TAMPA — Fourteen years ago, Hillsborough County allowed Frank Lopez Jr., then a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy, to keep a mobile home at Rodney Colson Park and receive a free lot, free water and free electricity in exchange for patrolling the grounds.
But in 2008, the county discovered Lopez hasn't worked as a deputy since 2003 and wasn't fulfilling his duties at the park.
Now park officials want him out, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
It's unclear how much the county has spent on the Lopez family's living expenses since 2003 because his utility bills were lumped in with park utilities, said John Brill, a spokesman for Hillsborough County parks and recreation.
Similar agreements are often made between law enforcement officials and the county, Brill said.
The county last renewed its agreement with Lopez in 2007, believing he still worked as a deputy, the lawsuit stated.
But Lopez said the county knew he was no longer a deputy because he said so when he left his job in 2003.
Not being a deputy isn't the only problem, according to the lawsuit.
As part of his job, the county required Lopez to turn in monthly activity reports. The reports stopped coming in during 2008, and the county received reports of unlocked gates overnight and vagrants using the park as a place to sleep, according to a letter the county sent Lopez in March.
Brill said officials discovered Lopez was not living at the park, but his wife and children were.
"He moved out ,and it looks like his family has been living on the site, and we didn't know that either," he said.
Beginning in March of last year, the county repeatedly asked Lopez to move his family out of the park, according to the lawsuit.
County Attorney Robert Brazel said even if county officials knew Lopez was no longer a deputy, it doesn't matter now.
"Whether he's a deputy or whoever he is, when the county determines they don't want someone on the property anymore, it's up to them," he said.
The mobile home belongs to Lopez. He can either move it or sell to the next person selected by the county to patrol, Brill said, noting that there's a long waiting list of deputies who want to live in county parks.
On Thursday, Lopez, who has two children and runs his own business installing traffic devices, said the reason he has taken so long to move out is that business has been slow.
He said the family has begun packing.
"I would have been gone sooner but the economy has got me in a bind," he said. "The county has been really good about it, though."
A similar issue surfaced in November, when the county sued a former sheriff's deputy, Mike Cartwright, who refused to move out of his mobile home at Saladino Park after he was fired from his position at the Sheriff's Office.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or email@example.com.