Dennis L. Cain isn't the only member of his family who has received favorable rulings from Hillsborough Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III. Hillsborough sheriff's detectives are investigating an unsubstantiated allegation that Coe treated Cain leniently in exchange for a bribe.
Cain's older brother, Donald M. Cain Jr., also has fared well before Coe, court records show.
Twice, in 1980 and in 1982, Coe dismissed felony charges against Donald Cain Jr. In 1989, Coe sealed all public records of the 1980 case.
In the case under investigation, Coe declined to send Dennis Cain to prison despite five violations of probation and community control since his 1986 drug conviction. Cain's ex-wife has said that he bragged of bribing Coe to avoid prison.
On Monday, sheriff's investigators examined records of air-conditioning work performed by Central Heating Co. on a south Tampa home Coe owned from 1985 to 1987.
Central Heating, located in Tampa, is owned by the Cain family and employs Donald Cain Jr. andDennis Cain. Company records include an undated letter from Coethanking the company for air-conditioning work performed on his house. The letter was written on his judicial stationary and typed by his secretary.
Coe has said that judicial ethics bar him from commenting about specific cases. He has denied ever accepting a bribe in any case.
Donald Cain Jr. reacted angrily Wednesday when asked about his criminal record and his appearances before Coe.
"You f--- with me and I'm gonna get you," he said. "I'm threatening you physically. You're a scumbag reporter."
Cain Jr.'s troubles began in November 1979 when he and two of his brothers, Alvin Dean Cain and Nathan Dale Cain, were charged with aggravated assault and aggravated battery.
They were accused of using steel pipes and an ax handle to beat three other men during a dispute over a junked car. The Cain brothers claimed self-defense.
After a non-jury trial in 1980, Coe found the brothers guilty of the least serious charge, aggravated assault. He dismissed the other charges. Coe later reduced the felony aggravated assault to misdemeanor battery and placed each Cain on one year of probation. He also ordered them to pay the victims' medical bills.
For Alvin Dean and Nathan Dale that was the end of it. Not for Donald Cain Jr. He was charged with petit theft and violating the terms of his probation in 1981.
Coe extended his probation and ordered him to undergo drug treatment. But a year later, police charged Cain Jr. with dealing marijuana. They said he sold it to an undercover officer.
Coe dismissed all charges when police refused to reveal the informant who led them to Cain Jr. He also refused to find Cain Jr. in violation of his probation.
This would not be the last favorable ruling Cain Jr. received from Coe. In August 1989, Coe granted his request to seal from public view all record of his 1980 battery case.
The sealing wouldn't have been possible but for a break Cain Jr. received from yet another judge.
A state trooper had stopped Cain Jr. for speeding and said he fought with him. Under a plea agreement, Cain Jr. pleaded no contest to a lesser charge in exchange for probation and a formal conviction. County Judge James Arnold gave him the agreed-upon sentence.
But on June 19, 1989, County Judge Sam Pendino was sitting in for Arnold, the only day Arnold was out that month. The reason Pendino was sitting in was not clear from a tape recording of the proceedings.
Cain Jr.'s lawyer, Ray Pines, argued that the conviction would make it difficult for him to renew his state air-conditioning license. He persuaded Pendino to unconvict him by reversing Arnold's formal finding of guilt. Pendino withheld adjudication.
On the tape of the hearing, Pines told the judge that prosecutors had agreed to the reversal. It is unclear if the prosecutor said anything.
The state attorney's office case file contains no mention of an agreement between prosecutors and the defense to alter Cain's conviction. The only note of Pendino's action was written on the back of the prosecutor's file _ after Pendino agreed to erase the conviction.
Pines could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Pendino and Arnold both said they don't recall Cain's case. Both also said that they didn't think it was unusual for one judge in Hillsborough County to reverse another judge's finding of guilt.
Under state law, a defendant cannot get a case sealed if he has a prior conviction. When Pendino reversed Arnold's conviction in the obstruction case, that made Cain Jr. eligible to have the battery case sealed.
That is just what Cain Jr. did. He asked Coe to seal it, and Coe granted the request. Since then, Cain Jr. has been back in court twice.
In January 1990, he was charged with petit theft and criminal mischief. Details of the case weren't available Wednesday, but Cain Jr. pleaded no contest and was sentenced to pay $175 in court costs. County Judge Cynthia Holloway withheld formal convictions in the cases.
In September 1990, Cain Jr. was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior and transporting for the purpose of prostitution. Details of that case also weren't available Wednesday, but he pleaded no contest to the charges in November. Pendino formally convicted him and put him on probation for six months.
Donald Cain Jr. has been charged with committing six crimes since 1979. He pleaded no contest to four of them and was found guilty at trial of a fifth.
Today his Hillsborough rap sheet lists one official conviction, the 1990 lewd and lascivious arrest.
Dennis L. Cain
Dennis L. Cain has violated probation once and his community control four times. His ex-wife has said that he bragged that he paid off Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III to avoid going to prison:
Nov. 25, 1986: Cain charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana.
April 24, 1987: Cain pleads guilty; Coe puts him on probation for two years.
June 30, 1988: Cain admits that he violated his probation by failing a drug test. Coe sentences him to two years of community control, or house arrest.
Feb. 23, 1989: Cain admits that he violated community control by not staying home. Coe sentences him to two years community control.
April 13, 1990: Police say they had watched Cain purchase crack cocaine; he denies it, but admits violating community control a second time on other grounds. Coe sentences him to a year in the County Jail or work release, plus two years community control. Coe later rescinds the jail time before Cain turns himself in.
Feb. 20, 1991: Police say Cain battered his ex-wife's friend; Coe finds him guilty of violating community control a third time. Cain's ex-wife is prepared to testify that Cain bragged of bribing Coe, but the judge refuses to hear her testimony. He sentences Cain to three years of community control.
May 20, 1991: Cain admits violating his community control a fourth time, this time by cutting off an electronic monitoring bracelet. Coe sentences him to three years of community control.
Donald M. Cain Jr.
Donald Cain has received favorable rulings from Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III in two separate cases. In each case, Coe dismissed felony charges:
Nov. 22, 1979: Donald Cain Jr. and two brothers charged with aggravated battery and aggravated assault for beating several men with steel pipes and an ax handle.
May 16, 1980: At a non-jury trial, Judge Coe dismisses most charges but convicts the brothers of aggravated assault. He sentences them to two years' probation but withholds formal convictions.
Jan. 21, 1981: Coe reduces the sentences to one year of probation for misdemeanor battery.
March 6, 1981: Donald Cain Jr. charged with petit theft.
Aug. 21, 1981: Pleads guilty to violating his probation. Coe extends his probation to five years and orders drug counseling.
May 28, 1982: Charged with second probation violation when police say he sells marijuana to an undercover officer.
Aug. 27, 1982: Coe dismisses the new marijuana charge and probation violation because police refused to name the informant who showed them where Cain lived.
May 16, 1984: Coe terminates Cain's probation about halfway through the term.
Dec. 25, 1988: A state trooper charges Cain with violently resisting arrest after stopping him for speeding. Prosecutors reduce the charge to obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor.
April 18, 1989: Cain pleads no contest. Under a plea agreement, County Judge James Arnold formally convicts Cain and gives him probation.
June 19, 1989: County Judge Sam D. Pendino, sitting in for Arnold, grants Cain's request to change the sentence and "unconvict" him. He withholds adjudication.
Aug. 22, 1989: Coe orders Cain's 1979 aggravated battery arrest sealed from public view. Cain wouldn't have been entitled to get his case sealed without Pendino's decision to withhold adjudication in the 1989 case.
Nov. 1, 1990: Cain pleads no contest to lewd and lascivious behavior and transporting for prostitution. Pendino convicts him, puts him on six months' probation and orders 50 hours of community service.