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Government drops prosecution of businessman on bribery charges

The U.S. Attorney's Office won't pursue prosecution of Joseph F. Casella, who gave money to a union official.

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 12, 2000


TAMPA -- Without explanation, federal prosecutors have dropped bribery charges against a local shipping executive who contributed money to the campaign of Perry Harvey Jr., a top union official and former Tampa City Council member.

U.S. Attorney Donna Bucella filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against Joseph F. Casella, the executive in charge of Harborside Refrigerated Services Inc., on Friday. Steve Cole, the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, would not comment on the matter.

Casella's attorney, Kevin Napper, said the dismissal did not surprise him.

"Mr. Casella has always maintained that this was $1,000 of legitimate campaign contributions," Napper said.

Casella contributed to Harvey's unsuccessful 1996 campaign for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. Harvey's campaign records showed the contributions. At the same time, Harvey, the president of the International Longshoremen's Local 1402 in Tampa, was negotiating the employees' contract for Casella's company. Harvey approved cuts in pay that saved Harborside $132,000 in the fiscal year ending in September 1998, prosecutors said.

But Harvey never was indicted in connection with the contributions, which prosecutors characterized as bribes. And although the contributions were legally reported back in 1996, Casella wasn't indicted until June of 2000. Why did federal prosecutors wait so long?

"You'll have to ask the U.S. Attorney's Office that," Napper said.

A federal grand jury indicted Harvey in 1991 on charges that he stole $225,000 from the union. The trial jury acquitted Harvey and called the government's case weak and contradictory.

Napper said there were no conditions to Casella's dismissal and that his client would not be helping federal prosecutors compile evidence against Harvey for any future legal action. Casella's trial had been scheduled for this week, he said.

"Mr. Casella is grateful to the U.S. Attorney's Office and relieved that this ordeal is over," Napper said. "There was no crime committed here."

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