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State says it knew of ticket voiding

State investigators said Wednesday they have known for at least a month about 30 traffic tickets that were voided by Dunnellon police Chief E. W. McCracken, but they determined the chief had committed no crime.

During the probe, which began around April, investigators referred to a 1978 opinion written by the state attorney general that says anyone who improperly voids traffic tickets cannot be prosecuted in a criminal court.

"The conclusion we reached from our research is that (McCracken) had not committed a crime," said Assistant State Attorney Reggie Black. "It appeared to be a matter of public policy within the city of Dunnellon _ one that we would not get involved with.

"The state attorney has no business involving itself in the internal affairs of city government or its procedures," Black said. "It is strictly up to the city to determine what it will do."

McCracken has routinely voided traffic tickets for his friends and prominent residents during his nine years as chief of the Dunnellon Police Department, current and former Dunnellon police officers have said.

Those officers say that since about 1986, McCracken has asked them to void traffic tickets as favors to his friends and acquaintances.

McCracken would not comment Wednesday, citing an ongoing investigation within the Dunnellon Police Department by an Orlando-based private investigator who was hired by the Town Council last month.

Black said the 30 voided tickets that were investigated by prosecutors were written over the past three years. He said several of the tickets were for minor offenses and were voided after the people receiving them convinced McCracken they did not deserve them.

"A couple of the tickets were for not having a license on their person, but they did have one in existence," Black said. "You can get fined for that, but there is also an alternative where you can present your license to the Clerk of Court and pay $5 instead of the fine."

Black said five of the voided traffic tickets were written for people who had no valid driver's license or a suspended license. But when investigators checked the people's driving records in April, all of their licenses were valid.

"That is not to say that they did have valid licenses at the time they got the ticket," Black said. "They may or may not have have had valid licenses. There would be no way of knowing unless we did a complete check of their licenses, which we did not do.

"Since this is not a criminal offense we had no jurisdiction and no evidence of corrupt activity, so we had no basis on which to proceed," Black said.

Florida Statue 316.650 states that a traffic citation "may be disposed of only by trial in the court or other official action by a judge of the court. . . . It is unlawful and official misconduct for any traffic enforcement officer or other officer or public employee to dispose of a traffic ticket."

However, in a Dec. 12, 1978, letter sent to Frederick Fernez, chief of the Indian Harbour Beach Police Department, the attorney general determined that the statute was vaguely written and that voiding traffic tickets is not considered a crime.

"This statute does not by its terms designate or define the unlawful disposal of traffic citations or copies thereof as a criminal offense, nor does it expressly provide any criminal penalties for violation thereof," the letter reads.

"For an act to be considered criminal it is necessary that it be clearly so defined in the statutes. Unless the legislature clearly makes an act criminally punishable by statute, that act, no matter how wrongful, cannot be considered a crime."

McCracken recently admitted he knowingly submitted a job referral containing incorrect information to Marion County sheriff's officials and lied to Florida Department of Law Enforcement authorities about the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of former Dunnellon reserve officer Darren Duane Barbree.

McCracken is also at the center of an FDLE probe that involves the misuse of the statewide computer that checks criminal histories. McCracken allegedly authorized an officer in May to check the criminal history of his former girlfriend who lives in Georgia.

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