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    Pinellas deputy faces charges in theft at jail

    A sheriff's bailiff, who was in jail on charges of careless driving and DUI, noticed his money was missing when he was released. He later reported it.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


    The booking deputy, Zema J. Florence, a 20-year employee of the sheriff's office, was arrested Friday on grand theft charges.

    The incident took place on Nov. 10, 2000, when St. Petersburg police brought in the bailiff, Thomas Fitzgibbon, on charges of careless driving and driving under the influence.

    Upon his release from the jail, Fitzgibbon, 62, noticed his money was missing, authorities said.

    Fitzgibbon, who still works for the sheriff's office, tried to retrace his steps.

    "He didn't report (the money missing) right away because he was trying to construct what occurred or how much money he had or whether there was a procedural error," said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.

    Two weeks later, Fitzgibbon reported the missing money to authorities, Pasha said.

    Sheriff's officials began investigating the matter, and it took several weeks, Pasha said. The key to the inquiry was a videotape of Florence and a bag filled with Fitzgibbon's belongings. The video "showed some movement from the property bag into his pocket," Pasha said of Florence.

    Florence, 43, said he did not take the money, Pasha said. "He made no admissions," she said. He posted $5,000 bail and was released an hour after being booked at the jail.

    Florence has been suspended without pay. Internal affairs is also reviewing the case, Pasha said. She could not recall any similar cases where a booking deputy was accused of stealing from a suspect.

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