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State employees bought Las Vegas house with $400,000 stolen from taxpayers, FDLE says

Somewhere in Las Vegas, investigators say there's a furnished home worth about $350,000 — paid for by Florida taxpayers.

It's part of the $400,000 that investigators say was stolen from Florida's coffers in a criminal conspiracy concocted by four longtime state employees and a private vendor, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

All five Pinellas County residents were arrested Wednesday on racketeering charges by state agents. If convicted, each could get 30 years in prison.

"It is this type of public corruption that is eroding Floridians' trust in their public servants," said Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in a prepared statement.

The crimes were committed, state officials said, while four of the accused worked for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, which operates under the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A fifth suspect was a state vendor working with them.

They're accused of making false purchases, altering invoices, falsifying billing records and tampering with bids. Investigators said they violated state bidding laws by splitting big projects into smaller jobs to circumvent the required bidding process.

Those smaller jobs were then awarded to companies who split the money with the accused — for tasks that never got done, authorities said.

An audit later turned up "fraudulent purchases, invoices and billing records." The FDLE started an inquiry in 2008.

Because they are accused of acting together, they were charged with violating Florida's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act, or RICO.

Here's who was arrested:

• Allen Nelson, 58, of 11449 74th Ave. in Seminole faces charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. The former facilities management administrator quit in January 2009. He spent 33 years with the state.

• His wife, Melody Ann Oakleaf-Nelson, 45, faces a charge of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. She was fired in March 2009 after 19 years. An operations and management consultant, she and her husband are accused of stealing state funds to buy and furnish the Las Vegas home. They're also accused of using the money to buy electronics and tools that they sold on eBay.

Husband and wife are being held in the county jail. Their bail: $200,000 each.

• Luther Ervin Wilson, 60, of 1771 11th Ave. N in St. Petersburg faces a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering. The facilities services manager was with the state for 18 years. He was fired Wednesday.

• Stacy Lyn Gilliam, 43, of 6415 58th Ave. N in St. Petersburg faces a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering. The administrative assistant was also fired Wednesday after 23 years.

• David Dauble, 50, of 1473 Lakeside Drive in Dunedin faces a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering. He was a vendor doing business with the state through his companies, R&D Consulting Associates and Krugh Services Corp., officials said.

Dauble, a friend of Nelson's and Wilson's, signed someone else's name on Krugh's bid and also rigged his companies' bids to win state contracts, authorities say.

Those three defendants are being held in the county jail on $100,000 bail each. The FDLE said it had arrested Kevin Piggott, 35, of Tampa in connection with the case in March 2009.

State employees bought Las Vegas house with $400,000 stolen from taxpayers, FDLE says 02/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 10:59pm]
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