Bailiff, corporal implicated
in Florida courthouse scandal
[Tampa, FL]

Lyda Longa and Gary Sprott, of The Tampa Tribune;
December 13, 2000, Wednesday, Final Edition
Copyright 2000 The Tribune Co. Publishes The Tampa Tribune
The Tampa Tribune
December 13, 2000, Wednesday, Final Edition
(TAMPA, Fla.) -- A bailiff and a sheriff's corporal could be transferred from the courthouse during an internal affairs inquiry.

Two Hillsborough County sheriff's employees involved in a courthouse scandal that implicated two circuit judges likely violated department policy, Sheriff Cal Henderson said Tuesday. Henderson said he will order an internal affairs investigation of bailiff Tara Pisano and Cpl. Mike Sheehan, who are both assigned to the Hillsborough courthouse.

"There is an apparent violation," he said after reviewing almost 500 pages of documents detailing a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of Circuit Judges Gasper Ficarrotta and Robert Bonanno. The FDLE inquiry was undertaken in conjunction with a two-month grand jury probe of Ficarrotta and Bonanno. The panel criticized both judges for having extramarital affairs, which were carried on in part in their chambers.

The panel found that Bonanno had a five-year affair with courthouse worker Joan Helms, formerly a clerk assigned to his courtroom.

Ficarrotta, who had an affair with Pisano, already has announced he will step down, effective Dec. 31. Pisano should be investigated by the sheriff's office for the affair and for working on Henderson's re-election campaign while on duty, the grand jury concluded.

The panel said Sheehan also worked on Henderson's campaign while on duty. According to the FDLE documents, Sheehan likely collected campaign contributions from at least two Tampa lawyers.

It's a violation of sheriff's office policy to have sex on the job or participate in political campaigns during business hours, Henderson said.

Pisano and Sheehan declined to comment Tuesday.

Henderson has said he had no knowledge the two employees worked on his campaign for a third four-year term, which he won handily last month. He said he stressed to sheriff's office workers not to do so.

The sheriff also said he sees no potential conflict in investigating two subordinates, given the nature of the allegations. It's possible that Pisano and Sheehan will be reassigned from the courthouse during the internal affairs inquiry, he said. Henderson, meanwhile, said he wasn't aware that Sheehan and Ficarrotta together leased a safe deposit box at a Davis Islands bank in September 1998, as revealed in the FDLE documents. The contents of the box aren't disclosed in the documents.

"It certainly is strange," Henderson said, adding that he isn't sure whether that would violate any department policy.

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