Two members of the county's code enforcement board _ including its chairman _ resigned Wednesday after an investigation began into dumping of trash and construction debris on property in which they share an interest.
Board Chairman Carl D. Hill, 42, of Zephyrhills and Frank A. Corradini, 49, of San Antonio each submitted one-sentence resignation letters Wednesday morning.
The letters came after the county on Tuesday ordered them to remove a pile of burnt debris at a pit dug on their Lake Iola property along Suntan Lane, north of the Saint Joseph community in east Pasco.
The two men were volunteers, until Wednesday, on the county's seven-member panel that evaluates property code violations _ including illegal dumping. The board determines whether fines should be levied, up to $250 per day for ongoing offenses, according to Lou Chacon, director of the county's code compliance office.
While they served together on the board, the men were business associates, state records show.
Chacon said his office issued a notice Tuesday ordering them to remove the debris within seven days.
A crew arrived at the scene Wednesday afternoon and said Corradini had hired them to clean it. The men loaded the pile into a dump truck and carted it away.
The debris included tar paper shingles, cans, plastic bottles, at least one empty can of mineral spirits, tree limbs, plastic and cardboard waste, concrete blocks and crumbled drywall.
Chacon said the county would not seek fines and the matter would not go to the Code Enforcement Board if the mess was cleaned up.
"We're not punitive, we just want it brought back to its natural state," Chacon said.
But state Department of Environmental Protection criminal investigator Barry Flower said Wednesday his agency is investigating. He said it was too early in the case to say whether any charges would be filed or to speculate on possible results, but he said he would return to the scene to assess possible damage to the dump site and would also investigate neighbors' complaints that Hill has scraped weeds from the bank of the lake to create a beach.
Roommates Michael Hanis and Don Hanrahan rent a home on the Lake Iola property and said they have spent the summer watching odd things go on. They said they decided to call state and county agencies for help this past weekend after enduring smoke from the burning debris. They suspected the dredging was damaging the lake.
"We didn't know who to call, but it was pretty bad," Hanis said. "It was every night they were burning something over there. The smoke was everywhere. You couldn't breathe."
As they walked the lakeshore, Hanrahan pointed to several small dead fish he said might have been killed as crews he said worked for Hill scraped weeds away from the shoreline to create a beach.
"They had huge buckets of mud and weeds, and there were fish flopping around and all kinds of damage being done," Hanrahan said.
The two said they also suspect faulty sewer pipes in some of the rental properties around them may be leaking into the lake, an allegation DEP is investigating. The two men also want the county to test the well water residents there drink.
"This all goes straight down into the ground," Hanrahan said. "Y'all in St. Petersburg are drinking this."
County records show the 9.6-acre lakeside property is owned by Iola Lakes Village Inc., which lists Hill as president in state records. The Iola Lakeside Village Association Inc., which lists Hill's Zephyrhills office _ Hill and Associates Realty and Investment Co. _ as its address, also lists Corradini as a director.
Hill's real estate sales license expired in 1993, but he holds an active broker's license, records show. Corradini works at the Charter Behavioral Health center in Land O'Lakes.
County Commissioner Steve Simon said that learning both men have criminal records involving cocaine, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, would make him consider closer checks of appointees' backgrounds in the future.
While an old drug arrest might not indicate future problems, Simon said, a prior arrest was "indicative of some real poor choices in life."
According to state records, Hill successfully completed five years of probation following a 1980 charge of cocaine trafficking in Hillsborough County. Records show a judge withheld adjudication in that case and did not rule him guilty.
But the Department of Corrections reported that Corradini served slightly more than two years of a six-year sentence _ from December 1984 to February 1987 _ for trafficking cocaine in Broward County.
County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said background checks are no guarantee that everything in a person's past would turn up. It's difficult to find qualified volunteers as it is, she said, and some are already leery of the required financial disclosures required for service.
Hill did not return repeated messages to his office Wednesday, and in a brief telephone conversation Corradini told a reporter, "I do not want to talk to you," and hung up.
County Commissioner Sylvia Young, who reappointed Hill to the Code Enforcement Board last year, said Hill's problems were in the past and declined to discuss whether she would change the way appointees are investigated.
"That's the end of it. He resigned," she said. "It's over."
Flower said anyone who suspects any illegal dumping or other violations of pollution laws should immediately report the activity to the DEP, at (813) 744-6100.