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Former Hernando vice sergeant gets probation for theft charge

BROOKSVILLE — A former Hernando sheriff's sergeant accused of stealing cash from the agency's vice unit was sentenced Thursday to two years of probation.

Joseph Reid, 42, pleaded no contest to grand theft. Hernando Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. withheld a formal finding of guilt.

As part of a plea deal, Reid was ordered to repay $650 to the Sheriff's Office and agreed to give up his law enforcement certification. He must also pay $2,828.10 in investigation costs.

If convicted at trial of the third-degree felony, Reid faced up to five years in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Phil Hanson said the deal and outcome are typical for a defendant with Reid's lack of a prior criminal history. And a key part of Reid's deal was giving up his law enforcement certificate, Hanson said.

"Trust is an integral part of law enforcement and criminal justice, and he lost that trust," he said.

Defense attorney Sam Lea said after the hearing that he and Reid had not ruled out taking the case to trial.

"But this was a for-sure, guaranteed offer," Lea said. "It avoided any potential jail time, and based on what occurred with (Reid's) policy violations, he was likely not to work in law enforcement again anyway."

Reid was accused of taking at least $2,784 from a fund used for drug buys and expenses. When investigators approached him last November, his ledger showed he had $634 in cash but he didn't have the money, Hanson said. He used a commercial lender to repay that amount at the time.

Investigators also learned Reid used $650 of vice money to open a prepaid Visa card in his name that he used for personal expenses, Hanson said.

He was arrested in December and resigned. He was earning a salary of $55,840.98 at the time.

According to a criminal investigation of Reid and an internal investigation of his supervisor, Capt. Tom Garcia, Reid's personal money problems were well-known in the unit.

One detective told investigators Reid indicated "it was all right to spend investigative funds on personal expenses as long as the money is replaced before the books are checked."

Detectives in the unit told investigators they went to Garcia with concerns about Reid's use of unit funds. In 2011, a secretary in the unit told Garcia that Reid owed the vice fund more than $2,000.

Garcia used $1,500 of his own money to reduce the outstanding balance and paid $200 more that Reid had borrowed from another detective's investigative fund.

Garcia was never charged with a crime. He resigned last month after being warned that he faced possible demotion or termination for unsatisfactory performance and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Lea said Reid is now working to move on with his life.

"He's trying to get things back together and obviously trying to seek employment," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

Former Hernando vice sergeant gets probation for theft charge 03/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014 9:41pm]
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