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Inmate sues employees of Sheriff's Office, Times

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000

CLEARWATER -- An inmate from Pinellas County is suing employees at the St. Petersburg Times and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office over a 1998 newspaper article detailing the Seminole man's charges of insurance fraud.

John Kist, 52, filed a $2.5-million libel suit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court last week against Judith Roales, the Times' former publisher, Times staff writer Jane Meinhardt and sheriff's Detective John O. Hubbard.

According to the lawsuit, Hubbard authorized a media release that falsely accused Kist of "threatening to kill witnesses" -- an accusation Kist said was made to persuade a judge to set his bail higher. The newspaper repeated that allegation in an article published May 16, 1998, the suit says.

Kist, a former insurance agent, was sentenced in March 1999 to 15 years in prison for 16 convictions relating to decades of insurance fraud. Prosecutors accused Kist of deceiving 20 insurance companies into giving him $1.5-million since 1969 with false claims, staged accidents and a string of arsons.

"The news story accurately reported on Kist's criminal trial and conviction," said George K. Rahdert, an attorney for the Times. "We stand by the story and defend it vigorously." Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Greg Tita said he could not comment on pending litigation.

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