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Bush suspends sheriff after perjury charge

The Lake County sheriff is accused of lying about his purchases of surplus cars.

By Wire services
Published February 26, 2004

TAVARES - Gov. Jeb Bush suspended Lake County Sheriff George Knupp Jr. on Wednesday after a grand jury indicted him on perjury charges.

The governor appointed J.M. "Buddy" Phillips, former executive director of the Florida Sheriffs Association, as the acting sheriff.

"It is in the best interests of the residents of Lake County, and the citizens of the state of Florida, that George Knupp Jr. be immediately suspended from public office," Bush said in an executive order.

The sheriff testified Tuesday afternoon before a grand jury that was looking into allegations of wrongdoing in how the Sheriff's Office dealt with surplus cars. If convicted, Knupp could face as much as five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each third-degree felony.

According to a report from the grand jury, no evidence of wrongdoing was found regarding the cars, because grand jury members couldn't determine whether the cars' value was artificially reduced for purchase by the sheriff. "The grand jury believed even though there was nothing criminal about it, it was poor judgment and abuse of his position," said Ric Ridgway, chief assistant state attorney.

Knupp did not return a phone call Wednesday.

"We're going to keep doing our job as we have for the past 15 years," he told reporters before the governor suspended him.

The grand jury review started in January, about seven months after Bush ordered an inquiry. The order was prompted by allegations that the sheriff's family, friends and employees of his office were able to buy used vehicles at reduced cost after they were signed over to area dealerships.

The grand jury investigation focused on a 1993 Ford van and a 1995 Ford Thunderbird that had been owned by the Sheriff's Office and then sold to car dealers. The investigation found that the sheriff and his wife purchased each vehicle for $500.

During his grand jury testimony, Knupp said it was a coincidence that he purchased vehicles formerly belonging to his department, and he denied any prearranged agreement.

The grand jury report cited those denials as the basis for the perjury indictment.

[Last modified February 26, 2004, 01:31:33]

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