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With $20,000 in bank, Tampa police shooting suspect's cousin seeks public defender

TAMPA — There's broke. And then there's Alaina Riggins' version of broke.

The woman police say may have helped Dontae Morris while he was a fugitive from charges that he killed two Tampa police officers last year appeared in federal court Thursday on a weapons charge.

Riggins fired her private attorney, Jorge Chalela. Then she asked a judge to appoint the public defender to represent her because she couldn't afford to hire her own attorney.

Riggins, 26, said she had no job, no income, lived with her mom and couldn't afford to pay anything for household expenses.

The judge asked if she had any money in the bank. Riggins' answer: $20,000.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Lazzara looked at her in astonishment. Few indigent defendants claim to have even a couple of hundred dollars. "In your name?" Lazzara asked.

"Yes," Riggins said.

Lazzara told her, "I'm not about to appoint counsel at taxpayer expense when you have $20,000 in the bank."

Riggins complained that lawyers had told her it would cost $50,000 to handle her case.

Lazzara wasn't buying it. He told her to come back to court Aug. 25. "And I want you here with an attorney," the judge said.

Just how Riggins came to possess $20,000 without a job or income is unclear. She offered no explanation to the judge, and Riggins refused to speak to a reporter after the hearing.

Prosecutor Thomas Palermo told the court that Riggins was a "low-level drug dealer."

Riggins of Dover also rejected a proposed plea agreement that probably would have brought her a sentence of 30 to 46 months in prison. As a result, prosecutors may file additional charges that, if she is convicted, will lead to a minimum of five years in prison.

Riggins is the daughter of Morris' aunt, Carolyn Riggins. The elder Riggins was fired from her civilian job with the Tampa police last year. She was accused of hindering the search for Morris by feeding information to him through her daughter. Morris is accused of shooting Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010.

Police said Carolyn Riggins also failed to tell them about her daughter's close relationship with Morris.

Alaina Riggins was arrested earlier this year in a traffic stop when police found a handgun under her thigh, and $245 in her pocket. Police also found cocaine and marijuana.

Police filed 81 charges against her, including one felony for each of the more than 70 rounds of ammunition she possessed, but prosecutors dismissed most of them.

The remaining federal charge is being a felon in possession of a firearm.

It wasn't clear if Riggins left court the same way she was dropped off: in a Mercedes.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

With $20,000 in bank, Tampa police shooting suspect's cousin seeks public defender 08/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2011 11:24pm]
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