Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Safety Harbor, prosecutors argue over theft case evidence

SAFETY HARBOR — The case against the city's former finance director is over. The finger-pointing has begun.

City officials thought they had JoAnne Ryan cold. Auditors, they said, documented that she took more than $215,000 from the taxpayers. Last month, Mayor Andy Steingold made it sound as if the city had given prosecutors a gift-wrapped conviction that would send Ryan away for many years.

"The city provided the state attorney with enough information to have Ms. Ryan charged with first-degree felony grand theft," Steingold said then, "and we expect that they will prosecute her to the fullest extent of the law."

But on Thursday, prosecutors accepted a plea deal to a lesser charge of second-degree grand theft, carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years. But they gave Ryan a deal that means she will serve no more than two years — and perhaps no prison time at all.

The evidence provided by the city, they said, was weak.

"The city was saying it was more," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, "but we couldn't substantiate that fact. They haven't given us everything."

What Steingold has described as a rather complete set of evidence against Ryan, Bartlett described as something far less.

His investigator, Bartlett said, "was continually going back and forth" to City Hall. "We ended up having to do a lot of legwork to pull the case together. It was very time-consuming."

Steingold responded:

"They want to point the finger at us. The city of Safety Harbor is not an investigative branch; we don't have our own police department. We are not the prosecutor here; we are the victim.''

If the case was not strong enough, Steingold said, prosecutors "could have taken more time."

Steingold said he was not surprised by the prosecutor's decision to charge Ryan with second-degree grand theft rather than first-degree.

Earlier, Steingold said, he spoke to Assistant State Attorney Gregory Groger "and he said (the case) was weak, it would be hard to prove. As a former prosecutor, I thought to myself, 'Are you kidding me?'

"We've given them ample opportunity to pursue at minimum a circumstantial case," Steingold said, "we've given them motive, scheme."

At another point, Steingold maintained that years ago he had a client "who stole less money than that … and she got 20 years."

But Bartlett said prosecutors never received the audit city officials have been talking about for weeks, the one Steingold said showed Ryan stole more than $200,000.

What did they get?

"Records, deposit slips," Bartlett said. "Forensically, it's a big job. You have to reconstruct the whole chain of events."

Ryan, he said, "acknowledged stealing between $70,000 and $80,000," which is second-degree grand theft, and that what prosecutors charged and Ryan pleaded to.

City Manager Matt Spoor said the audit wouldn't give prosecutors any more evidence than the records city officials did turn over.

Still, as Bartlett pointed out, "there is nothing for us to gain in not pursuing" the case fully.

Some good news for the city did emerge Friday.

Bartlett revealed that Ryan has already agreed to pay back $50,000 and "we will be seeking more" at sentencing on Aug. 7.

City officials expect to get $100,000 in insurance.

While defending his office's handling of the Ryan case, Bartlett acknowledged that Safety Harbor officials are probably right in asserting that Ryan stole more than what she pleaded guilty to.

"Beyond $100,000,'' Bartlett said. "We suspect there was probably more."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at or (727) 445-4153.

Safety Harbor, prosecutors argue over theft case evidence 05/23/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 12:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108
  2. Fennelly: About time Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    It's Andy's time.

    And it's about time.

    Former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk has been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had been eligible since 2009, a ridiculously long wait for someone who scored 640 goals, including a record 274 on the power play.

    LEFT: Dave Andreychuk talks at the podium as he is honored with a statue in front of the now-Amalie Arena.
  3. British government says 75 out of 75 buildings failed fire safety tests


    LONDON — Britain on Monday confronted a rapidly growing fire safety crisis after tests of the exterior cladding on dozens of public housing towers revealed a 100 percent failure rate, raising fears that this month's deadly inferno in London could be repeated elsewhere.

    Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, presents his first Chrono-Hologram in Paris, France, in 1973. A Spanish judge on Monday June 26, 2017, has ordered the remains of artist Salvador Dali to be exhumed following a paternity suit by a woman named by Europa Press agency as Pilar Abel, 61 from the nearby city of Girona. Dali, considered one of the fathers of surrealism in art, died in 1989 and is buried in his museum in the northeastern town of Figueres. [Associated Press]
  4. Man convicted of second-degree murder in killing of Baby Doe, his girlfriend's daughter


    BOSTON — A man was convicted Monday of murder in the death of a 2-year-old girl who became known as Baby Doe after her remains washed up on the shore of a Boston Harbor island.

    Michael McCarthy’s friend Michael Sprinsky, far left, gets a hug from sister Laura Sprinsky after McCarthy is found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Bella Bond, who became known as Baby Doe.
  5. Rays make Hechavarria trade official


    Here is the release from the team ...