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Ex-Tampa police employee pleads guilty to stealing identities for tax refund fraud

Published Feb. 5, 2016

TAMPA — A former community service officer for the Tampa Police Department pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to mining law enforcement databases to help a friend commit stolen identity tax refund fraud.

Tonia Bright, 53, is the second person to make a deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office in an investigation that has already sent police informer Rita Girven to prison. Former Detective Eric Houston and his wife, former Sgt. LaJoyce Houston, await trial on related charges.

Bright said in a plea agreement that she provided personal identifying information — such as names, birth dates and Social Security numbers — at least 10 times to Girven, knowing it was for fraud. Girven was both her friend and a close friend of the Houstons.

Bright, a civilian police employee, took reports from the public and, as part of her official duties, had password-protected access to databases such as the National Crime Information Center index.

She retired from the Tampa Police Department in April 2014, a month after an internal review led to her suspension.

On Friday, she pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining information from a protected computer for a fraudulent purpose. Each count is punishable by up to five years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.