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FBI likely to open Pasco or Hernando office

Published Oct. 6, 1998|Updated Sep. 14, 2005

The FBI is a big step closer to establishing a permanent presence in the North Suncoast.

After a monthslong study, agents in the FBI's regional headquarters in Tampa have decided there is enough crime within its bailiwick, such as drug dealing and white-collar crime, to warrant opening an office in Pasco or Hernando.

The results of the study will be forwarded to FBI headquarters in Washington, where officials will decide whether to fund the project, said agency spokesman Ken Walsh.

"I guarantee you the folks in Washington will give a lot of weight to what our folks say down here, and our folks say that it's needed," Walsh said, explaining that the study involved interviews with local police agencies, business people, and the general public.

Opening a North Suncoast office would eliminate long commutes for agents working from Tampa or Clearwater. It also would permit them to establish roots in the community, tighten bonds with local police and provide residents a sense of familiarity with their presence.

"If they're going to church with FBI agents, if they're going to Publix with FBI agents, a lot of times they'll be more forthcoming," Walsh said.

While no site has been named for the proposed new office, Walsh said Brooksville, New Port Richey, and the area around the State Road 54 and U.S. 41 have been considered. The office, he said, is expected to be manned by two or three agents and a small support staff.

Walsh offered no estimate for the project's cost, but explained: "It's a recommendation that in the grand scheme of things, of all the things the FBI is doing across the country and around the world, (costs) a relatively small amount of money."

"Two or three agents in those counties would be very effective, because they'll be working hand in hand with local police departments."

Harold Sample, executive assistant to Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon, applauded the development.

"An office in the area would do nothing but enhance the working relationship (with the FBI)," Sample said. "We have a good relationship, and this should make it even better."

The FBI's central Florida headquarters in Tampa has satellite offices in Clearwater, Fort Myers, Lakeland, Melbourne, Naples, Orlando and Sarasota.

The proposed North Suncoast office is expected to focus on investigations involving drugs, bank robberies, white-collar crimes such as health care and telemarketing fraud, and federal fugitives.

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