TAMPA — It was a scandal that left a meteor-like imprint on Hillsborough County politics.
Investigations in the mid 1980s led to a series of arrests of county commissioners, developers, businessmen and lawyers on a variety of corruption charges.
In 1985, former Hillsborough County commissioner Bob Curry and two other one-time commissioners were charged with racketeering, fraud and extortion. They were accused of taking bribes in exchange for votes.
In all, 25 people faced charges in one of the county's biggest corruption trials ever.
Mr. Curry was acquitted, and finished out his career running a real estate company. He spent a peaceful semiretirement working around the house and visiting his daughter's ranch. Mr. Curry, a cordial man who struck some as an unlikely political candidate, died Saturday, of liver cancer. He was 78.
"He wasn't the type of person you would think would get into political life," said former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. "He wasn't outgoing and so forth. He was very quiet for someone in that business."
Opponents of Jefferson High's sports teams in the late 1940s saw a tougher side. A sharp-shooting guard, Mr. Curry made the all-city basketball team and the all-state football team, and set the school's pole-vaulting record.
"He wanted to win," said former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, who played basketball for Hillsborough High while Mr. Curry starred at Jefferson. "He was a real competitor. Just because you're a friend didn't mean a thing."
Carolyn Curry was a cheerleader at Jefferson when she met her future husband, who was four years her senior and in the Navy.
"Another cheerleader said, 'Do you want to meet Bob Curry?'
"I said, 'Oh, my!' " Carolyn recalled.
They married two months later. Mr. Curry served four years in Japan and Korea.
Back home, and with a degree from the University of Tampa, he supervised community centers for the county's parks department. In 1965, the County Commission made him Hillsborough's first recreation director.
He won an election to the County Commission in 1972.
"He was tenacious," said Carl Carpenter, a former state legislator who had served with Mr. Curry on the County Commission. "If he believed in something, he wouldn't take no until the votes were there to tell him no."
But often, Mr. Curry had just enough votes to get what he wanted.
He sided so often with fellow Commissioners Jerry Bowmer and Charles Bean, federal prosecutors spoke of a three-man bloc which, they alleged, took more than a dozen bribes.
In 1979, toward the end of his second term as commissioner, Mr. Curry's personal life began to unravel. Police charged him with resisting arrest without violence. Mr. Curry admitted arguing with his wife but denied shoving police officers. He was acquitted.
Later that year, he was arrested for driving under the influence. Mr. Curry stepped down as commission chairman but retained his seat. He announced plans to join Alcoholics Anonymous.
Mr. Curry lost his commission seat in 1980. He opened a real-estate company, Florida Midstate Realtors. But his associations with the County Commission were far from over. Federal investigators were zeroing in on current and former Hillsborough commissioners, suspecting widespread corruption.
"The county was basically under siege for two years with investigations. The county was paralyzed," said former Commissioner Jan Platt, who served alongside Mr. Curry in the 1970s.
Mr. Curry, who according to his wife had given up drinking a few years earlier, emerged battered but a free man. "It's been a tough ordeal," he said after his acquittal. "But I knew I hadn't done anything wrong."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]