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Council to probe alleged government misdeeds

Port Richey will investigate charges of fraud, corruption and missing records.

By the end of its raucous meeting Tuesday night, the Port Richey City Council had decided to spend up to $5,000 on a city investigation. But it will be next week before the council lays out the scope of the investigation or who will conduct it.

The planned probe was suggested Tuesday by Vice Mayor Patricia Guttman, who said the "city has been under a black cloud long enough." Though Guttman declined to cite specifics, the investigation apparently will include allegations of fraud, corruption, missing city records and deception raised a week ago by former council member Bob Leggiere.

Leggiere wouldn't discuss the investigation Wednesday; neither would Guttman.

"I don't have any comment for the St. Petersburg Times," Leggiere said.

Guttman said the "people in our city are not happy with the (St. Petersburg Times), the way the paper takes and distorts everything.

"I think it's best if you people come to the meetings and print that. So I'm not going to comment."

Council member Joe Menicola also declined comment, saying that "since it is under investigation, I would rather not say anything until the findings become fact."

Mayor Eloise Taylor said she was "blindsided" by Guttman's request.

The newly elected mayor said she "sought throughout the discussion period to get them to come up with specifics." She also suggested that the city turn the matter over to state law enforcement officers to investigate.

But City Attorney Paul Marino said the allegations weren't criminal in nature, Taylor said. "Mr. Marino proposed that he had an in-house investigator that worked in his law firm that would be an appropriate" person to examine the allegations, she said.

Marino's offer still is on the table; it will be discussed at a workshop Sept. 21 after a 7:30 p.m. budget meeting.

Also under discussion next week will be the scope of the investigation.

"One of the questions to Ms. Guttman from a member of the public was, "How far is the investigation going to go back? What is the purpose? What is to be gained from this? ' " Taylor said. "Her answer was that she was concerned about events that occurred in the last year."

Leggiere told the Times in July that he had evidence of what he considered crimes, lies and charter violations that he had gleaned in his three years on the council. Among his concerns were citizen complaints of public records that were missing from the city building department, incorrect information given to council members that led them to approve building projects that violated city codes and the hiring by the city of an unlicensed contractor to perform repairs on city buildings.

Leggiere said Wednesday that the Times failed to investigate his concerns.

However, the newspaper did report that Leggiere was under investigation by the city's police department for allegedly interfering with the city building official, an allegation Leggiere strongly denied. The controversy over the police investigation led Taylor to run against Leggiere for the mayor's post, an election she won by a significant margin.

The Times also reported that Leggiere, Marino, Menicola, Council Member Tom Brown and City Manager Vince Lupo gathered at the Seaside Inn after an August council meeting for a post-meeting drink.

They said they didn't discuss city business there.