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    A skeleton in Pinellas' closet gets away

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    By MARY JO MELONE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 31, 2000


    Acertain theory holds that nobody in politics in Pinellas County has any dirty laundry. Not so much as a single dirty sock.

    According to this theory, though, everybody in politics in Hillsborough -- all the way to the dog catchers, probably -- has laundry that stinks to the heavens. Shirts. Pants. Suits. Running shoes. Lingerie. Boxer shorts. The whole works.

    In other words, nobody in Pinellas politics is dirty. But if they're clean in Hillsborough, they must have two heads. Or be Jan Platt.

    This infuriates certain fixtures in the Hillsborough firmament. Dennis Alvarez, for one. The currently much-beleaguered chief judge of the county once looked down his glasses at me and barked, "How come nobody writes about St. Pete in your paper the way you write about Tampa?"

    Alvarez, a very snazzy dresser, understood the dirty laundry theory.

    I had no answer for him.

    Until Peter Christopoulos came along.

    The FDLE thinks Christopoulos, once the owner of a couple of bay area restaurants, is thick with the mob, and that he can name names of dirty politicians on both sides of the bay.

    His lawyer says agents were so confident of Christopoulos that they wanted him to wear a body wire and go hang out with his old pals, the likes of Vincent LoScalzo, Tampa's supposed mob boss since old Santo Trafficante Jr. went to his reward.

    But Christopoulos had a problem. He's in the clink.

    One guy held the key to letting him out. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

    But McCabe said no.

    This is the same McCabe who was named by the governor to investigate the suicide of Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe.

    Coe was a gambler. A big one. Big gamblers, and Christopoulos was also one, do not necessarily associate with guys you'd want your daughter to marry.

    So you'd think on the Coe connection alone, McCabe would jump at the chance to let Christopoulos out and do the FDLE's dirty work.

    Of course it isn't only Coe who is the subject of some curiosity. In Hillsborough, you've got your judges, your public defender, under scrutiny by various do-gooding agencies.

    It's that old dirty laundry theory again.

    But speaking of same, Christopoulos was also said to be ready to finger some Pinellas official.

    Maybe Dennis Alvarez had a point.

    Or maybe not.

    "I ain't losing any sleep over what I did," McCabe said Wednesday.

    He insisted releasing Christopoulos after he was in jail would have been illegal.

    Then he complained the FDLE never gave him any notice of what they wanted to do, "no plan, no nothing."

    Instead, he simply had an agent show up at his door out of the blue minutes before a hearing where the agent asked to spring Christopoulos.

    The various lawyers and assorted agents could have asked the judge to put off the hearing so McCabe could get together with whatever FDLE poohbah he needed to break bread with.

    They could have.

    They didn't.

    Which, if Christopoulos is as important as he sounds, is most strange.

    The hearing was also public. This convict was going to be a snitch, and the FDLE agent who was going to use him named him publicly. They all but sent out the Avon Lady to give the bad guys a heads up.

    Now his lawyer thinks Christopoulos is a marked man. But the lawyer, John Trevena, is the guy who had the agent name Christopoulos in the first place.

    I don't know what to think, except that once again, a chance to get an answer to the dirtiest laundry in Tampa Bay was blown. Probably sky high.

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