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Tampa police accuse one of their own of disclosing undercover operation

TAMPA — Police accused a civilian employee in their own department Thursday of revealing confidential information that closed down an undercover operation.

Beverly Harvin, 47, tipped off a relative to an undercover buy of stolen guns focusing on him and others, police said. She was arrested and faces a charge of criminal disclosure, a felony.

"It is a huge blow to the department to have this type of betrayal," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "These were very dangerous suspects who sell assault rifles and shotguns — the most dangerous weapons on the streets."

Harvin has worked for the Tampa Police Department for 25 years and, until Wednesday, served as an investigative assistant at the District I station at 3818 Tampa Bay Blvd.

According to Tampa police, longtime data entry clerk Priscilla Phillips, 57, noticed that a nephew of Harvin's was included in a Jan. 16 internal memo involving an undercover gun buy.

The memo described three people, including the nephew, as being heavily armed and warned officers to be cautious if they came across them during the investigation.

Phillips took a cell phone photo of the memo and sent it to Harvin, police said.

Then Harvin alerted her brother and nephew, who was never arrested as part of the investigation.

Police got a tip in January telling them the three were aware of the memo, McElroy said.

"If these officers went to make the buy and the bad guys knew it, they could have been killed," McElroy said. "Public safety and officer safety are our top priorities. Disclosing this information jeopardized both, and we can't tolerate that."

Undercover officers suspended their operation and an investigation began into how the information got out.

"We had to subpoena phone records, and one of the mobile phone companies was uncooperative," McElroy said.

Investigators recently received the records, which led them to interview Phillips and Harvin on Wednesday.

Phillips cooperated and provided the cell phone photo to interviewers.

Both women admitted to passing along the information, McElroy said.

They have been suspended without pay until a city employee disciplinary hearing can determine their fates.

Harvin was released from the Hillsborough County Jail on Thursday after posting $2,000 bail. She and her attorney did not return messages Thursday.

Although police said the undercover portion of the investigation was called off, McElroy said an inquiry into illegal gun sales is continuing.

This is the second incident involving the inappropriate conduct of a Tampa Police Department civilian employee in a little more than a year.

Carolyn Riggins was fired in July 2010 after an internal investigation found she hindered a manhunt for her nephew, Dontae Morris, by not revealing that her daughter had a close friendship with him, feeding information to her daughter and withholding the whereabouts of people officers were looking for.

Morris is suspected of shooting and killing Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and Dave Curtis in June 2010.

Tampa police accuse one of their own of disclosing undercover operation 08/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 12:46am]

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