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Resort's owner is "disappointed'

Linda Conger was a trusted employee who had kept the books at Port Paradise Resort for more than 20 years until authorities arrested her Friday and charged her with embezzling more than $135,000 the last two years from the resort on Kings Bay .

"She was a hard-worker, reliable," Port Paradise owner Jim Dicks said Monday. "If she is guilty, I'm very shocked, very disappointed. I find that hard believe."

Dicks said Conger, 49, has managed the resort since he bought it in 1977, and that she often ran it while he was visiting a resort he owns in Vermont.

Eventually, though, Dicks said there were too many weeks when "two and two didn't equal four. . . . There became a point in time when it transcended the normal "What the hell happened this week?' "

Dicks, 56, would not say Monday if he confronted Conger, or precisely how the money had been taken, but he did acknowledge calling in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.

"We had to substantiate our losses, and that took several weeks," Dicks said. "We only looked at two years, and that was more than adequate. We uncovered some problem areas."

Dicks said the resort has lost track of some older records, including some that were lost in floods.

The FDLE investigation is ongoing, according to Ray Velboom, supervisor of the agency's Brooksville office.

"It makes a lot of people under suspicion," Dicks said.

Dicks, who is a member of the Citrus County Tourist Development Council, said he first approached former Crystal River City Manager Russ Kreager about six months ago to inquire about investigating what Dicks called a "white-collar crime." Kreager, Dicks said, referred him to the Citrus County Sheriff's Office.

"So then I called Sheriff (Jeff) Dawsy. He said, yes, he would have someone get in touch with me," Dicks said. "Another guy (a Sheriff's Office detective) called back and said "I'm sorry. You're in the city. You pay city taxes, and we've just got our hands full. We can't help you.'

"I was not real happy that the county refused to assist me," Dicks said. "I pay county taxes, too."

Sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said the issue was a matter of jurisdiction, because Port Paradise is within Crystal River.

Dicks said the FDLE investigation lasted "several months. We unearthed a lot of financial losses."

Conger and Dicks regularly spoke of finances, and Dicks said it was not unusual for him to inquire about a discrepancy. Arresting Conger, however, was FDLE's decision, he said.

"FDLE investigated my complaint and made their own determination of what to do," he said.

Conger, who was released from the Citrus County jail late Friday on $16,000 bond, has declined to comment. She left Port Paradise Resort on vacation in July and never returned to work.