OCALA, Fla. — A report says a former central Florida sheriff tried to profit off a crime-fighting kiosk business, violated several department policies and that the kiosks posed a safety hazard to the public.
The report by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and prosecutors said crimes likely were committed by ex-sheriff Chris Blair and his chief of staff, Fred LaTorre, but they won’t be prosecuted.
The Ocala Star-Banner reported (http://bit.ly/2dTVSiF ) Sunday that’s because Blair entered a deferred prosecution plea deal last summer to resolve an unrelated perjury charge. As part of the deal, prosecutors are precluded from pursuing other charges related to Blair’s tenure as sheriff.
Blair’s attorney has denied any wrongdoing.
The investigative report said Blair came up with the idea to have the kiosks displayed in public places, offering crime prevention tips and photos of wanted criminals.
Blair formed a company with officials from a local manufacturer to build the kiosks. The manufacturer, OFAB, and company officials contributed to Blair’s re-election campaign, and the campaign paid the manufacturer for storage rental, according to the report.
Blair and his chief of staff then decided to use money from the local Crime Prevention Fund as a funding source for the kiosk project, according to the report.
The Crime Prevention Fund gets its money from court fines and money can only be allocated by the county commission. Once a prototype kiosk was built, Blair went to the county commission and asked it to fund the purchase of 100 kiosks, the report said.
The purchase was approved for the kiosks that would cost $267,000.
“Neither Blair nor LaTorre ever told the (commission,) or anyone else, about their business relationship or their intent to profit from future sales of the kiosks,” according to the report written by Lt. Donnie Winston. “The Marion County Crime Prevention Fund was used by Blair and LaTorre to fund their personal startup company. They used the funds to develop the prototype and then purchased 100 of the kiosks. Then, knowing they intended to profit, they used their respective positions with MCSO to market the kiosks to other agencies.”
The first 100 kiosks were electrical shock and fire hazards because monitors had been removed from their housing and mounted inside the kiosks, according to the report.
“Blair and LaTorre displayed a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being, not only to the citizens who could have been shocked by the kiosks, but the business owners who could have suffered tremendous loss, if a fire had started,” according to Winston’s report.
The sheriff’s office has concluded the kiosks are a complete loss and is demanding a refund from the manufacturer.
When contacted by the Star-Banner, Blair’s attorney, Gilbert Schaffnit, said Blair didn’t intend to profit from the kiosks. He said Blair didn’t do anything wrong and wasn’t interviewed as part of the investigation.
Information from: Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner, http://www.starbanner.com/