Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Palm Harbor man tries to blackmail boss for $150,000, Pasco deputies say

ODESSA — Andrew Oster Jr. got the first letter in March. It was anonymous and said the writer knew bad things about Oster. If Oster, the CEO of Trinity Spine Center, didn't want the world to know of his wrongdoings, he needed to pay $150,000.

Two other letters followed, all saying the same thing.

The anonymous person wanted the money sent to a post office box in Maryland.

Unfortunately for the blackmailer, authorities say, this made finding the suspect easy. But it was a shock to Oster when the alleged criminal was revealed:

It was one of his own employees, authorities said.

"It's heartbreaking," Oster said.

Detectives tracked down the owner of the post office box in Maryland. That man said his friend — Jeffrey Grasso, 42, who worked in marketing at the Trinity Spine Center — asked him to open the account. Grasso, of 1876 Eagle Trace Blvd. in Palm Harbor, was arrested Tuesday and charged with extortion threats. He was released that same day on $10,000 bail. When reached by phone Wednesday, Grasso declined to discuss the allegations. This is his first arrest in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Grasso "thought he was going to get away with this one," said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.

"People watch a little bit too much TV and they think they are smarter than law enforcement," Nocco said.

According to Grasso's arrest report, he told a detective "he sent the letters as a "joke" and he did not believe the victim would actually send the money."

Grasso also told the Pasco Sheriff's Office that the medical facility is illegally billing patients and "is engaging in fraudulent practices," the report says. Grasso "sent the letter in hopes the victim would stop," the report states. Nocco said his detectives have not found evidence of any wrongdoing by the facility.

"I'm very surprised it was someone who worked here," said Oster, 43, who said Grasso had worked since September 2011 at the center, which is located at 2040 Short Ave. in Odessa. He said Grasso hasn't been officially fired yet, but will be very soon. Grasso, not surprisingly, did not show up for work Wednesday. When Oster began getting the threatening letters, he never thought it could have been sent by one of his employees. He feels hurt.

"I'm glad this is over," he said.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

Comments
Authorities find

Authorities find "inmate" who walked away from Bilirakis event

The 23-year-old man who authorities said walked away from a New Port Richey political event while under supervision of a treatment center on Saturday has been located.The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office described Nicholas Moore, 23, as both an "inmate"...
Updated: 5 hours ago
FHP: Wrong-way driver hit 100 miles per hour before sideswiping car

FHP: Wrong-way driver hit 100 miles per hour before sideswiping car

A Clearwater man who authorities said sideswiped a car while driving more than 100 miles per hour the wrong way on U.S. 41 was arrested Friday. Wendel Jamel James, 35, is charged with DUI with property damage, reckless driving and leaving the scene ...
Published: 06/23/18
Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

TAMPA — Police want to know who shot 14-year-old De’Nico Thomas after a night of playing video games.Thomas was at a friend’s home Wednesday night and walking home when Tampa police said he was shot, resulting in life-threatening injuries.As he faces...
Published: 06/22/18
Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

CLEARWATER — Police detectives are searching for a man coined the "Bic Bandit" based on reports that he’s stolen dozens of lighters from the same 7-Eleven.According to Clearwater police, the man has swiped the lighters four times in the last month, t...
Published: 06/22/18
FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

DADE CITY — A Dade City man was killed and three others were seriously injured after a pickup truck and motorcycle crashed head-on Friday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Floyd Williamson, 72, of Lakeland, was driving northbound on U....
Published: 06/22/18
Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Georgia detectives on Friday recovered the body of Mitzi Marie Babb, a 43-year-old Hernando park ranger who had been missing since Tuesday.Her boyfriend, arrested Thursday on unrelated charges, has been called a person of interest in her disappearanc...
Published: 06/22/18
A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

PORT RICHEY — A 41-year-old Uber driver was arrested Friday after police said he pointed a firearm at another driver because he was annoyed that she was texting and driving.Philip Macchio was driving near State Road 52 and U.S. 19 around 12:30 a.m. F...
Published: 06/22/18
Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

A 28-year-old cheerleading coach faces charges for engaging in "inappropriate behavior" with a 16-year-old girl, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Victor Martin Valenty faces 10 counts of traveling to meet a minor, distributing ob...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

FORT LAUDERDALE — Authorities in Florida have arrested a suspect in the killing of rising rap star XXXTentacion, who was fatally shot in his luxury BMW electric car as he left an upscale motorcycle dealership. Dedrick Devonshay Williams, 22, o...
Published: 06/21/18
St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

ST. PETERSBURG — Three lieutenants responsible for supervising the police officers who patrol the city were found to have been faking their work hours instead of showing up for duty on time.In some cases, the watch commanders submitted time sheets st...
Published: 06/21/18