County worker held in scam
The building employee sold fake contracting licenses for years , authorities say.
By BRADY DENNIS
Published November 18, 2006
TAMPA - A veteran Hillsborough County building employee landed in jail Friday on allegations that he accepted thousands of dollars in bribes.
Investigators say that John Demetrius Oats, 31, had for years been issuing fake county contracting licenses in exchange for under-the-table payments. He used licenses that previously belonged to a contractor who was "now deceased," a sheriff's spokeswoman said.
Oats now faces charges of money laundering, bribery, fraudulent use of personal information and unlawful compensation or reward.
His sister-in-law, Kimberly Lymuel, also was arrested on money laundering charges because she cashed two of the checks, reports stated.
Oats has been suspended without pay, and should the allegations prove true, he will lose his job with the county.
"I am not going to tolerate any illegal activity or unethical behavior," County Administrator Pat Bean said Friday. "If any one of us does something bad, that reflects on all of us."
She said Oats' actions "insulted and embarrassed the rest of us."
According to Bean, Oats' scheme unraveled thanks to a whistleblower, Ron Collodi. Collodi, a general manager in the building services division, noticed a problem when a contractor tried to renew his county license. He said the license number didn't match with the one on file with the state of Florida.
Collodi reported the matter to the county's Professional Responsibility Section, which investigates about 180 complaints a year and works like the police department's internal affairs unit. PRS notified the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office in March, and the two agencies conducted a joint investigation.
On Friday, Bean called Collodi "a hero."
Oats has worked for the county since 1993 and in the same department for the past 10 years. He is based out of the Northwest office, one of five satellite offices of the building services division, part of the county's Planning and Growth Management Department.
His annual salary is $35,152.
Officials on Friday wouldn't discuss how many fraudulent licenses he issued and to whom, citing an ongoing investigation.
But sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said Oats had been handing out fake licenses since at least 2001.
State records show Oats has only one prior arrest, a 1995 marijuana possession charge, which later was dropped. Lymuel has no arrest record in Florida.
County records also show that Oats married Keisha Lymuel in 2004. The couple purchased at 2,000-square-foot, $222,600 home in the Citrus Park area in October 2005.
Reached by phone, Keisha Lymuel hung up on a reporter.
Bean on Friday sought to reassure any residents who fear they've hired improperly licensed contractors.
She pointed out that county inspectors work independently and would have ensured the quality of any work.
She said when investigators identify the contractors with fraudulent licenses, anyone they worked for can request a re-inspection from the county.
Bean also vowed to explore adding more internal controls on who can issue licenses.
Friday brought the second arrest of a government worker on fraud charges in barely a week.
Last week, a customer service representative in the Hillsborough County Tax Collector's Office was arrested on charges that she sold drivers' licenses to people without proper documentation, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Deisy Oropesa told investigators she was part of an organized scheme to peddle drivers' licenses for $200 apiece, court records show.
Oropesa, 30, faces 174 counts of unlawful compensation for official behavior, official misconduct and driver's license fraud.
Oats remained in custody Friday evening in lieu of $28,500 bail. Lymuel turned herself in Friday afternoon and was released after posting $15,000 bail.