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Sheriff's Office admits it had information on rape, robbery suspect

TAMPA — For five days, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office maintained the false assertion that the St. Petersburg Police Department failed to share important information in the case of a man now accused of several rapes and robberies.

The agency reversed its position late Tuesday.

"It was my bad," sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said.

He was referring to what happened in the days after an Aug. 3 rape and robbery at the Table restaurant in St. Petersburg. Police had identified Rigoberto Moron Martinez as a possible suspect but didn't yet have probable cause to charge him.

St. Petersburg police tracked Martinez for two days, after which they persuaded Hillsborough deputies to arrest him on an old warrant relating to a domestic-violence charge.

But Martinez went free on bail five hours after he was booked. And less than two weeks after that, authorities say, he and two other men abducted, robbed and raped two women in Apollo Beach.

The point of contention has to do with whether or not St. Petersburg police told Hillsborough authorities that Martinez was a suspect in the rape.

"Unless we were told, we would have no way of knowing," sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said Friday.

On Monday, Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee and spokesman Callaway said their agency had not known Martinez was a suspect in the rape.

On Tuesday afternoon, Callaway told the Times, "We were made aware that (Martinez) was a suspect in an ongoing criminal investigation," but the agency didn't know the exact nature of the investigation.

Later that evening, however, Callaway learned that Hillsborough patrol Lt. Darryl Wagner had, in fact, been told by St. Petersburg police that Martinez was a rape suspect. Callaway did not call the Times back to correct the misinformation.

On Wednesday, after the correct information appeared elsewhere, the Times called Callaway again.

"That was my ignorance," Callaway said. "I did find out later that we had been notified by St. Petersburg police that Rigoberto Martinez was a suspect in a rape."

Later Wednesday, Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said Hillsborough Sheriff's Office had offered to let St. Petersburg police interview Martinez after he was detained, but the police declined. Martinez was arrested so they could secretly obtain his DNA while continuing to build their case.

While the Sheriff's Office has reported since last week that Martinez had a counterfeit resident alien card, Docobo said his agency has yet to make certain that Martinez is actually an illegal immigrant.

It's up to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to place jail holds on undocumented immigrants. ICE typically does that only when a prisoner is charged with a serious felony. Until his arrest last week in the robbery and rape cases, Martinez faced only a misdemeanor charge.

"We can't forget that we're bound by laws," Docobo said, "and we can't arbitrarily hold people in jail because of our suspicions or our thoughts."

Times staff writers Richard Danielson and Cristina Silva contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3416.

Sheriff's Office admits it had information on rape, robbery suspect 08/27/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 30, 2008 2:33pm]
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