Agreeing that illness made the defendant steal cocaine, a judge orders treatment and probation instead of prison time.
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2002
TAMPA -- To prosecutors, former Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Christopher Madiedo is a disgrace to his agency, a thief who pilfered drugs from the evidence room, destroyed criminal cases and betrayed his badge.
To defense lawyers, Madiedo is something else: a man enslaved by a cocaine addiction and tortured by mental illness, someone who desperately needs treatment, not prison time.
On Friday, Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta agreed with the defense.
While Madiedo faced up to 121 years in prison -- with the State Attorney's Office calling for him to serve five years -- the judge instead sentenced the 27-year-old former deputy to house arrest and drug rehabilitation. That will be followed by eight years of probation.
"If anything, you were destroying yourself" with addiction, Ficarrotta told Madiedo. The judge also imposed a $50,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.
Madiedo pleaded guilty last month to 24 criminal counts that include impersonating an officer, official misconduct, tampering with evidence, possession of cocaine and marijuana and trafficking in cocaine. To feed his drug addiction, he signed samples out of evidence lockers and returned fakes.
Defense attorney Ron Hanes said Madiedo's behavior stemmed from manic-depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress.
In August 1998, Hanes said, Madiedo found himself in a "life-and-death struggle" with a motorist he believed to be reaching for his service weapon. Madiedo shot the unarmed motorist twice in the backside. When the Sheriff's Office suspended Madiedo for 15 days, it came as a "blow to his self-esteem," Hanes said.
In April 2000, Madiedo claimed he was shot point-blank in the chest by a suspect he was chasing. His bullet-proof vest protected him. There were no witnesses to the shooting.
"He's not a bad cop in the traditional sense," said Gary Trombley, another of Madiedo's defense lawyers, who argued that Madiedo did not steal to enrich himself and didn't sell drugs. Madiedo earned the drug-trafficking charge because of the quantity he possessed, though prosecutors acknowledged it was for his own use.
Prosecutor Suzy Rossomondo argued that Madiedo was first charged with stealing cocaine from evidence lockers in December 1999 -- five months before he was shot -- and looted the evidence lockers 10 or 11 times in all.
Criminal prosecutions against two defendants had to be abandoned as a result of drug evidence he stole.
Last June, Madiedo made a flurry of calls to fellow deputies at the Sheriff's Office, trying to pry loose the names and case numbers of big drug busts they had worked. His excuse: He had a friend curious about policework whom he wanted to show "how it was done."
In a tape-recorded conversation played in court, Madiedo coaxed a sheriff's dispatcher into giving him the number of a case involving 152 grams of cocaine, with the aim of stealing it. "I am so glad you don't know me," Madiedo told the dispatcher after she gave him the number, adding that bad things were being said about him.
Madiedo resigned in June 2001 and was arrested the next day.
During a 4-1/2 hour hearing Friday morning, Madiedo's supporters filled the courtroom and, one by one, asked the judge for mercy.
"To send a law enforcement officer to prison is tantamount to a death sentence," said Simon Canasi, a Madiedo family friend.
His voice cracking, John Madiedo, the defendant's father, begged the judge to give him "the treatment he needs so that he can become our son again."
The former deputy himself stood contritely before the judge, saying: "I can't give an excuse. I know the reasons why I did it, but I can't give an excuse."
When he heard the judge's sentence, Madiedo gave a thumbs-up sign to his family.
Rossomondo, the prosecutor, said the sentence was a disappointment.
"I thought he should be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, because of his actions as a law enforcement officer," Rossomondo said. "He was given a huge break."
The defendant's father said he was relieved.
"If he gets the treatment he needs, he won't relapse," he said, and added of the family's ordeal: "If you have children, you know what it feels like."
Madiedo will remain in the custody of the Sheriff's Office until a bed opens up at the drug-treatment program. As a result of the Madiedo debacle, the Sheriff's Office has tightened its evidence-checkout procedures.
-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.