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    Coe accessed gambling Web sites

    Records show the state attorney had used his office computer to visit the Internet sites despite his denials.

    By GRAHAM BRINK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


    TAMPA -- Despite repeated denials by State Attorney Harry Lee Coe that he used his office computer to visit online betting sites, documents released Thursday show he was doing just that.

    The documents, which outline Coe's Internet use for several days in January, show he visited at least two gambling sites during that time. It is not clear whether he placed bets through the sites or simply used them to gather information about games or races.

    The revelation comes months after several reporters asked to see records of Coe's Internet use and received a list that included no gambling sites.

    Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, who is investigating Coe's suicide in July, said he had not come to a conclusion about whether someone altered the records in violation of the state's public records laws, or how Coe's Internet use may relate to his broader investigation.

    "At this point, I don't know what it shows," McCabe said.

    For the most part, gambling online is legal, although it is a violation of county policy to use a work computer to place bets.

    The sites Coe visited were www.casino-on-net.com and www.casinomasters.com, which allow players to bet on casino games like cards and roulette. One of the sites required a credit card number to log in. Also in the records was www.ewallet.com, a site that stores credit card information to make online transactions easier.

    When the St. Petersburg Times asked the State Attorney's Office in May for a list of Web site addresses Coe had visited, the gambling sites did not appear. The records reporters were given showed Coe had only visited two sites, www.counter.bloke.com and www.banner.missingkids.com, neither of which are gambling sites. Coe had visited those sites in 1998, according to the records. The list made it appear Coe had not visited the Internet for any reason on his office computer in all of 1999 and the first five months of 2000.

    Bill Reynolds, the office's information systems director, said at the time that Coe rarely used his computer and that he did not know of any gambling sites his boss had visited. He said the two sites constituted a complete list of Coe's Web surfing in his office.

    At about the same time, WFLA-Ch. 8 reporter Steve Andrews asked for the same records and received a similar response. Two months later, Andrews broke a story about Coe receiving $12,000 in loans from two of his employees. During the same week, Coe was again asked about whether he had ever used his computer to place bets online.

    During one TV interview, Andrews confronted Coe with a specific Web site address that he claimed Coe had visited to place bets. As he had done during other interviews, Coe denied the accusation and said he did not surf the Web often for any reason, let alone to gamble. He also denied knowing about anyone deleting records from his office computer.

    Coe, 68, wouldn't say why he had borrowed money from employees, although he insisted the loans were not used to pay off gambling debts. Gambling rumors had haunted his eight-year tenure as state attorney, and he was often spotted at the local dog tracks despite his claims that he no longer visited the tracks. "I have always conducted myself properly, with proper people," Coe told the Times.

    After the news stories broke, Gov. Jeb Bush asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the loans and the allegations that public records had been altered or purged as part of a coverup by the State Attorney's Office.

    The next day, on July 13, Coe's body was found leaning against a concrete pillar under the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple.

    After Coe's death, Andrews narrowed his public records request to Coe's Internet use from Jan. 3 to Jan. 7 this year. Those were the records released Thursday.

    Reynolds said the records were pulled from backup tapes used to capture Internet use, among other things. He would not say why that wasn't done when reporters requested the same information in May.

    "I don't think I should comment," said Reynolds, who has been questioned as part of the FDLE investigation.

    Intentionally withholding public records is a first-degree misdemeanor. State Attorney's Office spokeswoman Pam Bondi said the office had no comment concerning the records.

    Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez, who had known Coe for more than two decades, said he also was surprised. He said Coe had been one of the judges who refrained from using computers when they became part of the court system.

    Alvarez remembered seeing Coe on those last newscasts before his death, murmuring denials about visiting the gambling sites.

    "He just didn't look good," Alvarez remembered. "Now you can look back. Maybe this was on his mind."

    - Staff writers Angela Moore and Sue Carlton contributed to this report.

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