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February 28, 2007
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Fla. officers' arrest throws doubt on felony cases

By Vanessa Blum And Ihosvani Rodriguez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A former state legislator charged with having sex with a teenager, a man accused in the rape of a 60-year-old woman, and a man who police said molested his 13-year-old stepdaughter are among defendants in 61 pending cases jeopardized by alleged corruption in the Hollywood police department.

The prosecutions, each involving one of four veteran officers charged last week with corruption and drug offenses, are under review by lawyers in the Broward State Attorney's Office, said felony chief Jeff Marcus.

At the same time, the FBI continued to look into leaks from the Hollywood Police Department that prematurely exposed an undercover investigation of suspected dirty cops. The leaks forced agents to wrap up the sting instead of following up on other leads that could have produced more arrests, according to a federal law enforcement official familiar with the matter.

Detective Kevin Companion, 41; Sgt. Jeffry Courtney, 51; Officer Stephen Harrison, 46; and Detective Thomas Simcox, 50, are accused of providing services to FBI agents posing as mobsters in exchange for cash, sometimes using official police vehicles and equipment.

Companion, Courtney and Harrix son were arrested Thursday and released on bail. Simcox, who was cooperating with investigators, is expected to surrender Wednesday.

Howard Finkelstein, chief public defender for Broward County, said the scandal's effect on pending criminal cases could be "huge."

"This is as serious as it gets," Finkelstein said. "Cases could very easily fall apart."

He said he would advise his staff to take a close look at current and past cases involving all Hollywood police officers, not just the four charged. "I want to find out about every dirty cop in the city of Hollywood," Finkelstein said.

The four officers were involved in pending felony cases that include child sexual abuse, vehicular homicide, kidnapping and drug charges. Companion and Simcox, who ran the sex-crimes unit for the Hollywood police, handled 45 cases, Marcus said.

"We're going through case-by-case to determine what impact there is," he said.

Perhaps the highest-profile prosecution called into question involves a former state legislator who police say admitted paying for sex with a Hollywood madam and an underage girl.

Barry Kutun, 65, surrendered last year after Hollywood police charged him with two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He was subsequently fired from his post as North Miami's city attorney.

Kutun's attorney Richard Sharpstein said Simcox was the original lead detective in the Hollywood case, adding it was too early to tell how his involvement would impact Kutun's defense.

Simcox also participated in a case where a good Samaritan chased down a man accused of raping a 60-year-old woman in a Hollywood alley on New Year's Day.

Simcox arrested Juan Moreno, 38, whom the woman identified in front of police, on one count of sexual battery with a weapon, records show. The woman suffered serious injuries, including a deep cut on her neck after her attacker allegedly used a belt to try to strangle her.

Assistant Public Defender Jose Alberto Reyes, who represents Moreno, could not be reached for comment Monday. In the case of the man charged with repeatedly molesting his teenage stepdaughter, it was Companion who took the girl's statement at her Hollywood home in December.

The suspect's attorney, Alex Rivero, said that makes him "raise an eyebrow."

"It's definitely something I have to look into," Rivero said Monday. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is not publishing his client's name to protect the stepdaughter's privacy.

Alberto Milian, a former Broward state prosecutor, said the officers' arrests would undoubtedly cause headaches for his former office.

"It's going to raise credibility issues every time a police officer, especially a Hollywood police officer, testifies," he said. Dennis Siegel, head of the sex crimes unit of the Broward State Attorney's Office, said lawyers would look for ways to make their cases without relying on testimony from the accused officers.

Hollywood Police Chief James Scarberry said Monday he assigned a detective to the sex crimes unit to review all open cases handled by Simcox and Companion.

The undercover inquiry was forced to shut down early after word of the operation got back to some officers, Scarberry said.

He said other officers named on the FBI's surveillance tapes remain under suspicion.

"Whether that may have been bragging by the four officers, I don't know," he said. "We'll have to sit down with the FBI and see what evidence there may be."

As for how word of the investigation leaked, Scarberry said he has "a hunch."

According to the federal law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Scarberry and his top deputy were briefed on the investigation about a month ago, around the time federal authorities confronted Simcox and asked him to cooperate. Scarberry and his deputy were told not to discuss the matter with anyone else.

Scarberry said he informed Mayor Mara Guilianti, City Manager Cameron Benson and members of his senior command staff because he thought arrests were imminent.

Weeks later, after learning Courtney and Companion were acting suspiciously and demanding their pensions, Scarberry said he alerted federal authorities that their investigation was blown.

There is currently no formal investigation of the leak, the federal official said, adding the FBI could launch a criminal inquiry if it seemed to be intentional.

Staff Writers John Holland, Robert Nolin, Paula McMahon and Hemmy So contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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