BROOKSVILLE — The e-mails referred to one of the highest-ranking officers at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office as "racist." They alleged discriminatory treatment against some of the deputies. They were supposedly coming from Sgt. George Smith.
However, the e-mails were all the work of an online thief, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Former Deputy Harold Morales, who was fired in October during his probationary period, has been charged with seven felony counts of identity theft after being accused of using a former supervisor's e-mail address to send out the e-mails.
The motive "appears to be revenge," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. "It's not an issue of what he said as much as the identity theft."
Morales, 41, of Spring Hill was arrested Monday and later booked into the Hernando County Jail, according to the Sheriff's Office. It wasn't immediately clear if Morales remained in custody Monday evening.
A message left at Morales' home wasn't returned.
According to the arrest report, Morales started sending e-mails on March 24 to the Web sites of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He disguised his identity by using the Sheriff's Office account of Sgt. Smith and two other e-mail accounts that identified Smith as the sender.
The e-mails, which weren't sent to anyone in particular, were "both slanderous and make criminal accusations against primarily the Chief Deputy (Michael Hensley) but also Sheriff (Richard) Nugent," according to the report.
The report said the e-mails referred to Hensley as "racist" and mentioned incidents where other deputies had faced no discipline for leaving their assigned zones.
Morales, who is originally from Puerto Rico, had been fired for a similar offense, according to the report.
Black said Morales apparently had access to Smith's account because he was a former employee. The e-mails were not immediately released because the investigation is still open.
During the subsequent investigation, the Sheriff's Office discovered the e-mail addresses were registered to Morales' home in the maiden name of his wife. Investigators later determined that Morales, who is now a bus driver for Hernando County schools, sent the e-mails when he would return home from his morning bus route and before he left on his afternoon route.
Morales was allegedly "targeting the two HCSO employees that were directly involved in his firing," the report said.
Smith was initially stunned when asked about the e-mails, Black said.
"He was mortified that someone was sending horrific e-mails via our system," Black said. "It caused him to have to feel defensive. He was the victim in this case."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.