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Tarpon Springs man arrested on felony stalking charge

TARPON SPRINGS — For years, Robert J. Wirth Jr. bucked the rules in his neighborhood.

He walked his dog, Cole, without a leash, in violation of a deed restriction, and refused to pay a fine for doing so.

And when a civil suit over the matter wasn't going his way, he threatened to use deadly force against River Watch Homeowners Association board members.

On Thursday morning, Wirth's actions apparently caught up with him. He was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated stalking. Wirth's wife, Sandra L. Blaker, 69, also was arrested.

She and Wirth, 52, were charged with felony possession of 40.9 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor. Police found some of the marijuana in plain view on a coffee table in Wirth's home, the arrest affidavit said.

Tarpon Springs detectives, armed with a search warrant, also seized firearms from Wirth's home, including a revolver and rifles, police say.

Wirth repeatedly followed, harassed or cyber-stalked five current board members and, on at least two separate occasions, made verbal threats via the media saying he would shoot and kill a board member, according to the affidavit.

After the arrests, officers also looked out for Wirth's dog and waited at his home until a friend came to take care of him, Lt. Barbara Templeton, spokeswoman for Tarpon Springs police, said.

Wirth's threats came to light in April when he told the St. Petersburg Times that he would shoot and kill one of the association board members if things didn't go his way in a foreclosure suit filed by the association.

He argued that, under the state's Stand Your Ground Law, he had the right to use deadly force against board members if he lost his home. The law basically says that someone is justified in the use of deadly force to defend themselves if they believe they're in imminent danger.

In May, Wirth went on Inside Edition, showed off his guns and again said he would use "deadly force" against board members to save his home.

Board secretary Evelyn Conner, who unsuccessfully attempted to get an order of protection against Wirth in June, said she was relieved by the news.

"I feel so much safer," she said.

But Conner said she thinks Wirth will "definitely try" to make good on his threats when he's released from custody.

Board president Ed Zisman said he's sad that the situation came to this.

"I'm not a vindictive person. I don't feel good about it," Zisman said. "All I want the person to do is follow the rules like everybody else."

Templeton, the police spokeswoman, said Wirth had created an atmosphere of fear in the neighborhood.

"He has continuously threatened people that live in his subdivision," Templeton said. "He was quoted several times saying he was going to kill people and shoot them. We've received a lot of reports from people who are very concerned about their welfare."

Wirth had told the Times his frustration stemmed from the foreclosure suit.

At least 10 times in 2001 and 2002, the association told Wirth and his wife not to walk their dog without a leash. Wirth continued to do so, and in January 2003 the association fined Wirth and his wife $1,000.

Wirth didn't pay. And three months later, the association sued Wirth and Blaker to collect on the debt.

The court battle waged on for several years. Wirth said the fight cost him $150,000.

In January 2008, Circuit Judge Bruce Boyer ruled in favor of the homeowners association, saying it had the right to foreclose on the home, which is owned by Blaker and has a market value of $306,000, according to the Pinellas County property appraiser.

Wirth and his wife appealed the ruling to the state 2nd District Court of Appeal. Wirth lost his battle last month when the appeals court affirmed the circuit court's decision.

The appeals court also ordered Wirth and Blaker to pay the association's attorney's fees. Conner says the association's legal bills are about $50,000.

Wirth was being held in lieu of $20,500 bail at Pinellas County jail Thursday afternoon. Blaker was being held in lieu of $5,250 bail.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.

Tarpon Springs man arrested on felony stalking charge 08/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2009 9:28pm]

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