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District 5 candidate for Congress operates head shop, served prison time

As the owner of an online head shop, 45-year-old Crystal River resident Ray Bruce Riggs has one of the more interesting job titles of the candidates running for U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent's seat.

But it's an element of Riggs' past that likely will be of even greater interest to voters: a conviction for trying to hire a hit man to kill someone.

That shouldn't bother voters, though, Riggs said, because he was wrongly convicted.

"I would have gotten more of a fair trial in China," Riggs told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. "If you got a trial like mine, you'd be convicted, too.

"The difference between me and the folks in Washington is even though I'm innocent, I already did my time."

Riggs has prefiled as a no-party candidate for the 5th District seat won in 2010 by Nugent, a Spring Hill Republican who served for a decade as Hernando's sheriff.

A native of Long Beach, Calif., Riggs said he graduated from high school in Fresno and has lived in Citrus County since 1985. He said he has worked as a stone crabber and delivered furniture, but spent most of his working years as a waiter and line cook. He said he hopes to become an insurance agent soon.

In 1997, Riggs was convicted in a Citrus County courtroom on a charge of first-degree solicitation of murder.

Authorities alleged that Riggs was caught on audiotape in a Crystal River motel room on July 3, 1996, trying to hire an undercover Marion County sheriff's detective posing as a hit man to kill a 65-year-old Citrus County woman. The woman was a witness in another of Riggs' criminal cases.

Riggs said that case stems from an argument between two men in his yard. One man pulled a gun and got arrested. The man's mother asked Riggs to give the victim money to convince him to drop the charges. Riggs did and was arrested. It was the mother, he said, who was the alleged target of the hit.

Using testimony from law enforcement officers and other witnesses, prosecutors told the jury that Riggs offered the detective $100 and provided him instructions and directions on how to find the targeted witness, the prosecutor said.

After the "hit" was completed, the prosecutor told jurors, Riggs was to pay the undercover detective with a vehicle, gold and silver coins and several guns. Jurors heard an audiotape of the transaction.

Clifford Travis, Riggs' defense attorney, told jurors not to believe the state because its case was based on an unreliable confidential informant whom authorities could not locate. As proof of his client's innocence, Travis said Riggs repeatedly tried to contact Citrus sheriff's detectives before contacting the hit man. Also, Travis said Riggs was afraid of the informant and was hoping detectives would protect him.

After less than an hour of deliberations, the jury found him guilty, and Riggs was sentenced to eight years in prison. His request for an appeal was denied.

On Wednesday, Riggs said that witnesses who could have testified on his behalf couldn't make it to trial, and he alleged that the tape used to convict him had been altered. He said he is trying to raise money to have the tape tested to confirm that.

"There was a part where I said I don't want nothing to do with s--- like this," he said.

Riggs is no stranger to Citrus County courtrooms.

In 1990, a county judge threw him in jail for 10 days for wearing to court a T-shirt that depicted four women in thong bathing suits with the caption "Haulin' A--." Four years later, charged with sale and possession of marijuana, Riggs claimed American jurisprudence didn't apply to him in a rambling five-page letter he wrote from the county jail. A psychological evaluation was ordered.

In 1996, he was arrested on charges of harassing a witness. He was eventually convicted of lesser charge, records show. By then, he was already in jail for the murder solicitation conviction. He was released in October 2004.

He was arrested in 2009 on a misdemeanor battery charge that was later dropped.

There is no law that forbids a convicted felon from running for Congress. He has not completed Florida's typically lengthy process to have his civil rights restored, however, so he cannot vote.

"My girlfriend is going to vote for me," he said.

In 2007, Riggs started halfpricepipes.com, which he calls "America's Premier Online Educational Headshop." Visitors to the site can browse an array of smoking pipes and then watch a video of Riggs explaining why the U.S. Constitution does not allow the federal government to pass drug and gun control laws and levy income tax.

He has another site called dirtyunclesam.com, dedicated to disseminating that theory, arguing that the 14th Amendment made each citizen "an owned piece of property."

Riggs, who in 2010 ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate, said he can get his message out as a House member.

"I can wake people up to the fact that our standing in law is corporate, not constitutional," Riggs said. "They have to be made aware of the deception."

Riggs is the third unaffiliated candidate to enter the race.

John Russell, a 55-year-old Dade City acute care nurse practitioner who has run for the seat three times as a Democrat, has prefiled as a no-party candidate. So has Eileen Fleming, a 57-year-old self-described progressive social justice activist from Clermont.

Perennial candidate David Werder, a disabled former truck driver from Spring Hill, has prefiled as a Democrat.

So far, no Republican has entered the race to challenge Nugent.

The district of roughly 930,000 people sprawls across all of Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties, most of Lake, Levy, and Pasco counties and portions of Marion and Polk. It is considered among the state's most overpopulated and is expected to undergo significant changes in the ongoing redistricting process.

Nugent said Wednesday that his newest opponent brought to mind a couple of challengers in past races for sheriff who were "a little different."

"Hopefully this guy has learned his lesson in regards to committing crime and we can move forward," he said. "That's what's great about America. Anyone can run."

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which includes information from Times files. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com.

District 5 candidate for Congress operates head shop, served prison time 01/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 8:11pm]

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