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Hernando sheriff's spokeswoman leaving amid possible internal investigation

BROOKSVILLE — Wendy McGinnis is leaving the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and may be the subject of an internal affairs investigation. The move apparently stems from the former public information officer's involvement in a financial services company.

The news comes just days after Sheriff Al Nienhuis issued an interoffice memo announcing that McGinnis had requested to be transferred to the law enforcement operations bureau and that he was searching for her replacement.

"There might be some policy violations," Nienhuis said Tuesday of McGinnis. The sheriff, citing the possibility of an internal affairs investigation, would not specify to which policies he was referring.

When twice asked if McGinnis was forced to step down from her job as public information officer, which she had held since last summer, Nienhuis refused to comment.

"There's a part of me that would like to be more forthcoming, but I don't think that it would be fair to Wendy or anyone else involved in the investigation," the sheriff said. "If it was just a mutual decision for her to go back to operations, I could probably tell you a lot more detail."

McGinnis, who declined to be interviewed, said as recently as last month that she intended to stay in her position as spokeswoman for at least another year.

She is listed in state records as secretary of Spring Hill-based Serve and Protect Financial. Her husband, sheriff's Sgt. Brian McGinnis, is listed as president, and Fraternal Order of Police representative Stephen Klapka is listed as director.

The company, which registered with the state in September, was named as a sponsor of a March 27 fundraiser for the Police Unity Tour and the Sheriff's Office Fallen Deputies Memorial.

Sheriff's Col. Mike Maurer acknowledged that McGinnis' role at the business is in some way connected with the probable internal affairs inquiry.

"Well, that's part of it," Maurer said Tuesday. "Those dealings are something that we need to take a look at."

Serve and Protect offers investment advice, according to one of its clients, Penny Mecklenburg. She was married to Deputy John Mecklenburg, who was killed in July after his vehicle struck a tree during a high-speed chase.

Brian McGinnis, she said, only facilitated meetings with the company's vice president and financial adviser, Shawn Garrett. She said Garrett has also advised Hernando deputies on issues regarding their pensions.

"It's really that simple," Mecklenburg said. "They offer advice."

At no time, she added, did Wendy McGinnis join the meetings or have any real involvement with the company.

"She decorated the office," Mecklenburg said.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@tampabay.com.

Hernando sheriff's spokeswoman leaving amid possible internal investigation 04/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 9:20pm]

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