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    In tangled fraud case, detective dated victim

    First there was the empty casket for a fictitious "agent.'' Now this . . .

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2001


    LARGO -- Pinellas sheriff's Detective Rick Narum was the investigator who helped uncover one of the most bizarre criminal cases in recent area history.

    It's the case of Sherrie Lee Cannon, who was accused of stealing at least $20,000 from a woman duped into believing she married a law enforcement agent by telephone, a fictitious "agent" whose funeral Cannon staged with an empty casket as a prop.

    But it turns out that Narum was more than just the lead detective in the case.

    He's also the victim's boyfriend.

    Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe's chief assistant is incensed that Narum had sex with the victim and then failed to disclose it to Cannon's defense attorney in a March 19 deposition in which Narum testified about his investigation.

    "I think it's poor judgment," said Bruce Bartlett, chief assistant to McCabe. "Narum's not an idiot; he's been around the block a few times. He should have known better."

    But Bartlett said he can't immediately explain why the prosecutor at the deposition didn't reveal it, either.

    Prosecutors confirmed on Thursday that the veteran detective and Debra Dawson, the victim in the case, began dating while the case was pending.

    Dawson, 41, said in a deposition this week that she and Narum, 44, had sex up to 15 times while Cannon was jailed without bail awaiting trial.

    Sgt. Greg Tita, a spokesman for Sheriff Everett Rice, said internal affairs investigators are looking into the matter.

    Tita said Dawson and Narum, both divorced, began their relationship in December and only dated after Narum finished his investigation against Cannon and referred the case to prosecutors.

    Nonetheless, the relationship began before Cannon's May 8 trial at which Narum will be a witness.

    "At first glance, it appears to be a conflict of interest with his investigation," Tita said.

    Bartlett said the revelation doesn't change the fact that Cannon should be tried.

    He said his office will work to verify that Narum is telling the truth about the relationship beginning after, and not during, his investigation.

    Cannon is charged with a scheme to defraud, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

    The yearlong scheme, Narum said, may have involved more than 30 fictitious characters, roles that Cannon played in calls to Dawson in 1999.

    In his March deposition, Narum said he found Dawson to be an intelligent but gullible person. He indicated he nonetheless found her credible.

    Tita said Narum informed his boss on March 6 that he was seeing Dawson. The next day, Tita said, the Sheriff's Office notified prosecutors.

    In a 3 1/2-hour deposition on March 19, defense attorney John Trevena asked Narum dozens of questions about the case.

    But neither Narum nor the prosecutor at the deposition, Leon Armbrester, mentioned the relationship to Trevena, a transcript shows. In a separate deposition the same day, Dawson also failed to disclose it.

    "Not only is the relationship unethical and completely improper, I think they (Narum and Dawson) both committed perjury," said Trevena. "While responding to questions about the veracity and credibility of the victim, Narum failed to reveal a very intense sexual relationship with her. It's perjury by omission."

    Trevena said prosecutors finally told him about the relationship last week, telling him they had an ethical responsibility to disclose it. Trevena said they told him he could redo Narum and Dawson's depositions, allowing him to ask about the relationship.

    Why prosecutors didn't tell Trevena about the relationship at the depositions on March 19 is unclear. Bartlett said once his office found out about the relationship in early March, prosecutors decided to disclose it at Narum's deposition.

    Still, it wasn't disclosed.

    "That information should certainly have been disclosed by Narum at the deposition," Bartlett said. "I'm really, really upset that it wasn't."

    Bartlett said he cannot explain why Armbrester didn't disclose the matter. Armbrester could not be reached for comment.

    Trevena again deposed Dawson on Wednesday. Dawson and Narum did not return calls for this story. Dawson said in her deposition this week that she and Narum had sex over a two-month period beginning in December, he said.

    The case hinges on Dawson's credibility, Trevena said. If the lead detective is sleeping with her, he said, then he believes her credibility is suspect.

    Said Trevena, "If Detective Narum didn't believe Debra Dawson was a credible witness, this case wouldn't be prosecuted."

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