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Ex-fire chief won't contest theft charges


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001

INVERNESS -- The former chief of the Floral City fire department has opted not to fight charges that he helped his son steal an all-terrain vehicle and a tractor, then attempted to cover it up by altering the serial numbers.

Lloyd Bedford, 44, will be sentenced Sept. 25. He pleaded no contest late last month to one count of grand theft and one count of removal of identification numbers from personal property.

His son, Curtis Bedford, 20, was also charged in connection with the January theft. He accepted a plea bargain Aug. 28 for one count each of grand theft, burglary and removal of identification numbers.

Under the terms of the agreement, Curtis Bedford must serve three years of probation, perform 100 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to the victim, Dale Pemberton, the owner of Pemberton's Airboats in Inverness.

Curtis, who served as a Floral City firefighter, must also pay $885 in fines and court costs.

A telephone call to Lloyd and Curtis Bedford's home Monday was not returned.

Father and son were arrested in February after a witness approached investigators from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office and told them he heard a conversation between the Bedfords regarding the stolen vehicles: a 1997 Kawasaki four-wheel all-terrain vehicle and a 1991 Yanmar 1500 tractor.

During the conversation, which was conducted by cellular phone and walkie-talkie, Lloyd Bedford told his son he had ground the serial number off the four-wheeler and altered the number on the tractor, the witness said.

In interviews with investigators, Curtis said he took the vehicles by himself from Pemberton's between 10 and 11 p.m. Jan. 12. He said his father altered the serial numbers, and they repainted and removed parts of both vehicles to further change their appearance.

Both men were suspended from the fire department after their arrest. County Fire Services Director Mike Schlaudraff said the Bedfords will not be allowed to return while serving criminal sentences, including probation.

Schlaudraff said he would meet with the county's attorney to determine whether the Bedfords could be readmitted after their sentences are completed.

The Bedford family is well-known in Citrus County for dedication to the Floral City fire department -- and run-ins with the law.

In the mid 1980s, authorities accused Lloyd Bedford and his brother, Floyd, of stealing boat equipment. The brothers and a third defendant accepted plea bargains in 1986 before their scheduled trials.

Floyd Bedford, who has been serving as the Floral City fire chief in his brother's absence, was found guilty of deliberately setting a fire in 1990. He had his civil rights restored in 1994 by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles and the Cabinet.

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