Ex-Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad has agreed to a plea deal that will send him to state prison for three years, allowing him to avoid the potential life sentence he faced for firing on the deputies who raided his home in 2019.
Massad, 70, will plead guilty to lesser criminal charges next week. The plea deal was revealed by his defense attorneys and prosecutors during a virtual court hearing Friday.
The raid was part of an investigation into allegations that Massad, a former doctor who lost his license decades ago, was still practicing medicine without a license. But when deputies served a search warrant on his waterfront home, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said Massad fired on the SWAT team. No deputies were injured.
He was charged with five counts of attempted murder, as well as a weapons offense and a charge of resisting arrest, in connection with the shooting. The practicing-medicine investigation also yielded several charges.
In June 2019, Massad was convicted by a jury of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. That stemmed from an incident that took place after his February arrest, when he was recorded in a jailhouse phone call plotting to target a Port Richey officer involved in the unlicensed practice of medicine investigation.
On Wednesday, Massad plans to plead guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, the weapons offense and the resisting arrest charge in the attempted murder case, according to Massad’s attorneys and Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia.
In exchange, Massad will be sentenced to three years in prison, and the state will drop the four remaining attempted murder charges.
He’ll also plead guilty to multiple charges of practicing medicine without a license, said Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Rita Pavan Peters, who handled that case. The deal will also carry a three-year sentence, which Massad will serve at the same time as the other charges, followed by 10 years of probation.
In Friday’s hearing, Massad, his attorneys and the prosecution all appeared via Zoom. Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Mary Handsel said the plea must officially be conducted in person. The judge and attorneys will appear in a courtroom in the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. Massad will participate via video from the Pasco County jail.
His defense attorneys, Bjorn Brunvand and Denis deVlaming, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Sarabia. A Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman also declined to comment.
A 2019 Tampa Bay Times investigation outlined the twists and turns of the Massad saga, which included drugs, guns and entanglements with other officials in the small city in west Pasco County. Trouble began for him in 1990, when a 3-year-old girl died of a reaction to an anesthetic while in the care of Massad, then a laser surgeon. He surrendered his medical license two years later.
Massad spent the next decade showing up in police reports, often in association with drug investigations. In 1999, he moved from Pinellas County to Port Richey and began a political career by taking an open seat on the City Council.
He was elected mayor in 2015. By then, he’d developed a reputation for outlandish behavior, including an incident soon before the election when his girlfriend called the police. The couple believed people were crawling around in Massad’s air-conditioning vents.
Over the course of Massad’s three-year tenure as mayor, law enforcement officers were called to his house more than 50 times. Guns were stolen. Police received tips about drugs being sold at Massad’s home.
In 2018, two witnesses told Port Richey police that Massad had performed medical procedures in his home, and that they had photos. That led to a state investigation, in which witnesses described Massad using illicit drugs and providing medical care.
Pasco SWAT deputies stormed Massad’s home about 4 a.m. on Feb. 21, 2019, breaking open his front door and throwing a flash-bang inside. Massad fired two shots from a handgun.
His attorneys later argued that Massad thought criminals were breaking to his home and was trying to defend himself. They considered mounting a stand your ground defense, one that could have been without precedent but that some experts said would have been very difficult to prove.
In a 14-minute jailhouse phone call soon after his arrest, Massad asked Terrence Rowe, his successor as mayor, to look into a Port Richey officer who’d been involved in the investigation.
Rowe then became the second Port Richey mayor to be arrested in 2019. He agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and unlawful use of a two-way communication device later that year and was sentenced to two years of probation by Handsel, who withheld adjudication. That means Rowe was not convicted of a crime.
Massad has not yet been sentenced in the obstruction of justice case. He has spent more than two years in the Pasco County jail, where he is currently being held. He could get credit for time served, though the attorneys did not mention that possibility on Friday.