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Prosecutor sues sheriff, charging illegal snooping

A U.S. prosecutor of corruption in Manatee's Delta unit claims his auto tags were run through a state database.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 1, 2003

TAMPA -- Federal prosecutor Jeffrey Del Fuoco claims the Manatee County Sheriff's Office illegally ran his license plates through a state database as part of a plan to harass him in retaliation for his handling of a corruption case against Manatee deputies.

In a federal lawsuit filed Friday, Del Fuoco names Manatee Sheriff Charles B. Wells and an analyst with his agency, Lola Foy. The suit claims that on June 6, 2001, Foy plugged the tag numbers of Del Fuoco's Honda and Toyota into a state database to obtain personal, legally shielded information.

The suit claims Sheriff Wells either ordered Foy to tap into the database or failed to prevent her from doing it. "When you're in command, you're responsible for what happened," said Craig A. Huffman, one of Del Fuoco's lawyers. "That's why (Wells) is being sued."

Between October 1999 and October 2000, Del Fuoco successfully prosecuted six members of the Manatee sheriff's Delta Task Force antidrug unit on charges that included conspiracy to violate civil rights, witness tampering, and planting evidence on suspects.

Del Fuoco's attorneys say someone at the Manatee agency had been following Del Fuoco and might have planned to plant crack cocaine in his car to discredit him. It would be in "keeping with the modus operandi of the Delta unit," Huffman said.

Del Fuoco wants to know who ordered the analyst to run the search on his cars, why it was done, and how his license plate information was obtained in the first place.

Del Fuoco's lawyers say the Florida Department of Law Enforcement alerted him in September or October that someone had been running his name through the state database, after a routine check by the FDLE taken for the federal prosecutor's protection.

"If Jeffrey Del Fuoco were not an assistant U.S. attorney, he would never have known about it," Huffman said. "You can't use the systems available to you to run people for your own private purposes."

The Manatee Sheriff's Office acknowledges it ran Del Fuoco's plates, but can't say why.

"We run tags all the time," said agency spokesman Dave Bristow. "It's just one of hundreds of tags that we run."

Despite an internal investigation, Bristow said, "we couldn't come up with the reason it was run. (Lola Foy) just basically said she doesn't remember who directed her to run it."

Bristow added, "We maintain it was law enforcement-related."

Del Fuoco's attorneys are pressing for specifics. "If my client was being investigated, I'd like to know what it was for," Huffman said.

Along with his work on the Manatee corruption case, Del Fuoco has obtained convictions against members of the Plant City Police Department, which has been embroiled in a corruption scandal of its own. Critics have accused Del Fuoco of overzealous prosecutions, including the use of improper threats and coercion against a potential witness.

-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com .

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