Saturday, November 18, 2017
Public safety

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

RECOMMENDED READING


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

Possible wrong-way crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday

TAMPA — A multi-vehicle crash on the Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday may have been caused by a driver traveling in the wrong direction, Tampa police said.The crash occurred in the eastbound lanes closer to the Tampa side of the causeway, near ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

TAMPA — Police took one person into custody late Friday after a drive-by shooting ended in Seminole Heights.The incident, which unfolded about 11 p.m., did not appear to be related to the spate of other recent shootings in Seminole Heights that have ...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Man hit, killed while crossing U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor

PALM HARBOR — A pedestrian died after he was hit by a vehicle Friday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The man, who was not identified, was crossing U.S. 19 from west to east, north of Tampa Road in Palm Harbor about 8:30 p.m., troopers ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

TAMPA — To help spread the word about reward money offered in connection with four unsolved shooting deaths in Seminole Heights, two billboard companies have donated the use of a combined 19 digital billboards.On Thursday, police announced the reward...
Published: 11/17/17

Deputies: No injuries after reported gunshot near Seminole schools

SEMINOLE — Deputies are investigating a report of a gunshot that resulted in two schools being put on lockdown Friday morning. About 8:24 a.m., the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office received a call at Rita’s Italian Ice, 13147 86th Ave., in Seminole. ...
Published: 11/17/17
20 injured in fire at Pennsylvania senior living community

20 injured in fire at Pennsylvania senior living community

WEST CHESTER, Pa. — A massive fire at a senior living community in Pennsylvania injured at least 20 people and forced dozens more, many of whom were unable to walk, into the cold night air. Firefighters were still dousing hot spots Friday, even thoug...
Published: 11/17/17
Watch: Dugan addresses Seminole Heights residents’ concerns at NAACP event

Watch: Dugan addresses Seminole Heights residents’ concerns at NAACP event

TAMPA — Members of the black community expressed appreciation on Thursday for police efforts to find the person responsible for killing four residents of southeast Seminole Heights in recent weeks.But at a meeting organized by the local chapter of th...
Published: 11/17/17
Tampa church warns: We are armed and ready to use deadly force

Tampa church warns: We are armed and ready to use deadly force

If you are an evildoer wishing to bring harm to the members of River at Tampa Bay Church, don’t expect congregants to turn the other cheek.They’ll blast you.So says a sign at the church, at 3738 River International Drive in Tampa, that delivers a sta...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Black residents question arrest spike during search for Seminole Heights killer

Black residents question arrest spike during search for Seminole Heights killer

TAMPA — Members of the black community expressed appreciation on Thursday for police efforts to find the person responsible for killing four residents of southeast Seminole Heights in recent weeks.But at a meeting organized by the local chapter of th...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17

Middle school student fatally struck in Tampa shortly after exiting school bus

TAMPA — A middle school student died after he was hit by a vehicle Thursday afternoon a short time after getting off of a school bus.According to Hillsborough County deputies, 11-year-old Brandon Heard Jr., a student at Mann Middle School, was struck...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17