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Prosecutors drop case against Clearwater man accused of impersonating a firefighter

ST. PETERSBURG — In late February, police arrested a man they said pretended to be a firefighter to get free drinks and meals.

This month, prosecutors determined the young man was not breaking the law.

Records show the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office decided on April 1 not to file any charges against Robert Spalla, 23, of Clearwater.

Assistant state attorney Noelle Festa said the law about impersonating a firefighter did not apply in this case. She said that in order to be prosecuted for that, a person would need to do something that would prompt someone to aid them in a manner related to the duties of a firefighter.

"The case facts did not rise to that level," Festa said.

In other words, getting free gift cards and meals isn't the duty of a firefighter, so the statute does not apply.

Spalla, who has never been a firefighter in the state of Florida, had faced a third-degree felony.

Police said for six months, Spalla got free meals from businesses around Pinellas County when he wore a T-shirt that featured an official fire department logo. Police said he admitted to telling people he was a firefighter.

Spalla denied that, and told the Tampa Bay Times there were "several things that went wrong." He said he collects shirts, and that around Christmas a friend gave him one from the fire department.

He said he was wearing the shirt and pajama pants when he took his daughter to All Children's Hospital last year. A staff member there asked him if he was a St. Petersburg firefighter.

"I was being sarcastic and said, 'What does it look like?' " Spalla told the Times on Thursday. "I said I'd been trying to get on for five years."

Spalla said he was a fire explorer in Pinellas County when he was younger and once wanted to be a firefighter. He is currently going to school to be an underwater welder.

"This has been blown way out of proportion," Spalla said. "It was a complete misunderstanding."

Prosecutors drop case against Clearwater man accused of impersonating a firefighter 04/11/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 11:15am]
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