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Judge chastises ex-prosecutor

Jeffrey Del Fuoco, who tried to get Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit, is ordered to pay Wells $167,000.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO and CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published September 22, 2005

TAMPA - A federal judge slapped a former federal prosecutor with a $167,000 sanction late Tuesday, saying the attorney threatened the Manatee County sheriff during an election campaign.

Jeffrey Del Fuoco, 52, who resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney in Tampa to go into private practice, had sued Sheriff Charles Wells, saying the sheriff illegally ran Fuoco's license plates through a statewide database as retaliation for Del Fuoco's role in a corruption prosecution. Del Fuoco has accused the Sheriff's Office of "stalking" him and his family.

Wells and two of his attorneys said in August 2004 that Del Fuoco asked for $500,000 to settle the lawsuit in return for dropping a complaint Del Fuoco had planned to file, alleging that Wells had committed election violations.

At a hearing in the matter, Del Fuoco said he intended to alert Wells to the campaign violations as a concerned citizen who hoped the sheriff would self-report such problems. He said he didn't recall asking for a half-million dollars.

A few weeks after Wells said Del Fuoco threatened him, Del Fuoco agreed to dismiss Wells from the lawsuit but also filed a campaign complaint against him with the state election agency, which ultimately dismissed it.

In a scathing order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson sided with Wells' version of the story and said Del Fuoco made a demand "in bad faith."

"There was no discussion of the underlying lawsuit, and its settlement depended entirely upon the sheriff paying $500,000 plus an attorney's fee, in order to have Del Fuoco remain silent about alleged campaign violations," Wilson wrote.

He ordered Del Fuoco to pay $167,000 to cover Wells' attorneys' fees in pursuing sanctions against Del Fuoco.

Wilson also denied Del Fuoco's counter request for sanctions against Wells.

Del Fuoco said he intends to appeal the judge's order.

"I have the utmost respect for the judge and the court, but I respectfully disagree with the findings as presently stated," Del Fuoco said in a prepared statement.

Wells said he was not surprised by Wilson's order.

"I know what I saw, and I know that I felt like I was being blackmailed into settling a lawsuit," Wells said.

Del Fuoco had also sued Larry Bahnsen and Barry Coleman, Manatee County sheriff's deputies, who are the only parties remaining in the lawsuit. They have asked Wilson to dismiss the case.

Wilson also suggested that Del Fuoco's claims against Colman and Bahnsen "have little merit," and that Wilson doubted that Del Fuoco "suffered any substantial injury."

Wilson has yet to rule on whether he will throw out the rest of the case against Bahnsen and Colemen.

[Last modified September 22, 2005, 04:53:16]


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