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Palm trees survive as plot details uncovered

By JODIE TILLMAN
Published March 20, 2007


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HUDSON - No digging, no crime.

That's what the Pasco County Sheriff's Office concluded about a mysterious plan to take nearly 200 palm trees planted on the public right of way along Clark Street and Old Dixie Highway.

The trees were never removed. Case closed.

But a five-page investigative report by Detective Anthony Bossone finally shed some light on the strange proposal, which became public last month after Palmscapes By Design of Lakeland notified clearinghouse Sunshine State One-Call with a work order to remove the trees.

The investigation eventually led authorities back to a Port Richey company called Island Design Landscaping. That company's owner, John Gomez, is a "tree locator," meaning he gets paid to find trees for other companies to dig up so they can sell them to people who want to plant them elsewhere.

The Lakeland company told authorities that Gomez had offered it the job to remove the Hudson trees when a deal he was working on cleared.

The problem, of course, is that no one had the authority to sell the trees. Those palms were planted in the public right of way as a beautification project nearly a decade ago. Community volunteers organized the effort, paying to bring in the trees with money raised through the Hudson Seafest.

Detectives questioned Gomez about the tree removal plan. He told them that an acquaintance named Thomas Keeble told him that he had been soliciting Pasco County to remove the trees. County officials have said they were not involved in any deal to remove the trees.

Gomez said he had Keeble's business card that had an out-of-service phone number.

The detective found a 2004 police record of a Thomas Keeble who listed Gomez's business as his employer. But presented with a photograph of that Keeble, Gomez denied knowing him. He said it was a different Thomas Keeble who told him about the deal, the report says.

The detective concluded in his report that he'd seen no evidence to suggest that there was a different Thomas Keeble.

Gomez told the Pasco Times on Monday that Keeble called him after seeing a sign on his truck that says he buys trees.

"He just called me up," Gomez said. Told that detectives were unable to find him, he said, "Of course he's real. That's their problem."

The twisted tale came as a surprise to Hudson resident Al Meyer, who had contacted the county last month when he heard about the work order to remove the trees.

"They might've started digging" if the work order had not come to light, he said. "At least our trees are safe."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at (727) 869-6247 or jtillman@sptimes.com.

[Last modified March 20, 2007, 01:03:50]


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