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Paralegal's ex-husband tells court she confessed to DUI set-up

Pinellas Judge Douglas Baird talks with attorneys after they approached while Kristopher Personious sits on the witness stand during the Florida Bar hearing concerning attorneys from Adams & Diaco. The attorneys are accused of setting up an opposing attorney for a DUI in 2013. [Pool photo]
Pinellas Judge Douglas Baird talks with attorneys after they approached while Kristopher Personious sits on the witness stand during the Florida Bar hearing concerning attorneys from Adams & Diaco. The attorneys are accused of setting up an opposing attorney for a DUI in 2013. [Pool photo]
Published May 20, 2015

CLEARWATER — The ex-husband of a paralegal accused of helping arrange the drunken-driving arrest of a Tampa attorney told a court Thursday that he recorded her confession.

In Kristopher Personius' colorful retelling, his ex-wife, Melissa Personius, 32, a paralegal at the Tampa firm of Adams & Diaco, divulged everything. Drunk and "bouncing off-the-wall," she returned home late one night in January 2013 with a wild story about how she and three attorneys at her firm had orchestrated the arrest of a rival lawyer, C. Philip Campbell.

At the time, Campbell, 67, was representing radio shock-jock Todd "MJ" Schnitt in a multimillion dollar defamation lawsuit against Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. The Adams & Diaco firm was defending Clem.

"She told me they had a plot in place," said Kristopher Personius, 34. "She said that it was going to help them win the case."

From the moment his ex-wife walked through the door, she couldn't contain herself, he said.

Without asking her permission, Personius recorded her on his cellphone as she took him through the events of that night. But his much-debated video, which defense attorneys argued was illegal under Florida's wiretapping law, was never shown in court. Rather, Florida Bar attorneys chose to rely on Personius' vivid testimony.

When his ex-wife arrived home, Personius said she told him how, weeks earlier, her boss Robert Adams had instructed her to spy on Campbell to see whether he was drinking. She said that when she saw Campbell at a steakhouse bar in downtown Tampa with a colleague one evening, she notified Adams, who told her to watch their target closely until a Tampa police officer was "in place," Kristopher Personius said.

Witnesses have testified she flirted with Campbell and lied to him about where she worked, telling him she was employed at Trenam Kemker, a Tampa law firm.

Phone records would later show that over the next few hours, she texted and called her bosses multiple times. They, in turn, texted and called each other.

Several hours and roughly five vodka drinks later, Campbell emerged from the bar and got behind the wheel of Personius' car. A Tampa cop, a close family friend of an Adams & Diaco attorney, arrested him for drunken driving minutes later.

The Bar has accused the three lawyers — Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams, and Adam Filthaut — of misconduct, among other professional violations. If found guilty, they could lose their licenses to practice law.

Melissa Personius' bosses rewarded her sleuthing, said Kristopher Personius.

"She told me that Stephen Diaco whispered in her ear, 'You get paid really good now. Wait till after this is done.' "

Later that year, Melissa Personius received a $10,000 bonus from the firm, according to Adams' testimony. Kristopher Personius said Adams also gave his ex-wife a credit card in his name, as well as cash.

Defense attorneys for the lawyers worked hard to convince a judge that Kristopher Personius shouldn't be allowed to testify, but to no avail. In an effort to undermine his testimony, they portrayed him as a desperate man with a lengthy criminal record and a history of beating his ex-wife.

Greg Kehoe — one of five lawyers on the defense team — hammered Personius about a felony conviction from 1997, when he was found with a gun as a 17-year-old. Kehoe held up two restraining orders Melissa Personius had asked judges to sign to keep her husband away from her.

The couple divorced in 2006 and have two daughters, but they were still living together in 2013 when Campbell was arrested.

"She was in fear of you, wasn't she?" Kehoe asked.

"Never," Personius responded, adding that his ex-wife had asked him to live with her after filing a domestic-violence injunction against him. "Actually, I was in fear of her."

He said that when FBI agents banged on their door early one morning soon after Campbell's arrest, Melissa Personius told him not to talk and threatened him if he did. As recently as two weeks ago, she told one of their daughters that "she is going to get me back no matter what it takes," he said.

Under cross-examination by Kehoe, Kristopher Personius acknowledged that it took him a long time to bring the video to the FBI's attention.

By January 2014, Melissa Personius had filed a petition to recoup thousands of dollars in unpaid child support. Although Kristopher Personius said he was contributing money and caring for their children at least half of the time, he received a letter stating that his wages would be garnished to pay his ex-wife.

Kristopher Personius left Melissa Personius a voice message in which he hinted that he might to "go talk to Phil Campbell" if she didn't back down. Kehoe played the recording for the court on Thursday.

Months later, Kristopher Personius emailed Campbell and a meeting was arranged where he handed over his cellphone and the video of his ex-wife's confession. Campbell then turned it over to the FBI, which had opened an investigation into the Adams & Diaco lawyers' actions.

"You wanted to get back at her because was trying to garnish your wages," Kehoe said.

Personius said it was true he was annoyed at his ex-wife, who he said had "cut off" contact between him and his daughters. He said he no longer saw a reason to protect her and her "crooked" bosses.

"If she had just left me alone and let me see my kids, we wouldn't be here," he said.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow her @annamphillips.