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    McCollum backer uses past decision to attack Nelson

    A spokesman for Bill Nelson says making an issue of the gun rights case now is a last-minute dirty trick.

    By DIANE RADO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- The events of six years ago still bother Jim Bomford, a retired New York City police officer descended from a long line of firefighters.

    Fire officials in Deltona, in Volusia County, discovered fire Chief Michael Holland had a hidden past: He had been indicted for attempted murder and other crimes while he was a police officer in New York in 1971, and he pleaded guilty to a felony of unlawful imprisonment.

    The Deltona Fire Commission fired Holland in 1994. But 19 months later, Florida's governor and Cabinet restored Holland's civil rights to own a gun. Holland, 53, now has a concealed weapons permit, state records show.

    "Why in God's name would you give a guy with his history a gun permit?" said Bomford, who served as an elected fire commissioner in Deltona after Holland's firing. Bomford blames Democratic state Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, who is running for U.S. Senate, more than the late Gov. Lawton Chiles and five other Cabinet members who signed off on restoring Holland's gun rights in December 1995.

    Bomford is supporting Nelson's Republican opponent, Bill McCollum, in the Senate race. McCollum is taking heat from gun control advocates for fighting their agenda in Congress.

    Bomford said he was so concerned about Holland getting his gun rights back that he drove to the state capital in May 1995 and hand-delivered a packet of information to Nelson's office about Holland's criminal past. At the time, Nelson's department was moving to revoke Holland's firefighter certification because he failed to disclose his conviction.

    Nelson spokesman Don Pride said one department attorney recalls that he "might have" received Bomford's packet of information, but that aides who worked on the Holland case have no memory of it. Pride said he is convinced that Nelson never saw the material. Florida parole officials recommended restoring Holland's gun rights, Pride said, because his offenses were so long ago; he had no prior or subsequent criminal record; and he had strong support from the local community. In addition, Holland had a certificate from New York indicating that his civil rights were restored there, Pride said.

    Such certificates are not considered a pardon and they do not wipe out a conviction, according to New York officials. They do allow people to apply for professional licenses and obtain employment despite their convictions.

    "What we have here is a unanimous vote five years ago by the governor and Cabinet acting on a very favorable recommendation from the Parole Commission," Pride said. "To try to make an issue over that now is nothing more than a desperate, last-minute dirty trick by a Bill McCollum supporter."

    Indeed, Bomford contributed $250 to McCollum's campaign. He says his concerns about the Holland case transcend politics.

    "This guy (Holland) tarnished the shield of a police officer and the badge of a firefighter," said Bomford, who now lives in Seminole County.

    Holland did not return the St. Petersburg Times' phone calls this week. His was one of dozens -- if not hundreds -- of clemency cases considered each year by the governor and the Cabinet.

    Holland and another Long Island Rail Road police officer, Paul Fraker, were charged in an eight-count indictment in 1971 with attempted murder, assault, kidnapping and other crimes.

    The indictment stemmed from an incident in which two black men thought to be robbery suspects were taken to a police locker room at the Pennsylvania station for questioning.

    One of the men, Robert Robinson, later told police that he was struck and kicked by at least six police officers. One officer later identified as Fraker put a gun in his mouth and shot him. A blank shell discharged. Holland drove a car that took Robinson to a railroad yard in New Jersey, where Robinson says he was threatened with death if he told his story.

    Fraker pleaded guilty to an assault charge and admitted shooting Robinson, records show.

    Holland told a judge he was at Penn station with Fraker, but wasn't present when Fraker shot Robinson. However, other police officers placed Holland at the scene. He pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in 1972, and was sentenced to five years' probation.

    Holland moved to Florida and became certified as a firefighter by the state fire marshal's office in 1974. He was Deltona's fire chief for 10 years before being fired in May 1994 for concealing his criminal record and other problems.

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