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TICKET FIXING IS DETAILED

Some court clerks and their friends get tickets tossed after e-mails, payments.

A couple of e-mails here, a few hundred dollars there, and traffic tickets against several Hillsborough Clerk of Courts Office employees or those close to them were tossed.

And, according to internal investigative documents released Tuesday as part of six employees' resignations, it seems to point to one man: Luis Salas-Farfan, a traffic department clerk.

Salas-Farfan, who resigned in February, took money from co-workers to pay lawyers to take care of traffic tickets, the documents show. But in many of the cases, it appears no lawyer ever showed up, though the citations were dismissed.

In at least one instance, a hearing officer wrote, Salas-Farfan manipulated the tracking system to get a ticket dismissed.

Salas-Farfan admits he shouldn't have offered favors to co-workers on county time, notably by connecting them with lawyers he knew. But he denied receiving anything in return.

Any money he received went straight to lawyers, he said. And he was dubious any cases were dismissed without a lawyer, as is alleged in the documents.

"It might sound bad, you know, like something is wrong. But you need to be there ... seeing what's going on in court," he said. Lots of tickets get dismissed every day.

It's not clear from the records what happened to the money paid to Salas-Farfan, which ranged from $100 to $200 per infraction. Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank said an ongoing Sheriff's Office investigation would likely explain that.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Larry McKinnon said only that the investigation is "very active."

It would not be wrong for clerk's office employees to hire attorneys to take on traffic ticket cases. Any citizen can do that.

However, employees from the clerk's office are supposed to tell supervisors any time they, themselves, friends or family members get tickets. Then a manager monitors the tickets' movement through the system.

And they're not allowed to take money for tickets outside the appropriate channels.

With the exception of one person - Gisela Bakke, who was helped out of her ticket by two Hillsborough sheriff's deputies - the employees at the center of this investigation improperly sought out Salas-Farfan's help without notifying superiors, according to the documents.

This investigation began last year, after the clerk's office discovered that three court clerks, including Salas-Farfan, colluded to help one skip a court appearance. The office pressured the clerks to resign and started looking at Salas-Farfan's e-mails.

As part of that review, eight other clerks were suspended.

As of Tuesday, six of those - Laura Trader, Irmarie Cordero-Quinones, Mayte Delgado, Maylen Almira, Aida Delgado and Bakke - had resigned. Two others, Sonia Lopez and Rita Mooney, were appealing their termination recommendations.

Four of the six who resigned Tuesday directly paid Salas-Farfan to help take care of tickets, the records show.

Cordero-Quinones gave Salas-Farfan $100 to get a lawyer for her sister's driving with a restricted license citation. According to the investigative documents, Salas-Farfan manipulated the clerk's case tracking system to make it look like the ticket was dismissed as part of an earlier purge of records.

Cordero-Quinones referred a friend to Salas-Farfan, too, and his citation was dismissed in a hearing without record of an attorney, the documents show.

Almira sent her husband and a neighbor Salas-Farfan's way to help with several citations.

Neither Cordero-Quinones nor Almira returned calls seeking comment.

Trader, who connected Salas-Farfan with two friends, said she didn't know she had to fill out a disclosure form and didn't think she did anything wrong.

Mayte Delgado gave Salas-Farfan $100 prior to the dismissal of an improper turning ticket. But Delgado said Salas-Farfan only got her in touch with a lawyer, Michelle Lambo.

Lambo backed that up, saying none of the money Delgado or any other clients gave her went to Salas-Farfan. It would be against Florida Bar rules to pay for referrals in this type of case, she said.

Another clerk referred by Salas-Farfan, Aida Delgado, gave Lambo $1,500 to help with her son's case, which was reduced from driving under the influence to reckless driving. Lambo again said Salas-Farfan never got any of it.

Salas-Farfan declined to share names of other lawyers he sent friends to.

"I was just helping other people," he said. "That is the reason why I don't have a job."

Reach Kim Wilmath at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

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