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PINELLAS OFFICIALS TO SPEAK BEFORE GRAND JURY ABOUT SMITH LAND DEAL

Printed on the custom stationery of Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, the letters on Friday invited all seven Pinellas County commissioners, their top administrator and their attorney to the Grand Jury Courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center.

On Friday, the officials will be asked about the recent county purchase of Property Appraiser Jim Smith's private property.

"If you are not willing to accept this invitation, and require a subpoena," McCabe offered, "please contact my office."

The invitations came the same day investigators from the sheriff's and state attorney's offices visited Smith's former lot to gather information for the grand jury inquiry that is set to begin Thursday.

Investigators took photos and spoke with at least one man who worked on the property during flood-control efforts in 2005. Smith has claimed the work damaged his property, which straddles Brooker Creek.

Reached Friday night, two commissioners said they would appear in front of the jury without a subpoena or an attorney. The County Commission meets next week to decide whether to hire outside legal counsel to represent its members in the inquiry.

Commissioner Ken Welch said his secretary saw the same letter delivered to all commissioners. Welch also said commissioners received an e-mail from County Administrator Steve Spratt that his presence had been requested.

Commissioner Karen Seel said she'll delay taking her son to Georgia Tech to begin graduate school so she can appear before the grand jury. Seel also confirmed that County Attorney Susan Churuti had been asked to attend Friday.

Staff writer Will Van Sant contributed to this report.

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