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Case against Tyndall took years to grow

More than two years before they arrested him on a cocaine possession charge, Pinellas County sheriff's detectives found County Commissioner Bruce Tyndall's name and home phone number in a pink index card box among clients of a woman who says she ran a 28-woman prostitution ring.

In April 1994 detectives found Tyndall's name in the box belonging to Kellie Sue Gardner, according to Sheriff's Office records released Thursday. But investigators made no attempt to question Gardner about Tyndall or ask the convicted cocaine dealer to try to arrange a rendezvous with the veteran county commissioner.

Over the next two years, detectives captured Tyndall's phone numbers and voice while doing surveillance on other suspected criminals, but it wasn't until the end of 1996 that detectives felt they had enough against the veteran commissioner to try to make an arrest.

Tyndall was arrested Dec. 20, 1996, about a week after Jeffrey and Wendy Carlton were jailed in a check forgery scheme and told sheriff's detectives of a four-year relationship with Tyndall that included cocaine parties and prostitutes.

Wendy Carlton of Tampa helped detectives lure Tyndall to a Sand Key hotel, where he brought almost 2 grams of cocaine to her and a female undercover sheriff's detective. Within four days, Tyndall resigned from the County Commission seat he had held for 18 years. On Monday, he pleaded no contest to possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and was sentenced to two years of probation.

Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice said Thursday that his office could not have done the same thing in the Tyndall case in 1994 because his detectives didn't consider Gardner, 32, to be a reliable witness. Though detectives interviewed several of the other men whose names were found in Gardner's index cards, Rice said they didn't interview Tyndall because they hoped to make him a defendant in the future rather than a witness against Gardner.

"We didn't want him to know that we knew," Rice said. "At that point, we would have preferred to have him as a defendant rather than as a witness in a prostitution case.

"We made a tactical decision not to question him."

Rice said Tyndall's name in Gardner's box was not a clear signal that Tyndall was one of her clients. Tyndall's home telephone number was published in the phone book.

"I give my business cards to a lot of people," Rice said. "There are probably a lot of criminals walking around with my business card."

After finding Tyndall's name with Gardner in 1994, deputies came across him several more times before finally moving to arrest him.

In 1995, when detectives were investigating the check forgery scheme in which the Carltons were ultimately arrested, Tyndall's home, real estate office and cellular phone numbers turned up several times on a register that recorded the numbers of calls placed from the Carltons' phone.

Rice, who served with Tyndall on a panel of local law enforcement officials who meet to discuss criminal justice issues, said he didn't know of Tyndall's criminal activity until February 1996, when another defendant in the check forgery scheme was arrested and began telling them of the Carltons' relationship with Tyndall.

"We knew that once we got the Carltons, we could get Tyndall," Rice said. "The first time we got a clear opportunity to do something, we did."

Immediately upon arresting the Carltons, Sheriff's Office reports show that detectives began questioning them about their relationship with Tyndall. At detectives' behest, Wendy Carlton contacted Tyndall to set up a meeting at a hotel.

Rice said detectives did not investigate whether Tyndall's drug use led to any wrongdoing in office, because they had no cause to suspect that it had.

Gardner, who once went by the names Wendy Bedrock, Roxanne and Kellie-Girl when she says she ran a St. Petersburg prostitution ring, now lives in Gainesville and said she has cleaned up her act.

She said on the few occasions when Tyndall visited her, he came to her house.

"He was great _ lots of money," said Gardner, who was released about a month ago from a state prison, where she served about a year for possession of cocaine and failure to return a rental car. The prostitution charges against her were dropped. She had previously served a 2{ sentence in 1992 for sale and possession of cocaine and had been released from prison shortly before detectives found Tyndall's name on what she called her client list.

Gardner said Tyndall was "kind of country," and that he sported a cowboy hat and brought powder cocaine.

On one visit, he ran out of cocaine.

"He insisted that I provide him with something else, so we did crack," she said.

She said he wanted another woman to join them, so she had a prostitute named Rosie come over.

Gardner said she ran four escort services in St. Petersburg before she was arrested in 1994. She said she insisted that the prostitutes that worked for her use condoms.

"I didn't want them going in with a bunch of tattoos, chewing gum with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths," she said. "I saw a $20 bimbo b---- and turned her into a lady."

Gardner said she charged $175 an hour for her services. Though she was convicted in 1992 on four counts of possession and sale of crack cocaine, she says her recent time in prison helped her get off drugs.

She's no longer prostituting, she said and is engaged to be married in July. She said she hopes to start school at a local junior college in the fall.

Gardner said that upon hearing of Tyndall's arrest, she called a St. Petersburg police officer she knew to offer to testify against her former client. The officer declined her help.

"It's sad, Brucey was a real fun guy too," said Gardner. "A real party pig."

Tyndall did not return calls for comment.