Friday, June 15, 2018
News Roundup

Motion seeks records of informer Rita Girven's involvement with Tampa police

TAMPA — The attorney for an informer at the hub of a Tampa Police Department criminal scandal wants authorities to divulge secret information about her dealings with the agency — and what officers gave her in return for her help.

Rita Girven is in jail facing state charges of food-stamp fraud and grand theft. At the same time, she is named — along with former Tampa police Detective Eric Houston and former community officer Tonia Bright — in a federal affidavit outlining suspicions of income tax fraud and identity theft.

A federal grand jury is investigating and no indictment in connection with the case has been announced.

Girven's defense "is entitled to all information related to her assistance to law enforcement, from the inception to the present," the motion filed Friday says.

It seeks "more importantly, benefits, payments, and everything she has done and received which in any way implicates any violation of probation or any pending charge in any of these proceedings."

Girven's attorney, Ralph Fernandez, said the documents would confirm her "extensive" history with the Police Department. They are critical for the defense, he said, "because there has been so much commentary lately that in essence exposed that she had cooperated for long and had been an informant for long and had been a confidential source for long.

"It's now out there," he said. "It's best that the defense has what everybody else seems to have."

Tampa police cannot say whether someone has acted as an informer, but the way informers are handled is under review by a professional standards bureau created by Chief Jane Castor.

"She created it to conduct mini audits of the department and our confidential informant program is part of that review process," said spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Last Sunday, an article in the Tampa Bay Times focused on Girven's close relationship with the Tampa Police Department — disclosing her accounts of how she had often helped police with cases in her East Tampa neighborhood and been rewarded with favors including having her electric bill paid.

Officers Eric and LaJoyce Houston cared for her youngest child and became the child's legal guardians. LaJoyce Houston was fired and arrested in October after investigators said she illegally used Girven's food stamps.

In phone interviews with the Times from jail, Girven denied committing tax fraud but boasted of her closeness with officers.

"I could call anybody. I could just pick up the phone," she said in the interview. "If — if — I committed tax fraud, it is over 300 Tampa police officers … that I'm close enough to get information from."

The article included photographs from Facebook showing Girven posing with Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The court motion says her defense was taken aback.

"This publication was, to say the least, shocking to defense counsel who first became aware of it on the eve of reading it along with a quarter million other citizens of this area," the motion says.

In an interview, Fernandez said Girven's defense had "been laying low for a while" but no longer would.

"There's a good deal of information about her assistance that was not restricted to one or two individuals," he said. "It was departmentwide."

Staff writer Peter Jamison contributed to this report.

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