LARGO — Largo's city manager has suspended the city's police chief for three days for being too lenient on an officer who fixed a traffic ticket.
Officer Anthony Citrano should have been fired, City Manager Mac Craig said Thursday, because he violated two city policies that explicitly call for termination: using his position to provide a special favor and knowingly entering false information on a document.
Citrano wrote a letter to traffic court last year, claiming that a ticket had been issued by mistake.
"He fixed a ticket and lied to (the court) on an official document," Craig said.
But when police Chief Lester Aradi recently discovered the maneuver, he suspended Citrano for 10 days and removed him from a promotion list for sergeant for a year.
Aradi said he uses the city's code of conduct as a guideline for disciplining employees, but also considers factors like remorse and overall performance.
Citrano was contrite and genuine, Aradi said. The nine-year department veteran had also served the community "with absolute distinction and without a blemish" on his record, Aradi's disciplinary letter to Citrano said.
Craig said he learned about the officer's discipline too late to intervene and order Citrano's firing himself. Now the case will make it hard for other city directors to uphold terminations for similar infractions, Craig said.
Aradi, 57, said Craig's decision to suspend him may undermine his authority as chief.
"Since the day I walked through the door here, I thought I had final say over hiring and firing," said Aradi, who has been Largo's chief since 2001.
Aradi also feels his own career is at risk.
"I'm concerned that if in the future I will have to follow my convictions again, I know I will have to do the right thing again and I'll be unemployed," he said.
This was Aradi's first discipline in Largo, his personnel file shows.
"I've never been suspended in my 35-year career," said Aradi, who was chief in Buffalo Grove, Ill., before coming to Largo.
Citrano, who has worked as a DUI enforcement officer since 2006, had received numerous commendations.
The investigation of Citrano and two other police employees traces back to June 22, 2008, when Citrano issued a ticket to Alicia Werthman, now 21, for running a stop sign.
Largo's internal investigation revealed a dizzying web of friends doing favors for friends of friends.
A passenger in Werthman's car contacted Largo dispatcher Amanda Wormhood to see if she could get the citation dropped.
Wormhood, who was off-duty, asked another dispatcher to contract Citrano to see if he would fix the ticket, but that dispatcher didn't follow through. Then Officer John Sinni, who was with Wormhood, called or texted Citrano, who was driving a woman to a breath testing facility on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Citrano was recording the woman during the transport as part of routine procedure so when he returned Sinni's call, his side of the conversation was captured on tape.
"I already submitted the ticket," Citrano can be heard saying on the tape, "but if you say it's a friend you want me to try to extend some courtesy, what I'll do is I'll delete it … just void it,"
Two days later, Citrano sent a request to the court asking that the ticket be voided. He said he meant to issue a warning but a citation was automatically generated by a computer glitch. The ticket was dismissed July 8.
An internal affairs investigation was launched after the Largo Police Department received a copy of the videotape in April.
Aradi learned about the tape from Public Defender Bob Dillinger, whose office was defending the DUI suspect and routinely reviewed the tape.
The investigation revealed that Citrano violated the two policies.
On May 13, the department's chain of command recommended a 15-day suspension and ineligibility for promotion. Aradi handed down his discipline to Citrano on June 1.
Sinni and Wormhood each received five days' suspension, Aradi said.
Werthman declined comment for this story, and Citrano, Sinni and Wormhood couldn't be reached.
Craig learned details of the investigation and discipline in a meeting with the city's human resource director and Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert.
He took action against Aradi on June 8.
Aradi had official duties to take care of last week and this week, and Craig agreed to let him serve his suspension starting Monday.