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Deputy known for loyalty

Bailiff's supervisor Mike Sheehan is under investigation for allegedly helping raise money for his boss during work hours.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000


TAMPA -- After a court employee brought a loaded handgun into the courthouse without a permit, the sheriff's deputy on hand handled it quietly, without an arrest.

When word got out that Cpl. Mike Sheehan had instead taken the employee to the chief judge for a sharp reprimand, the Hillsborough Sheriff's office backed Sheehan's decision and he never commented to news reporters.

The 1993 incident was classic John Michael Sheehan, who, in his position as the supervisor of judges' bailiffs, has become a key figure in courthouse politics through his discretion and unquestioning loyalty.

Now, those same ties have linked Sheehan to a courthouse scandal involving allegations he helped raise money for his boss, Hillsborough Sheriff Cal Henderson, during work hours.

Records of the investigation into that and other courthouse irregularities included accounts from lawyers who said Sheehan helped Circuit Judge Gaspar Ficarrotta raise money for the sheriff at the courthouse, a violation of judicial ethics and sheriff's department policy.

A grand jury, which relied in part on the same investigative records, returned a report earlier this month that remains under seal. Sheehan is one of the people named in the report.

The investigation, by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, found evidence that Sheehan and Ficarrotta share a safe deposit box at a Bank of America branch on Davis Islands.

Henderson, who said there was no law preventing two people from having a safe deposit together, said his department is conducting an internal investigation to see if Sheehan did indeed raise money while at work.

The grand jury review may have cast a cloud over Sheehan's steadily rising career, one that had seen little controversy other than a single suspension more than 10 years ago.

"If Mike has one quality that sets him apart from other people, it's that he's absolutely loyal," said sheriff's Maj. Al Perotti Jr., who has known Sheehan for 30 years and counts him as one of his closest friends at the Sheriff's Office.

Since taking the job of overseeing bailiffs in 1992, Sheehan, 54, an affable and outgoing man, has established himself as trustworthy and reliable in the tight-knit circle of judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials who orbit the courthouse on a daily basis. He and Ficarrotta often vacationed together.

That relationship may have pulled Sheehan into trouble. FDLE records detail how bailiff Tara Pisano told Circuit Judge Gregory Holder that she saw Ficarrotta solicit and receive money from lawyers for Henderson's 2000 election campaign.

Sheehan declined to comment for this story.

Although he did not want to comment on the investigation, Perotti noted that the accusations swirling around his friend involved his efforts to help his boss.

"If this was done, it was done to benefit someone else," he said.

Holder, whose complaint against fellow judge Robert Bonanno sparked the investigation, said he could not comment on the FDLE's findings, but said Sheehan "has always been courteous and extremely efficient in carrying out his duties."

Sheehan's one on-the-job problem occurred in 1986. According to sheriff's records, he was written up by a supervisor for having "poor judgment" and "abusing his privileges on the job," and suspended for 15 days. He was also reassigned.

Details of the incident, which occurred while Sheehan was a school resource officer at Dowdell Junior High, are not available because nearly all records of it have been purged from Sheehan's personnel file, a common practice with disciplinary incidents more than 5 years old. In addition, several members of the Sheriff's Office either refused to talk about or could not remember the incident.

Since that time, Sheehan has received commendations, including one for saving the life of an inmate at the Hillsborough County jail.

His latest job evaluation, dated in May, said, "Cpl. Sheehan excels in dealing with people and other agencies. He is always willing to assist others."

- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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