will be no investigation of “events” where the employee has a “personal relationship” and prohibits the arrest of family members, business associates or social acquaintances except in emergencies.

The Boston Police Department has a similar policy.

Baker, an officer for nearly 15 years, tried to downplay her friendship with Guerriero in her deposition, saying: “We’ve only hung out a handful of times. So there’s not much there.”

Baker noted that Fedorenchik called Guerriero dumb and other names in text messages when King asked her about the stalking.

“She couldn’t act like an adult,” Baker said. “If you read the messages that were being sent to her, the verbiage in there is not from an adult.”

What isn’t in Baker’s reports is that months before the investigation began, a sobbing Fedorenchik had tried talking to her about her crumbling marriage when she dropped off her daughter for a play date at the detective’s house.

The Gardens officer did not find a sympathetic ear.

“She (Fedorenchik) came to me and a cosmetologist and supervisors and everybody else she could talk to,” Baker said in a deposition. “So you kind of lose your credibility of your concern when you’re throwing your spouse underneath the bus.”

Baker closed the initial stalking investigation in October 2017, one month after it started, at Guerriero’s behest.

Guerriero resurrected it in January 2019 and turned over her phone so Delray police could extract text messages.

Fedorenchik’s most bitter texts concern Charles “Charlie” Navarro, whom Guerriero declared as her domestic partner in December 2018 and put on her city health insurance — a move that is now the subject of a state investigation.

The new text messages from the phone dump show Fedorenchik upset that Navarro was spending time with Guerriero — and possibly her daughter.

Guerriero claimed her ex-wife was tracking her phone traffic and her whereabouts.

Baker said she relied on Guerriero’s police expertise to gather evidence, checking for GPS tracking devices on her car. None was found.

Navarro said he saw Fedorenchik harassing Guerriero.

“This is my family and I will protect it to the end,” Navarro said in an email to The Post. “This (has) been going on for a long time now and I’m tired of people spreading lies, just like Beth.”

But Guerriero didn’t seek a restraining order until Fedorenchik turned her attention to Colleen Dunne, the Monroe County assistant state attorney prosecuting the drunken driver who killed Braswell.

Guerriero in 2019 had started spending time with Dunne despite Guerriero’s declared domestic partnership with Navarro.

Dunne said in her May 6 deposition that she often traveled to Palm Beach County to stay with Guerriero while she trained for triathlons and to take care of Guerriero’s daughter.

Guerriero even listed Dunne at the top of the contact list for a city-run camp her daughter attended, according to documents. Dunne posted a photo of herself with the girl on Facebook.

Dunne said in her deposition that Fedorenchik had started making derogatory remarks about her in emails to Guerriero, “calling me a monkey, telling me I was jumping through hoops, that I’m the new distraction.”

The acrimony between the ex-spouses came to a head when Guerriero and Dunne planned to take Guerriero’s daughter to swim with the dolphins in Key West for spring break. They stayed at Dunne’s residence, according to depositions.

The day before the trip, Fedorenchik demanded to know the address. Guerriero refused to tell her.

The marital settlement agreement required each parent, upon request, to give the other the address where their daughter was staying when they were out of town.

At the time, Dunne was still prosecuting the criminal case against the driver who killed Braswell. The driver pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter and received a 10-year prison sentence last April.

Also, Dunne faced ethics charges filed by the Florida Bar that she hid evidence in the attempted murder prosecution of a former Miami Beach police captain who is serving life in prison.

After Fedorenchik’s request for Dunne’s address, Guerriero and Baker worked fast to pursue charges.

Within minutes of Fedorenchik asking for the address, Baker was printing the stalking case report. By late afternoon, Guerriero had a temporary restraining order on the basis of Baker’s findings.

That evening, Guerriero emailed Fedorenchik’s divorce attorney that “Bethany was served with a restraining order this evening. I believe this will create some ambiguity as to how the exchanges of our daughter will occur moving forward.”

Fedorenchik was barred from coming within 500 feet of four people “closely associated” with Guerriero — one of them was Baker. Fedorenchik also was prohibited from approaching Dunne and Navarro.

Baker did not note in the arrest report submitted to the State Attorney’s Office on March 21 that she was also protected by the restraining order. Six days later, a warrant was issued for Fedorenchik’s arrest.

All of this could easily have been avoided if Guerriero simply petitioned the family court that handled their divorce, Fedorenchik’s attorney said.

“Guerriero never raised these allegations years ago during the divorce, when it would have been relevant because she was never afraid of my client,” King said.

Guerriero in her deposition blamed Fedorenchik for putting their daughter in the middle of their text wars. But the couple’s daughter did play an unwitting role in the criminal charge.

Guerriero said that her daughter expressed concerns for Guerriero’s safety way back in February 2018, according to Baker’s report.

“The child advised that she (the child) dreamt that Momma Beth shot Momma Nicole and that she (the child) had to stand in front of Momma Nicole to protect her,” Baker wrote.

But the detective never spoke to the child to verify this heart-wrenching anecdote or to the child’s therapist.

After the restraining order, Gardens police put Fedorenchik on modified duty in the evidence room. She turned over her firearms, was told not to wear her uniform to work and not to represent herself to the public as a police officer.

Fedorenchik felt she couldn’t see her daughter because of the restraining order.

“Bethany couldn’t risk it,” King said.

But her problems were about to get a whole lot worse.

Sheriff’s deputies attempted to execute the arrest warrant on March 28 at Gardens police headquarters, King said. When that failed, Delray Beach officers surrounded Fedorenchik’s apartment, she said.

Fedorenchik was tipped off about what was waiting for her at home and turned herself in at the jail. She was released after posting a $500 bond.

Then she hired King to save her career and to kick the whole mess back to family court.

Instead, King kicked over a hornet’s nest.

The first thing King did was to question Guerriero, Baker and Dunne under oath.

Guerriero said she never had a second thought about using her own department to investigate her ex-wife. She told Baker not to talk to Fedorenchik.

“I was not a law enforcement officer in this case,” Guerriero said. “I was Nicole Guerriero, the victim in this case, and requested, as the victim, to please not contact the suspect because of my fear of what she would do.”

She said she kept her supervisors informed.

“I feared that Beth would hurt me and I feared that she would do anything to try and hurt me in any way,” Guerriero said in her April 30 deposition.

However, King then asked Guerriero that if she feared her ex-wife, then why did she have regular interactions with her, such as going out to dinner? Guerriero said their daughter was always there.

“I was naive enough to believe that we could co-parent, that we could perhaps be friends, that we could put everything else aside to co-parent my daughter,” she testified.

Under the law of unintended consequences, Guerriero, by moving against her ex-wife, exposed her own life to scrutiny. It didn’t take long for King to unearth Guerriero’s December 2018 domestic partnership with Navarro — a declaration made under penalty of perjury.

Now it’s the police lieutenant who finds herself the subject of a criminal investigation by the state Department of Financial Services. She put Navarro on her taxpayer-supported health insurance plan then emphatically told King in her deposition that she was not in any relationship.

Q: Who’s Charlie Navarro?

A: Another friend.

Q: Okay. Has he ever lived at your home?

A.: No

Q.: Never been a resident at your address?

A: No.

Q: Was he a boyfriend of yours?

A: In the past, yes.

Q: From what time period to what time period?

A: When I was in my late 20s.

Navarro told The Post in January that he was still receiving benefits through Guerriero’s health insurance.

“(If) you believe or think we got into a partnership because of insurance, now that’s a lie. I don’t need insurance. I had my own,” he said.

Guerriero told The Post that her answers in the deposition regarding Navarro were guarded because she feared Fedorenchik might harm him and “I was sitting across from the attorney of my stalker.”

“I thought she was going to kill me and I thought she was going to kill him,” Guerriero said. “Because he stayed with me when my daughter was not home, I answered questions as I interpreted it.”

A requirement for domestic partnership in Palm Beach County is that the couple live together and “agree to be jointly responsible for each other’s basic food, shelter, common necessities of life and welfare.”

When financial services investigated Guerriero in July, she produced joint credit card statements with Navarro and plane ticket receipts for both of them, according to agency records.She also showed that Navarro had medical insurance prior to the domestic partnership.

The investigator never indicated whether he spoke to Navarro or the scope of Navarro’s health insurance coverage prior to the domestic partnership. He also never noted Guerriero’s contradictory statements in her sworn deposition.

After The Post asked questions about the thoroughness of the investigation, the department reopened it.

Navarro responded by email to questions posed to him by The Post.

“I met Nicole 20 years ago and we have dated throughout those 20 years, including the last few years,” he said. “We have been through a lot together and we have supported each other through many ups and downs.”

Navarro also said he doesn’t always stay at Guerriero’s Delray Beach home because he wants to keep her daughter from being interrogated by Fedorenchik about him. Guerriero, in the text messages, told her ex-wife Navarro never met the child.

“I have seen the fear Nicole has felt due to Beth’s stalking, impulsive and unpredictable behavior,” he wrote. “My concern has always been for the best interest of Nicole’s daughter.”

King told The Post that Guerriero’s honesty about the domestic partnership goes to whether her word as a police officer can be trusted in past and future cases.

“If an officer commits perjury, or defrauds their community, it turns justice on its head,” the attorney said. “The officer is damaged goods because their credibility is irreversibly compromised; every case they touch is called into question.”

Guerriero said there was never any intent to lie in the deposition — a requirement to prove perjury.

“You honestly think a 20-year veteran of law enforcement would risk their career, their pension?” she said.

“I’m tired of being re-victimized over and over again. I did not commit insurance fraud. I did not commit perjury.”

Baker made thousands of dollars in overtime in an effort to put Guerriero’s ex-wife behind bars.

Baker compiled at least 80 hours of overtime on the stalking case last year, said Delray Beach Police spokesman Theodore White. That computes to about $5,100 working on Guerriero’s complaint, according to the hourly salary Baker said she makes in the deposition.

Baker investigated Guerriero’s claim in September 2017. She then transferred to the training unit but took the stalking case with her, working it outside her normal job duties.

When pressed about hours she worked on the case in the deposition, Baker said, “I can tell you in 14′ years I’ve been in law enforcement, I’ve never been asked in a homicide how many hours I worked on a case.”

King has made a separate complaint to Delray Beach Police Chief Javaro Sims about Baker’s overtime in the Guerriero investigation.

Haberfeld, the police ethics expert, said it didn’t make sense that a detective had to engage in overtime to investigate a first-degree misdemeanor.

“This is definitely not a standard occurrence,” said Haberfeld. “Given the personal relations between the officer who filed the complaint and the investigator, from an ethical standpoint, it should have not happened.”

Baker “was working for the obvious personal benefit of her close friend Guerriero and with her own financial incentive in the backdrop, rather than the pursuit of justice,” King said in a letter to Sims in December.

If all of this appears ripe for a public corruption investigation, think again.

The Guerriero case is the most recent example that calls into question whether Aronberg’s office is really tackling investigating public servants accused of wrongdoing — especially police officers.

When King asked the lieutenant how it was appropriate that Baker investigate her ex-wife, Guerriero said, “If you have an issue with that, ma’am, you can bring it to public corruption.”

That is exactly what King did.

But when King complained to Aronberg’s office with allegations that included perjury involving Guerriero’s domestic partnership, the public corruption unit refused to investigate.

“Given the materials provided in this matter, there does not appear to be any alleged criminal activity involving official capacity,” said Brian Fernandes, the prosecutor in charge of the unit, in a May 23 email to King.

King was flabbergasted, pointing out Guerriero’s contradictory statements regarding Navarro.

“Is it the State Attorney’s Office position that city employees can fleece benefits plans via false documentation? I am concerned with this response and the message this sends,” King wrote to Fernandes.

Aronberg’s office did not respond to The Post for comment and has not turned over emails and documents regarding Guerriero requested under Florida’s open records law.

Aronberg has also refused to comply with a Post public records request to turn over documents in other cases involving the public corruption unit.

Aronberg, a Democrat, is running this year for a third term as state attorney and has no announced opposition as of Thursday.

The Post in June published a story about how Aronberg’s public corruption unit failed to properly investigate a circuit judge and his loans from lawyers and unexplained deposits of $120,000 in cash.

The public corruption unit also initially refused to prosecute a whistleblower complaint that a West Palm Beach police officer who was collecting overtime for time that either he didn’t work or couldn’t be verified.

Frank Alonso, the police lieutenant, blew the whistle before being fired himself.

“The entire reason we have a public corruption unit is for a check-and-balance system, to ensure there aren’t political favors or special treatment,” Alonso said.

King has refused to relent on Guerriero, Baker and Dunne even after the temporary restraining order and the stalking charge were dropped.

“I respect law enforcement, but once I determine there is something deceptive or illegal going on, I won’t stop until I find out the truth,” said King, who is on the board for the National Association for Criminal Defense Attorneys.

King sliced and diced the 44,000 text messages that Baker mentioned in her arrest report. It turned out that 19,000 of them were from Guerriero.

Amid the text messages, King found Guerriero discussing with her ex-wife in November 2018 a disciplinary action against Delray Beach Officer Timothy McInerney. Guerriero was head of internal affairs at the time and had just interviewed McInerney.

McInerney was accused of using a fake name and address on title documents to buy and sell a car, but prosecutors dropped the criminal case.

“He lied his ass off,” texted Guerriero, who said she was particularly angry because McInerney blamed his wife.

Guerriero told Fedorenchik she was recommending McInerney’s dismissal from the force and indeed McInerney lost his job.

State law dictates IA investigations “shall remain confidential” until a final determination.

Anyone involved in the investigation who violates it could face a first degree misdemeanor charge punishable up to a year in jail, Florida law states.

Guerriero denies any violation, telling The Post that the text exchange never was made public at the time and she never identifies McInerney in it.

King said Guerriero used her personal phone to conduct official business, thus making it a public record.

King wants to know whether there were text messages between Guerriero, Baker, Dunne and possibly even former Assistant Chief Olsen about the stalking investigation.

King filed a lawsuit on Aug. 27 against Delray Beach to turn over all the contents of Guerriero’s cellphone, saying the city is violating the state’s open records law.

There may be a larger issue at play if Delray Beach officers are using personal cellphones in order to keep information from defendants’ lawyers, she said.

Michael Barfield, president of the Florida ACLU, has intervened in the court fight over the phone, saying its contents need to be released because Guerriero turned it over as part of a criminal investigation, which makes it a public record.

Guerriero is trying to shield those records from public scrutiny, Barfield said.

Guerriero has sought a protection order from the judge limiting her testimony about the phone records.

The lieutenant told The Post that she is simply trying to protect private communications involving her family and health from becoming public. Delray Beach had her consent to obtain only the text messages with Fedorenchik, nothing else, she said.

Guerriero said there are no messages on the phone about the stalking investigation between her, Baker or Dunne.

Dunne, the suspended Key West prosecutor, was representing Guerriero in the lawsuit over the phone. That changed in February after Dunne agreed to a one-year suspension of her law license for hiding evidence. She resigned from the Key West prosecutor’s office, losing her $96,000-a-year salary.

After The Post started looking into the stalking investigation, Guerriero fired off a four-page letter in November to the Palm Beach Gardens city manager.

Guerriero alleged that the Gardens Police Department shielded her ex-wife from professional consequences of the stalking charge, which was dropped in May.

She said her previous complaints about her ex-wife were ignored and that Fedorenchik shouldn’t have received full pay while she was on administrative leave.

Guerriero said just because she withdrew the restraining order and prosecutors followed suit by dropping charges, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of evidence to prosecute Fedorenchik.

Gardens Assistant Chief Dominick Pape and Sgt. Todd Grossman traveled to Delray Beach Police headquarters to talk to Guerriero on Dec. 19, 2018.

Guerriero told them that Fedorenchik had used a law enforcement computer to look up Navarro’s ex-fiancee. Two weeks later, Gardens police deemed her complaint unfounded.

Guerriero said in her November letter that Pape told her they would have a “come to Jesus” talk with Fedorenchik, but the text messages did not abate and she sought to file the stalking charge.

Fedorenchik says the charge was nothing less than malicious prosecution. She has hired Joe Sconzo, a former FBI agent turned litigator, to sue.

“The actions of Delray Beach Police Department’s Lt. Nicole Guerriero has been self-serving and without any fear of reprisal from the inception of this matter,” Sconzo said.

Guerriero said she feels no one can understand that she had no choice but to pursue a criminal charge against her ex-spouse, that she felt her life was in danger.

“I feel like unless someone was in my shoes, they would never understand how horrible the last three years of my life have been,” she told The Post.

jpacenti@pbpost

@jpacenti

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