When Phil Penne squatted down to play his American Indian flute Friday evening, he says he had the best of intentions. He put his back up to a shopping center wall, opened a metal ammunition box and displayed a small written description of his friend's battle with cancer inside.
He began playing Christmas tunes. He collected cash and change. According to Pinellas Park police, that's panhandling.
Penne was surprised when, after about an hour, an officer approached him and issued a citation.
His ailing friend, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., was recently diagnosed with cancer. They met on Facebook. He says she has a long history of painful medical conditions and is struggling financially. He wants to raise money to help pay her expenses. "My actions weren't borne out of deceit but of desperation," he said.
Penne writes and works in computer support at the Home Shopping Network. He has been playing traditional flutes made of wood, bamboo or even PVC pipe for about 12 years, he said.
"It's just a really quiet instrument," he said. "Very peaceful."
Penne admits that if he'd thought it through, he might have recognized what he was doing could be considered panhandling.
After an hour, he'd collected a little more than $57. He says he'll likely plead no contest and pay the $188 fine.
Claire Wiseman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.