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Hernando emergency chief fires back over firing

BROOKSVILLE — Fired emergency management director Tom Leto is blasting the investigation that helped to end his Hernando County career, saying it is "filled with half truths and circumstantial twists to the story to give the appearance that I have done something wrong.''

Responding to a scathing audit of his department by the Clerk of the Circuit Court, a memo provided by Leto's attorney Peyton Hyslop attempts to justify the overtime worked by Leto's secretary, Stephanie Anderson, argues the reasons why other employees' duties were assigned to Anderson, and explains that Anderson was already in New Orleans visiting her daughter at the time of the 2007 National Hurricane Conference there.

Anderson's attendance at the conference, which Leto says was approved by the county administration, has been a point of contention with the rest of his staff.

They said in investigation notes that they were told there was no budget for them to attend the conference and that they had more reasons to attend because of their job duties.

Leto responded that "given (Anderson's) duties related to grant management, I thought it was a good training opportunity.''

County Administrator David Hamilton fired Leto on Friday for failing to monitor Anderson's overtime and other activities, and for lying to Hamilton about having just a platonic relationship with Anderson.

The clerk's audit as well as investigative files from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office were used by Hamilton to reach his conclusions.

Anderson has been charged with official misconduct and grand theft for collecting approximately $9,300 for overtime she never worked.

Leto has not been charged criminally but still could face criminal charges. "You'd have to show the collusion'' between Anderson and Leto for his actions to rise to the level of criminal, according to Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson. "We have statements from Leto and nothing to refute them at this particular point in time.''

When the cases are completed, the information will be reviewed to see if the testimony and evidence meets the threshold for criminal activity, he said.

Leto's rebuttal memo, which was not sent to the county as of Monday afternoon, also gives reasons he used friends and family to perform several tasks for emergency management, which the auditor pointed out as possible conflicts of interest.

In the case of a sister-in-law hired to update the emergency management break room, Leto said the arrangement saved the county about $2,000.

In another case, Leto hired the husband of a co-worker to perform grant work. Leto said hiring that person saved the county $10,000 and that all purchasing rules were followed.

"Why was that not included in the report?'' his memo asks.

He also questions a criticism of his decision to hire a friend, David Biladeau, to do $74,000 worth of work for emergency management without bidding his services.

Biladeau, owner of Disaster Preparedness Solutions, "saved the county thousands of dollars by providing quality products at fair prices,'' Leto states.

He argues that he has always tried to save the county money and that, if he made any errors, "I can assure you that they were in the best interest of county government and did not benefit me in any manner, shape or form.''

Leto has said that he plans to fight the termination and confirmed Monday that he is preparing his request for a hearing. He said the offenses cited by Hamilton are not serious enough to end in termination.

County policies do state that lying to a supervisor or violating the sexual harassment policy can result in termination.

In his memo, Leto defends himself citing his past performance and again questioning the reliability of the clerk's audit.

"My record over the past five years is impeccable and performance evaluations demonstrate the county's confidence in my work,'' he wrote.

"If I am going to be nailed to the stake, at least let it be for whole truths and factual information and nothing that has the scent of this memorandum.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando emergency chief fires back over firing 05/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 2:00pm]
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