Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

Weeki Wachee park ranger accused of gas theft

WEEKI WACHEE — The case of the missing gasoline at the home of the mermaids has been solved, authorities say.

Employees checking records at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park could not account for more than $1,500 worth of gasoline purchased over the last few months, according to the Hernando Sheriff's Office. Then they noticed that 26-year-old park ranger Dakota Hardesty would often leave for lunch in his own vehicle and return with gas receipts but no gas containers.

On Thursday, sheriff's deputies arrested Hardesty and charged him with organized fraud.

Investigators say Hardesty admitted to using the park's credit card some 30 times since September to buy gas for his own vehicle. Each employee has a dedicated personal identification number for the card and must turn in receipts for purchases, the Sheriff's Office said.

Hardesty, of Bay Ridge Drive in New Port Richey, was booked into the Hernando County Detention Center on Thursday morning and posted $5,000 bail about four hours later, records show.

Hardesty recently celebrated five years with the Florida Park Service and arrived at Weeki Wachee Springs in January 2010. He will be placed on paid administrative leave pending a review of the case and due process procedures, said park service spokeswoman Jennifer Diaz.

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