NEW PORT RICHEY — Jurors leaned forward Tuesday and listened to a phone call recorded from inside the Pasco County jail. The muffled ringtones ended when acting Port Richey Mayor Terrence Rowe picked up the phone.
Ex-mayor Dale Massad greeted him in his deep thick Southern accent. They exchanged chuckles and vulgarities as Massad talked about how much he hated being in jail.
Then Massad got down to business: He asked Rowe to look into Port Richey Officer Donald “Kenny” Howard, who helped investigate allegations that Massad was practicing medicine without a license.
“I don’t know why,” Massad said, “but he is in on everything.”
“I’m on it,” Rowe replied.
“Anything you can do is good,” Massad said.
The call lasted 14 minutes. It took the jury about 50 minutes to convict Massad of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communications device. The trial lasted one day and the verdict was read at about 6 p.m.
This is just the start of Massad’s legal problems: He still faces trial on charges of attempted murder and practicing medicine without a license.
TAMPA BAY TIMES INVESTIGATION:
The phone call was recorded on March 3. This trial was held first because Massad’s attorneys exercised his right to a speedy trial in the obstruction case. Attorneys waived his right to a speedy trial for the other charges.
The prosecution and defense spent Tuesday’s trial analyzing and arguing about the recorded phone call as if it were the prose of a famous author.
“This doesn’t go down without someone paying for it,” said Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Rita Pavan Peters, quoting Massad from the recorded call.
Someone had to pay, she said, and that person was a law enforcement officer.
Massad’s attorneys, Denis M. deVlaming and Bjorn Brunvand, argued that the call couldn’t have constituted obstruction of justice because Massad was simply telling Rowe to obtain the officer’s personnel files. What, they told the jury, is illegal about acquiring public records?
The defense also argued that Massad’s arrest was the result of a conspiracy orchestrated against him in retaliation for his desire to cut the Port Richey Police Department’s budget and use that money to fund a dredging project. City officials wanted the mayor out of office, the lawyers said.
The state countered by saying Rowe tried to acquire those records indirectly, without going through the proper protocols. They argued Rowe abused his position as acting mayor, which he assumed after Massad’s Feb. 21 arrest. That’s when authorities said Massad, who lost his medical license decades ago, fire gunshots toward the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team raiding his home in the unlicensed practice of medicine investigation.
Howard, the police officer who was the subject of the jailhouse phone call, told the jury that his ears perked up when he heard his name on the recording.
“I thought they would be coming after me any way they could,” he said.
Massad’s attorneys tried to discredit Howard, arguing he was hired illegally. The officer had a DUI misdemeanor arrest from over a decade ago that should have prevented his hiring, they said.
Port Richey Police Chief Gerard DeCanio testified that Howard was legally hired, saying a misdemeanor arrest does not disqualify applicants.
Massad will continue to be held in jail without bail, pending his next trials. However, Tuesday’s conviction could result in prison time. Meanwhile the city of Port Richey is moving forward. The new mayor, Scott Tremblay, was sworn in Monday.
The ex-mayor himself did not testify based upon the advice of his attorneys, he told Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Mary Handsel. But he said he could have.
“I could testify,” Massad said. “I don’t understand it all very well, obviously, so I’m just going to take their advice.
“Everything about law is contrary to the way I think.”
Contact Paige Fry at email@example.com. Follow @paigexfry.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: THE DALE MASSAD CASE