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  1. Hernando

Two former Hernando Beach volunteer fire chiefs settle their criminal case with a plea deal

Former Hernando Beach volunteer fire department chiefs Travis Morris and David Murdock
Published Apr. 24

BROOKSVILLE — Former Hernando Beach volunteer fire chiefs Travis Morris and David Murdock on Wednesday received pre-trial intervention in their criminal cases from Fifth-Judicial Circuit Court Judge Stephen Toner. His ruling closed the multi-year saga of the former volunteer fire department and the allegations of theft and misbehavior that had haunted it.

Both Morris, 41, and Murdock, 31, were charged with organized fraud and paying themselves, even though they were volunteers. The charge against Morris was changed to grand theft earlier this week at the request of his attorney. But the judge's ruling means that all charges are dropped with the defendants' agreement to repay the cost of the months-long investigation by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Each will pay approximately $14,000 for that work. Because they agreed to the plea arrangement, neither will face probation or additional restitution. According to assistant state attorney Mark Simpson, a portion of those fees will go to repay the community of Forest Glenn, one of three communities served by the volunteers. The $15,563.99 was the approximate amount those residents had paid to the volunteers.

Simpson said that came in response to a request made by the Sheriff's Office.

During Tuesday's hearing, attorney Robert Morris represented Travis Morris, who was not present. He told the judge that his client believed he had a strong case and that he was not guilty, but he chose to take the pre-trial intervention. Murdock was present at the hearing.

Murdock and Morris faced lesser original charges than the other former chief, David Freda.

Earlier this month, Toner withheld adjudication on Freda's case. He originally faced a first-degree felony charge of organized fraud for taking a salary, detectives said, while he was chief at the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department. He also spent department money on equipment and computers, which Sheriff's detectives concluded he used for himself and for collecting money for teaching public safety classes that in some cases he never taught.

Freda, 33, pleaded no-contest and was not convicted. He was sentenced to five years probation and will pay nearly $49,000 in restitution in addition to $14,000 to cover the cost of investigating his crimes.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434 .

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