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Husband's Facebook posting addresses sudden departure of sheriff's employee

BROOKSVILLE — In a detailed letter posted on his Facebook page Thursday morning, the husband of former Hernando County Sheriff's Office public information officer Wendy McGinnis explained what led to his wife's sudden departure from the agency and an ongoing internal affairs investigation.

For the last two years, sheriff's Sgt. Brian McGinnis wrote, he had intended to become a financial planner after his retirement, scheduled for July 2013.

"At no time," he said, "was this a secret from anyone in this agency."

In September, state records show, he incorporated Serve and Protect Financial, a business that provides investment advice. The record also indicates that Fraternal Order of Police representative Stephen Klapka is director and Mrs. McGinnis is secretary. All three are now the subjects of an internal inquiry at the Sheriff's Office.

Mr. McGinnis said in the posting that he placed his wife's name on the document out of respect for her and because state law requires that position to be filled. At no time, he added, was she ever involved in the company's operations. Penny Mecklenburg, one of Serve and Protect's clients, said Mrs. McGinnis never attended business meetings and did little more than decorate the office.

Mr. McGinnis' stepson, Shawn Garrett, a registered financial agent, is listed as vice president and has handled the day-to-day tasks.

The business officially opened March 27. That same day, Serve and Protect arranged for a pair of professional baseball players to attend a fundraiser for the Police Unity Tour and the Sheriff's Office Fallen Deputies Memorial.

At that event, Mr. McGinnis wrote, Sheriff Al Nienhuis became aware of the company. He later discovered who was involved and when it was incorporated.

"With this information that (Nienhuis) researched," Mr. McGinnis said, "he believes fully that my wife had somehow deceived him by not disclosing that she had been listed as a member of this organization."

The sheriff issued an interoffice memo last week announcing that Mrs. McGinnis had requested to be transferred to the law enforcement operations bureau at the Sheriff's Office and that he was searching for her replacement. She later chose to retire.

On Tuesday, Nienhuis acknowledged that she may have violated agency policy but refused to say if he had forced her to step down.

"Wendy had NO opportunity to explain or provide any documentation as to her lack of involvement in this company before the Sheriff had made up his mind," Mr. McGinnis wrote, "and ordered her to be reassigned."

The sergeant acknowledged that he had neglected to fill out the required forms for Sheriff's Office employees who become owners of an outside business. However, he believed it was common knowledge that he would only start working at Serve and Protect after his retirement.

Neither he nor his wife, Mr. McGinnis continued, did anything "inappropriate or immoral."

"My wife is devastated but she knows deep down that she did nothing wrong and I am extremely proud of her for exhibiting the character to resign/retire from a profession that she LOVED, which has betrayed her," Mr. McGinnis wrote. "If I am to be served with an IA, demoted, or even fired, for telling my friends, co-workers and family that principle is more important than deception through power, then so be it."

Nienhuis did not return a message from the Times left on his cell phone Thursday morning.

Col. Mike Maurer declined to comment on the Facebook post, but noted that investigators would determine whether Mr. McGinnis had violated the agency policy on the use of social media.

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

Husband's Facebook posting addresses sudden departure of sheriff's employee 04/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2012 8:27pm]
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