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State reopens Bekhor inquiry

His applications to two public boards said he was a voter _ making dubious the non-citizen's claim he registered inadvertently.

Last week, State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III decided not to charge David Bekhor, the man at the center of a federal corruption probe, with lying on his voter registration form three years ago.

Coe's office concluded there was insufficient evidence that Bekhor intended to lie about his citizenship on the form. Such an offense would be a third-degree felony.

But on Wednesday, after seeing documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times, Coe said he was reopening the investigation.

Bekhor's dealings continue to be scrutinized by a federal grand jury looking into allegations of extortion against Hillsborough Commissioners Jim Norman and Tom Scott.

The documents prompting the reopening of the voter registration case are public records obtained by the Times _ applications Bekhor filled out to join two local government boards. In both, Bekhor claims he is a registered voter in Hillsborough County.

But Bekhor, 41, never had the right to vote because he is not a U.S. citizen. He is a native of Israel and a permanent resident of the United States.

The two applications, both filled out in 1997 within six weeks of Bekhor's voter registration, could be important evidence of Bekhor's intent, said Craig Clendinen, the case prosecutor.

Bekhor's attorney, Kevin Napper, said Wednesday that "Mr. Bekhor has done nothing improper."

"We are going to continue to talk to the State Attorney's Office, maintain a dialogue with them and provide them with whatever information they need," Napper said. "We believe that ultimately the same conclusion will be reached."

Clendinen said a key question is whether voter registration was a requirement for Bekhor to join the two government boards in question.

It was not necessary to join one, the Florida Health Sciences Center board that took control of Tampa General Hospital when it went private. But the other application, to be appointed to the board of the Tampa Sports Authority by the Hillsborough County Commission, did require voter registration, county officials said Wednesday.

"I believe it was kind of a minimum requirement for being a good citizen," said Sue Parrish, chief deputy clerk of the commission. "They wanted someone who was a good citizen _ and (registering to vote) was the minimum you could do and be a good citizen."

Former County Commissioner Rodney Colson came up with the requirement years ago, said Charlotte Emrick, an aide to the commission chairwoman. The commission approved the requirement as part of its policy for appointments, she said.

Bekhor was not appointed to either board.

Clendinen said he learned about Bekhor's application to the Sports Authority when a Times reporter asked him about it in December. Clendinen mentioned it to the sheriff's detective who investigated the case. But the detective was unable to find it.

Bekhor told the detective that he must have unwittingly registered to vote when he filled out a voter registration form that was mailed to him along with his driver's license renewal in 1997. He told the detective he knows he cannot vote, and records show he never has cast a ballot in Hillsborough. Elections officials revoked his registration in November after learning he wasn't legally registered.

Despite never voting, Bekhor, his relatives, companies and associates have contributed $17,500 to local campaigns in the preceding three years. Bekhor's company, Magnecel Services L.C., sells medical imaging equipment. Federal investigators want to know if Commissioners Norman and Scott put pressure on Tampa General Hospital officials to buy equipment from Bekhor.

Last month, in a separate investigation, Coe's office cleared Norman of misdemeanor allegations that he lied to his fellow commissioners about the reason for a trip Norman took to Las Vegas last year. During that trip, Norman stayed at the ritzy Bellagio resort in a discounted room arranged by Bekhor.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service began its own investigation into Bekhor's voter registration because a criminal conviction could affect his residency status. Wednesday, an INS spokeswoman said the INS was awaiting a decision on the case from federal prosecutors. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment.

_ Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337, or doughertysptimes.com. David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376, or karpsptimes.com.

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