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Dumping dispute lands in ex-councilman's lap

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Former City Council member Richard E. Martin has a personnel problem that is fast becoming a legal problem.

An angry former laborer for Martin's St. Petersburg real estate firm is telling anyone who will listen _ code investigators, sheriff's detectives, reporters _ that Martin is responsible for loads of debris being illegally buried at various Pinellas County locations. Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office was preparing to turn over to the State Attorney's Office a case involving an illegal dump behind some of Martin's dilapidated rental homes on the 3200 block of 71st Avenue N.

"It's turned out to be one of those he said/he said/he said situations," Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, said of the roughly 100-foot-by-15-foot area where assorted construction debris was being dug up.

One of the he's in this case is Jonathan Wade Moore, a 32-year-old laborer who used to work for Martin. Moore said he is quite sure that spot contains everything from roofing material to paint cans.

"I know, because I did it myself," Moore said Monday evening. "It's all underground there. The man told me to go ahead and bury it."

The other he is Martin, one of the city's biggest owners of commercial and residential property who served on the City Council from 1975 to 1980, until an unsuccessful run for County Commission.

Martin told a detective with the sheriff's environmental investigation unit that he told Moore to dispose of the material properly. That would require taking it to a construction debris dump and paying to leave it there.

The tiff apparently started earlier this month, after Moore and several other people who were described as working for Martin were arrested for illegally dumping more than 500 pounds of trash along Gandy Boulevard.

When the workers were arrested, Martin denied any knowledge of the dumping. Moore didn't like that, and called authorities and media.

"The man wouldn't hire me an attorney, he wouldn't bond me out, he wouldn't do nothing, and I got a dumping charge using his damn truck," Moore said. "The man thinks just because he's got millions of dollars he can get away with anything he wants."

In a statement faxed to the Times on Tuesday, Martin said 30 yards of fill had been dug up, and only 10 percent of it contained debris. Pasha said Martin was being cooperative and that the State Attorney's Office would have to sort out the conflicting stories.

Aside from his political experience, the 53-year-old Martin is well known to code enforcement officials in the city and the county who routinely cite his properties for violations.

This also is not the first time run-ins with employees have landed him in trouble.

Court records show he has pleaded not guilty to pending charges of battery and burglary filed against him after an incident in March. A police report states the 58-year-old disabled wife of a former Martin employee and tenant suffered a "very minor" scratch on her hand after Martin entered her home to retrieve equipment he said belonged to him.

He also drew headlines in 1990 when he was cited for filling in wetlands without a permit in a case involving property off Keystone Road in the East Lake area.