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Minister charged with taping conversation

Tarpon Springs police say that he revealed a recorder after talking with a records clerk about a police report.

A minister who tangled with Tarpon Springs police this year over his charitable fundraising was charged in an unrelated incident Thursday with secretly taping a conversation he had with a police records clerk.

The Rev. James Warren, whose ministry is known as Care to Share, was charged with illegally intercepting an oral conversation, a third-degree felony.

Police said that Warren, 40, came to the police station on N Ring Avenue late Thursday afternoon to ask for a copy of a police report taken Dec. 23, when officers charged him with child abuse for allegedly punching a 17-year-old girl at his mother's home.

After talking to a records clerk on Thursday, Warren removed a tape recorder from his front pants pocket and told the clerk that he had their conversation on tape, said police Capt. Bob Kochen.

Kochen said Warren had previously told officers that he had recorded or videotaped his conversations with them and had been told that it is illegal in Florida to record a conversation without the consent of all parties involved.

"He was warned about a week ago by one of our officers not to do that," Kochen said.

Warren, who was released from the Pinellas County jail on $5,000 bail, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Earlier this year, Warren threatened to sue police Chief Mark LeCouris and Tarpon Springs for libel and slander. That came after LeCouris questioned Warren's attempts to raise $300,000 for a proposed outreach center to serve drug addicts, abused women and the homeless.

LeCouris told city staffers not to have anything to do with Warren or Care to Share until some questions about the group's past fundraising were answered.

In letters to Warren in February and March, LeCouris said there were "serious concerns" within the community about the $300,000 Love Center project, and he asked for information about past donations to the group.

Warren initially threatened to sue, but he later registered with the city as a charitable solicitor.

On Friday, LeCouris said Warren since had dropped by the station several times to apologize and "say it's all straightened out." But LeCouris said he has not received a letter from Warren's attorney apologizing for the initial letter threatening a lawsuit, and he said he won't meet with Warren to discuss future fundraising until the previous letter is rescinded.

The illegal taping charge against Warren is the second time this month that Tarpon Springs police have charged someone with recording a conversation with an officer.

In a case not related to Warren's, Tarpon Springs police charged Robert Wojnar, 40, on Dec. 21 with illegally recording a conversation he had with Officer Sheila Fowlie when she responded to his home on a domestic complaint. Fowlie did not know that the audio of a Nov. 27 conversation was being taped by a video camera in another room of Wojnar's house.

Police found out about Wojnar's tape of his conversation with Fowlie when he filed a misconduct complaint against her and other officers on Dec. 14.

Like Warren, Wojnar and Tarpon Springs police had previously been engaged in a dispute not related to the taping charges.

In 1993, Wojnar pleaded no contest in 1993 to possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and was sentenced to two years of probation. In that case, Tarpon Springs police seized his 1990 Chevrolet Blazer.

In 1996, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland ruled that property may not be seized when it is worth more than the penalty that would be imposed in criminal court. Forfeitures in Florida are civil actions that law enforcement agencies file in addition to seeking criminal penalties for a crime.

The appellate court ruled that, compared with Wojnar's criminal sentence of two years probation and court costs, the forfeiture of the $10,000 vehicle was excessive. In light of the ruling, police departments in the 14 counties covered by the 2nd District Court of Appeal had to revisit their forfeiture policies.

Tarpon Springs appealed, but Florida Supreme Court let the decision stand in 1997, and the city had to pay Wojnar $10,000.

_ Staff writer Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or danielsonsptimes.com.

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