The day before former U.S. Marshal Richard L. Cox Jr. left office last week, three employees who had reported possible improprieties within the U.S. Marshals Service were transferred to far-flung posts. Herb Caddell, supervisor of the Fort Myers office, has been assigned to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. And two deputies from the Orlando office, married to each other, were reassigned to separate states, Tennessee and Mississippi.
"We were trying to go by the book," said Deputy Marshal Lucy Hendricks, who is going to Tennessee while her husband, Joseph Hendricks, heads to Mississippi. "But because we reported wrongdoings we're being punished now.
"Federal employees beware: Whistle-blowing could be hazardous to your health."
A fourth employee, Chief Deputy Frank Dumaine, has been transferred to Houston as a Marshals Service representative on a crime task force. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
A U.S. Marshals Service spokesman in Washington said the transfers were routine. But Ross Nabatoff, a Washington lawyer who represents Caddell, said his client had reported, through proper channels within the Justice Department, facts that, if true, would have been violations of the law.
"This kind of action (the reassignment) has a clear chilling effect on others in the Marshals Service who might witness problems in government," Nabatoff said, adding that Caddell has an unblemished 19-year record with the Marshals Service.
Nabatoff declined to discuss the specific violations Caddell has alleged. Caddell could not be reached for comment.
Lucy Hendricks described the allegations as administrative improprieties and ethics problems occurring over the past two to three years.
Cox, 51, of Tampa suddenly resigned as U.S. marshal last month after an eight-year tenure. Cox wrote in his resignation letter that he was leaving to pursue unspecified personal interests.
While in office, Cox raised eyebrows by attending law school full time. And, although federal law prohibits a U.S.
marshal from practicing law, Cox used his position to intervene in a private, civil law matter on behalf of one of his part-time employees.
He used his official stationery for a letter to an Arizona man, demanding that he return some belongings to the employee. The letter said Cox was authorized to act as the employee's attorney if necessary.
Bill Dempsey, a spokesman at Marshals Service headquarters in Washington, said the installation of a new U.S. marshal is always an opportune time to make staff changes.
He said five people will replace Cox and his reassigned deputies.
The moves are for "the good of the Service," Dempsey said, and were authorized by headquarters, not Cox or the interim U.S. marshal, James Tassone. Cox could not be reached for comment Monday about the reassignments.
Tassone, 41, chief deputy U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Florida, took over Cox's post Monday on an interim basis.
Based in Tampa, the U.S. marshal for the Middle District oversees about 60 employees in 35 counties, from Jacksonville to Orlando to Naples. The office protects the federal court system, arrests fugitives and manages sealed assets. The job pays $57,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the office of U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral, announced three finalists for Cox's former job.
Among the three is Charles Felton, director of the Pinellas County Jail for the past 10 years. Also named were Joseph G. Stelma Jr., 45, a captain in the records section of the Duval County Sheriff's Office, and Jose Lopez, a deputy U.S. marshal assigned to a drug enforcement task force in Miami.
The three nominees emerged from about 30 candidates who applied to a 10-member review committee formed by Mack. Mack will interview all three men in the coming weeks and recommend one name to the U.S. Department of Justice. The nominee eventually must be approved by the U.S. Senate.