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Phony tickets lead to officer's arrest, charges

Police say he issued 11 bogus traffic tickets to two women he knew, but officials don't know why.

By ANGELA MOORE and AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001


TAMPA -- Tampa police arrested one of their own Wednesday, charging a 19-year veteran of the department with official misconduct for writing phony traffic tickets.

Police said Officer James L. Ferguson, 45, issued 11 traffic citations to two women during a five-day period in March using a phony officer's name. Because the women failed to appear in court on the bogus citations, warrants for their arrests had been issued.

The women would later tell detectives they knew nothing about the tickets. But both of them, 34-year-old Renita Taylor and 29-year-old Keila Jones, knew Ferguson.

The hoax might have passed unnoticed, officials said, if a clerk had not made minor documentation errors on two of the tickets and sent them to a lieutenant for review.

The lieutenant couldn't find a Tampa police officer by the name written on the bottom of the tickets, officials said. Nor could he find any officer with any law enforcement agency in Hillsborough by that name.

The lieutenant took the tickets to internal affairs detectives. They matched the style of the tickets to others written by Ferguson. After interviewing the women, they were sure Ferguson was the culprit, officials said.

Police charged Ferguson with two counts of official misconduct, a third-degree felony. He was booked into jail Wednesday afternoon and released without having to post bond.

Neither police Chief Bennie Holder nor Internal Affairs Lt. Jill Marks said they could speculate on why Ferguson wrote the fake tickets..

Ferguson said Wednesday that he did not have a vendetta against the women, one of whom is his niece. The other is a longtime family friend.

He said he wrote the tickets to help them, but wouldn't give details.

"My intention was not to abuse my power or get anybody in trouble," Ferguson said. "I didn't know that (arrest) warrants had been issued."

Ferguson, who once played Santa Claus when police delivered toys to families, said he's been treated fairly by the department.

"I made a mistake," he said.

Holder said Ferguson was given paid administrative leave while being investigated and is now suspended without pay.

"He is no longer a member of TPD," Holder said, adding that Ferguson will be fired "unless he signs retirement papers before I have a chance to sign firing papers."

Ferguson said he plans to retire.

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