Bubba the Love Sponge attorney Stephen Diaco at center of controversy

TAMPA — Lawyer Stephen Diaco hosts fundraisers in his Bayshore Boulevard home, chairs the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority and leads a law firm that employs 120.

His friends include Buccaneers great Derrick Brooks and Jabil Circuits CEO Tim Main.

He also has a weekly Internet radio show, where he talks sex, law and how John Travolta once hit on his wife.

And now he is at the center of Tampa's biggest legal controversy, accused of setting up an opposing attorney for a DUI arrest last month.

Lawyers across Tampa Bay have been talking about Diaco, 44, ever since his face contorted in a shocked expression when he took a witness stand Jan. 25 and denied wrongdoing.

Some say the allegations do not look good. The Florida Bar says Diaco is under investigation.

His father, Dr. Joseph Diaco, the longtime physician for the Buccaneers, says the recent events have made him sick.

"There's one thing about our family,'' he says. "We are ethical."

• • •

Diaco's problems began during the now-infamous defamation trial that pitted shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem against his radio rival, Todd "MJ" Schnitt.

Schnitt's legal team accused Diaco and his firm, who were representing Clem, of sending a young, female paralegal to buy drinks for one of Schnitt's attorneys at Malio's Prime Steakhouse on Jan. 23.

Schnitt's team said the paralegal then asked lawyer C. Philip Campbell Jr. to drive her car.

Another lawyer at the Adams & Diaco firm called Tampa police, who were waiting nearby for a drunken driver. When police arrested Campbell, he left his trial bag in the back of her car.

Both sides called for a mistrial.

Dr. Dan Diaco's voice rises when talking about the accusations of setup against his brother.

Dan, a plastic surgeon known for breast enhancements so distinctive they are called "Diacos," says his brother is being blamed for Campbell's bad decision.

"I have a real disdain for those who drink and drive," he said.

The brothers were raised to have integrity, he said.

Stephen Diaco grew up the middle child in an Italian family with three boys.

Each summer, the Diacos would head to Ocean City, N.J., where the boys swam, surfed and worked at a pizzeria.

Barber Julie Frasca remembers the tanned brothers who visited her shop each year, ordered to tame their hair for summer jobs. Stephen was the thoughtful one who always asked about her day.

He wrestled at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg and was senior class president. He chose Florida State University, where he met a young woman named Krista in a humanities course.

He was a sophomore, she was a freshman, and Michael Jackson was hot. He passed her a note:

You knock me off of my feet now baby, whew!

He enrolled in Stetson Law School, and they married in 1992. When he started promoting boxing in Tampa, she sold the tickets.

Diaco got to know Bubba the Love Sponge about 12 years ago, after Clem saw a woman with "Diacos" and declared them on-air some of the best breasts he had ever seen.

Dan Diaco's business took off, and Stephen Diaco successfully represented Clem against animal cruelty charges after Clem broadcast the castration and slaughter of a wild boar in 2001.

Stephen and Dan Diaco are Bubba men.

They enjoyed guest appearances on Clem's radio show over the years, so two years ago they started hosting a weekly Internet radio program for men called The Diacos. They record it with friend and restaurateur Jeff Gigante and fellow lawyer Brian Motroni. It's on 6 to 8 p.m. each Thursday at Bubba Army Radio Live at radioio.com.

On a recent broadcast, they talked about, in this order:

• Sex toys, pornography, the New York art scene and indie rock group Built to Spill.

• The Miami cannibalism case, the efficacy of electro-convulsive therapy and the use of said electrodes on men's genitals.

• Marriage counseling, gay marriage and inter-species marriage.

Dan Diaco says it's entertainment, theater.

Derrick Brooks, who has been a guest on the program, says the brothers are playing characters.

The men's father, Joseph Diaco, said it's not something he would do.

"But that's Stephen," he said.

The Diacos love Tampa. It has been good to them, too.

Stephen said he tries to give back. He has hosted fundraisers at his home, including one for Charlie Crist.

He sent thousands to Frasca, his New Jersey barber, when Hurricane Sandy destroyed her business.

And he has given advice, money and Magic Kingdom tickets to Tammy Rosian, the grandmother of Summer Moll, the 9-year-old who is still recovering from a 2008 crash on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway that killed her mother and left her severely injured.

The youngest Diaco brother, Joseph Diaco Jr., also is a partner at Adams & Diaco and their firm has grown steadily over the years. The only public blip was in 2005, when the partners ousted lawyer Kendrick Blackwell, who was Stephen Diaco's high school friend.

In court, Stephen Diaco accused Blackwell of threatening to kill him during two phone conversations. Blackwell accused Diaco of stalking him.

Those lawsuits are behind them now.

Blackwell told a reporter he still considers Diaco a friend.

• • •

Last summer, the Diacos had Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on their show, and Stephen Diaco brought up an idea he had been mulling over for a while.

Tampa doesn't have a big monument or memorial. Meanwhile, the cylindrical Rivergate Tower has an embarrassing name: "Beer Can Building."

Diaco wants to turn it into a lighthouse.

With a lantern room on the top, Tampa — his city — would have the tallest lighthouse in the world, bigger than the next by 18 feet.

"I envision us being there, slamming a bottle of champagne to christen it," he said to the mayor.

"And from that day forward, it will no longer be referred to as the 'Beer Can Building.' It will be the lighthouse, the beacon of Tampa."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Bubba the Love Sponge attorney Stephen Diaco at center of controversy 02/18/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 8:18am]

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