The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is investigating Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III's conduct in the case of a Tampa man who has avoided prison despite violating his community control and probation five times. On Monday, sheriff's Detective Harold Winsett examined records of air-conditioning work Central Heating Co. of Tampa performed on a south Tampa home once owned by Coe.
Central Heating is owned by Donald M. Cain Sr., whose son, Dennis, has appeared before Coe five times in five years for violating probation and community control sentences for a 1986 conviction for possession of cocaine and marijuana.
During a February court hearing, Coe appeared to ignore an unsubstantiated claim by Dennis Cain's ex-wife that Dennis Cain had bragged of bribing Coe to stay out of prison.
Hillsborough State Attorney Bill James subpoenaed Central Heating's records last week.
Officials at both the sheriff's and state attorney's offices refused to say why they sought records from the family-operated company. But Dennis Cain said in an interview last week that Central Heating had done air-conditioning work for Coe.
The records show that Central Heating installed a $3,181 heating and air conditioning system in a Knights Avenue home in the summer of 1985. Coe bought the home in September 1985 from Douglas G. Bradford, who had rehabilitated the home and paid for the air conditioner. Coe sold the house in 1987.
Donald M. Cain Sr. allowed reporters to review his company's records before giving copies to the Sheriff's Office.
The records also show that the company performed service work on the air-conditioning system after Coe moved into the home. Coe sent the company an undated thank-you letter on his judicial stationary.
The letter, typed by his secretary, said, "We are delighted with the system."
Coe, who denies ever receiving a bribe in any case, has declined to comment on the case. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Donald M. Cain Sr. vehemently denied that he or his company ever improperly influenced Coe. Donald M. Cain Sr. said that he has never met Coe outside of court hearings involving his 30-year-old son, Dennis.
"None of the Cain kids have any influence, nor does Donald M. Cain Sr. have any influence to influence any judge or anybody," Cain said. "They can go through every filing cabinet I've got."
The sheriff's investigation began after the Feb. 20 court hearing, in which Dennis Cain's ex-wife was prepared to testify that Dennis Cain had bragged to her that he had paid off Coe.
Assistant State Attorney Dan Sleet tried to present the testimony from Pamela L. Black, but Coe refused to hear her.
"I am not going into that. I don't want to hear this," Coe said, according to a transcript of the proceedings. Coe then found Dennis Cain guilty of the fourth violation and sentenced him to a new three-year term of community control.
Since then, Dennis Cain has violated his community control again. On May 20, Coe resentenced him to three years on community control.
Cain faced up to five years in prison each time he appeared before Coe on the violations. Each time, Coe chose to keep Cain on house arrest.