Appeals court overturns ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad’s obstruction conviction

The charge stemmed from an allegation that Massad had tried to intimidate a police officer charged with investigating him.
Dale Massad appears in court for a motion hearing on his bond status March 14, 2019 at West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. A Florida appeals court on Friday overturned Massad's conviction on a charge of obstructing justice.
Dale Massad appears in court for a motion hearing on his bond status March 14, 2019 at West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. A Florida appeals court on Friday overturned Massad's conviction on a charge of obstructing justice.
Published Jul. 15, 2022|Updated Jul. 15, 2022

The 2nd District Court of Appeal on Friday overturned former Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad’s conviction on a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Massad, 71, was arrested in 2019 after he was accused of practicing medicine without a license. He fired two rounds at the SWAT team who raided his home in February of that year and was charged with multiple counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.

The obstruction charge stemmed from a conversation Massad had with Terrence Rowe, the man who became mayor after Massad was arrested. During a phone call Massad made from the Pasco County jail, he and Rowe discussed police officer Donald Howard, who had helped investigate Massad.

“I don’t know why,” Massad said during the call, “but he is in on everything.”

“I’m on it,” Rowe replied.

“Anything you can do is good,” Massad said.

Massad’s attorneys argued that the call couldn’t have constituted obstruction of justice because Massad was simply telling Rowe to obtain the officer’s personnel files and that there is nothing illegal about acquiring public records.

The state countered by saying Rowe tried to acquire those records indirectly, without going through the proper protocols. They argued Rowe abused his position as acting mayor, which he assumed after Massad’s arrest.

It took the jury about 50 minutes to convict Massad of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communications device. Records show he was sentenced to five years of probation.

But the appeals court said there wasn’t any evidence that Massad and Rowe had intended to intimidate Howard or use the personnel file against him.

“[T]here was no evidence of an agreement between Mr. Massad and Mr. Rowe to use these documents for the purpose of intimidation or retaliation against Officer Howard, especially given the timing of Mr. Rowe’s request, which was made prior to the June 3, 2019, telephone conversation,” the appeals court wrote in its decision.

Massad had faced five counts of attempted murder in connection to the shooting at his home. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, a weapons charge, resisting arrest with violence and practicing medicine without a license — the investigation that led to his home being raided in 2019. Under the plea deal, he was sentenced to three years in prison, but he received credit for the two years he spent in the county jail awaiting trial.

Rowe was charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and use of a two-way communication device to facilitate the commission of a crime. He received a sentence of two years’ probation and was ordered to complete 50 hours of community service, among other sanctions.

Florida Department of Correction records show that Massad was released from state prison in December and is on probation until 2031. His permanent address is now listed in Lighthouse Point, a small city north of Fort Lauderdale.

The SWAT raid and arrest were the culmination of years of turmoil surrounding the former laser surgeon. A 2019 Tampa Bay Times investigation detailed a pattern of erratic behavior and encounters with law enforcement, none of which derailed his political career in the small west Pasco County city. Massad went into politics decades after he gave up his medical license following the 1990 death of a 3-year-old girl he was treating.

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Massad’s attorneys said there aren’t any other pending appeals in his criminal case.

“We were very happy to see it,” said J. Jervis Wise, the attorney who worked on Massad’s appeal. “Obviously, we’ve always strongly felt that Mr. Massad did nothing to obstruct justice.”

One of Massad’s trial attorneys, Denis deVlaming, said his client’s court costs will be recalculated now that the obstruction conviction has been overturned. Massad was initially ordered to pay $100,000 in investigative costs, deVlaming said.

“We felt as if his conversations did not rise to the level of a crime and apparently the appellate court agreed with that,” deVlaming said.