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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.