Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

It happened here, in court

Tom, left, and Will Hanlon discuss the Sunshine Skyway exhibit. Their father David was the lead state counsel in the case.


Tom, left, and Will Hanlon discuss the Sunshine Skyway exhibit. Their father David was the lead state counsel in the case.

TAMPA — It was the summer of 1995 and Deputy U.S. Marshal Brenda Ferebee had a big job: running security while 16 members of the notorious Outlaws Motorcycle Club faced trial on charges involving drugs, guns, arson, robbery, extortion, kidnapping and murder.

As a heavily armed motorcade transported them through blocked streets of downtown and deputy marshals stood with guns on rooftops, as a tough female judge awaited their arrival, Ferebee could only brace for what was ahead.

"With two women in charge of this trial," she said, "we were in for a bumpy ride."

Ferebee's written account, along with those of other key players in some of Tampa's most memorable federal cases, are now immortalized in a free exhibit that officially opened Friday in the Sam M. Gibbons United States Courthouse.

The Tampa courthouse project is one of five across the federal court system's Middle District of Florida, paid for exclusively with attorney bar dues and intended to educate people about the district's history and the workings of the judicial system.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins said she hopes the exhibit will help demystify courts in an age where more people can name former American Idol judge Paula Abdul than judges on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Members of the district's historical society worked with Smithsonian-trained curators and a budget between $70,000 and $80,000 to come up with glossy, interactive exhibits on the downtown courthouse's first and third floors.

The one on the third floor explains the difference between federal and state courts, civil and criminal cases and why judges wear black robes — turns out, John Adams originally wanted them to wear English-style wigs.

On the first floor, displays highlight a handful of Tampa's most historic cases. Narrowing the list was a challenge, said U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew. Judges and lawyers weighed in and, along with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club cases, came up with this list:

• The 1995 Lykes Bros. Steamship Co. bankruptcy case.

• The 1980 Sunshine Skyway Bridge disaster, with all the cases that stemmed from it.

• The 1970 showdown between then-Gov. Claude Kirk and District Judge Ben Krentzman over racial integration in schools.

• The late 1980s undercover investigation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which amounted to one of the larger money-laundering prosecutions in history.

The display tells the most colorful piece of that story: An undercover agent infiltrated the Colombian drug cartel for five years and brought a who's who of global banking and cartel members to downtown Tampa to celebrate a fake wedding.

They exited their limousines, drinks in hand, thinking they were headed to a bachelor party, when federal agents took them by surprise.

The headline over each display says it all:

"It happened here."


Visit the exhibit

The Sam M. Gibbons United States Courthouse, 801 N Florida Ave., Tampa, is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no charge to view the exhibits. For information, call the courthouse at (813) 301-5400.

It happened here, in court 06/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 9:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. After Tampa concert, Arcade Fire members party, preach politics at Crowbar


    After waiting more than a decade for Arcade Fire’s first appearance in Tampa, fans didn’t have to wait long for their second.

    DJ Windows 98, a.k.a. singer Win Butler of Arcade Fire, performed at a "Disco Town Hall" at Crowbar following the band's concert at the USF Sun Dome on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa


    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  3. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  4. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  5. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.