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Clearwater ex-official won't face drug charge

By MONIQUE FIELDS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001


CLEARWATER -- Citing insufficient evidence, prosecutors will not charge former Clearwater economic development director Bob Keller with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Clearwater police found 2.3 grams of marijuana in two plastic bags in an open briefcase as they searched for fingerprints related to the December break-in at Keller's Countryside home.

Possessing such a small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor. Having 20 or more grams, by contrast, warrants a felony charge.

Keller, 59, was out of town when the marijuana was discovered. There were no fingerprints on the bags, no admission of ownership of the marijuana and no circumstantial evidence linking him to the drug, said Lydia Wardell, assistant County Court director with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

"Because he wasn't in actual possession of the marijuana, we would have had to prove he had knowledge of and the ability to control it," she said.

The burglary complicated the matter. Someone ransacked the home and left the opportunity for others to walk inside. Police found the briefcase on the floor and its papers rummaged and scattered about. The bags of marijuana were on papers inside the briefcase, Wardell said.

Reached at his home, Keller said he was surprised he had not heard about the decision made by the state attorney's office last Friday. He wasn't surprised, though, by the decision and said he is moving on with his life.

"I maintain and will maintain -- unlike certain people in the city -- I think the thing should have progressed all along as a routine matter of jurisprudence."

He added, later: "I hope that some people learned about innocence and following the law. I have no fault with the police, but the law says matters under investigation are confidential."

Keller, who also held the post of assistant city manager, declined to discuss the case further.

After the apparent burglary, police sent a report detailing the evidence they gathered to the state attorney's office.

City officials were concerned that a "suspicious" substance had been found, and Keller resigned shortly after the discovery.

Keller has said that he resigned for health reasons after discussing the issue with interim City Manager Bill Horne.

Recent coverage

Keller: Decision to quit was mine (January 5, 2001)

Official: Substance leads to inquiry (January 4, 2001)

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