CLEARWATER — A 71-year-old Dunedin man who claims to have spray-painted hundreds of utility poles with the initials of his fringe political party was arrested Sunday, authorities said.
Charles Ignatius Wesley was accused of criminal mischief after a witness spotted him spray-painting, or "tagging,'' a pole Sunday morning in front of a vacant lot at 2167 McMullen-Booth Road, Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies said.
The witness called the Sheriff's Office about Wesley, who was riding a bicycle at the time and carrying a bucket and fishing pole. Deputies recognized the description and tracked Wesley down and confronted him about the graffiti.
Wesley admitted he did it, deputies said. He said he sprayed six more poles that day and hundreds more over the past five years.
He sprays the poles with the letters "SLA,'' which stand for Sane Liberated Americans, a political party of at least one, deputies said.
The party will take over the country when the economy fails, Wesley says.
While looking for Wesley, deputies found 15 marked poles along Union Street, west of McMullen-Booth Road. They found another 84 along State Road 580.
At first, deputies thought SLA stood for the Symbionese Liberation Army, the terrorist group that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in the 1970s, deputies said.
But they quickly learned its true meaning. "He's proud of his new party," said sheriff's Sgt. Tom Nestor.
Wesley railed about corrupt government to deputies and told them his group was formed by God. In his sleep, he said, the Lord appointed him the 24th Elder.
He described how he raised money by collecting aluminum cans. Besides spraying poles, he told deputies he left literature at churches and on park benches.
He even gave the arresting deputy a copy: a weathered, single-page, typed poem entitled "Warnings From Isaiah." The letters "SLA" were handwritten at the top and bottom.
Wesley faces a charge of criminal mischief and was being held Tuesday at the Pinellas County jail in lieu of $5,000 bail.
Wesley has been arrested in the past on charges including resisting arrest and aggravated battery. He had two folding pocket knives when he was arrested.