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Who are the Tampa names that came up during the Andrew Warren trial?

As a DeSantis aide was researching Andrew Warren, he called some noteworthy Tampa individuals.
Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Tallahassee.
Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Dec. 2, 2022|Updated Dec. 2, 2022

As ousted Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren fought in federal court this week to get his job back, witnesses dropped several Tampa Bay names.

In addition to Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister playing a prominent role, an assortment of Tampa Bay business people, lawyers and others have had at least brief mentions in the court case.

Some were mentioned when Larry Keefe, a top aide to Gov. Ron DeSantis, was asked to explain who he spoke with as he gathered research about Warren.

Here’s a little more on who they are.

Preston and Rex Farrior

Brothers Preston Farrior and J. Rex Farrior III, both Republicans and major party donors, come from a wealthy Tampa legacy. Their father, J. Rex Farrior Jr., was a lawyer and investor who helped bring the Devil Rays to Tampa Bay.

When Keefe was asked with whom in Hillsborough County he spoke to outside of law enforcement, he named the Farrior brothers. In his deposition, Chronister said he got lunch one day last spring with Preston Farrior. At the end of the lunch, Chronister said, Farrior asked the sheriff if he would “jump on a quick call with Keefe.” The call, it turned out, was about Warren.

Farrior Hall at the University of Florida was named after Preston and Rex in honor of their “generous and significant support.” Preston and Rex Farrior are directors of Gator Boosters, the fundraising arm of UF’s athletic department, according to its website.

Preston Farrior’s wife, Laura Farrior, comes from the Ferman family, who founded Ferman Motor Car Co., where Preston worked as chief operating officer. The Fermans also donate heavily to the University of Tampa.

Preston Farrior is also CEO of Cigar City Motors, which in 2021 lost a case argued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and had to pay $500,000 in damages after a female sales manager said she was denied a promotion on the basis of sex. Cigar City management had never promoted a female employee to general manager before the lawsuit.

Preston Farrior has served on the boards for AMI Kids, Metropolitan Ministries, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

J. Rex Farrior III runs Farrior Enterprises LLC.

Both brothers have been heavily involved in Gasparilla and Ye Mystic Krewe.

Martin Garcia

Martin Garcia, a prominent Tampa Republican lawyer, was the campaign chairperson of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s run for office in 2010. He also was part of Warren’s 2020 fundraising committee.

Garcia was mentioned by Keefe when the DeSantis aide talked about who in Hillsborough he spoke to outside of law enforcement. Keefe said neither Garcia nor the others identified specific laws Warren wasn’t prosecuting.

Garcia is the chairperson of Pinehill Capital, a private investment firm, and founded the Garcia Family Fund, a charity. He previously was the chairperson of the Investment Advisory Council for the Florida pension fund.

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Garcia was previously appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott to serve on the board overseeing the Tampa International Airport, which Garcia abruptly quit. Garcia, a critic of the airport, urged for an audit of the airport spending. Before the audit was released, Garcia donated $10,000 to then-state Sen. Tom Lee, who pushed for the audit in the Legislature.

Garcia also was part of the legal team challenging Hillsborough’s one-cent transportation tax in 2020. Though he supported Warren, a Democrat, Garcia has donated to Republican candidates.

After Warren’s removal, Garcia’s daughter, who is a federal prosecutor, was considered as a potential senior member of the state attorney’s office, Keefe testified.

Phillip Dingle

Phillip Dingle is the managing partner of HealthEdge Investment Partners, a private equity fund, and prior to that was CEO of PlanVista Corporation.

Dingle is a registered Republican and has donated to Republicans. He serves on several health-related boards, and is the chairperson of the board of Tampa General Hospital. He serves on the boards of CSS Health, Today’s Dental Network and iTRAC.

Keefe mentioned Dingle as someone he talked to about Warren during his research on the state attorney.

Dingle is a graduate of Jesuit High School in Tampa. His wife, Kimberly Dingle, serves on the board for the Academy of the Holy Names.

Gary Weisman

Gary Weisman was Warren’s chief of staff, a role he assumed after Warren took office in January 2017. Prior to joining the state attorney’s office, he was an attorney in private practice in Tampa. After Warren’s suspension, Weisman has continued to serve as chief of staff for Susan Lopez, whom DeSantis appointed as state attorney.

Weisman testified Thursday that he advised Warren not to sign a pledge with other elected prosecutors vowing to refrain from prosecuting abortion cases. Weisman said he thought the statement was “bad for Mr. Warren ... and bad for the agency.” He said he understood the letter to be official office policy.

His testimony contradicted an argument Warren’s lawyers have made that the letters were merely expressions of free speech — not official policy. DeSantis cited the abortion statement among other points when he suspended Warren.

Weisman is a registered Republican. In Chronister’s deposition in the Warren lawsuit, the sheriff said he and Weisman are friendly and their families have gone on vacation together.

When Warren’s communications consultant left with Warren, Weisman decided to bring in Fred Piccolo, a former communications official for DeSantis, whom Weisman knew of.

Piccolo has since been accused by former state Rep. Jackie Toledo, whose 2022 congressional campaign he managed, of sending “grossly offensive” text messages, including photos of him in states of undress. Texts that were exhibits in the lawsuit show Toledo and Piccolo argued about him taking a job with the state attorney’s office while he was still her campaign manager.

Chad Chronister

Chronister, a Republican, has served as Hillsborough’s sheriff since 2017, when he was the interim sheriff selected by his predecessor and appointed by Gov. Scott. In 2018, Chronister won his election and in 2020 was handily reelected.

Chronister spoke at the news conference when DeSantis announced his suspension of Warren — and hosted it in the sheriff’s office building in Tampa, with some of his deputies lining up behind the governor.

When Keefe was detailing his research preparing for the Warren suspension, he noted that Chronister was critical of Warren. Chronister also mailed a packet of documents, which included copies of policies from Warren’s office, to the governor’s office. Those records helped the governor’s legal team build their case for Warren’s suspension.

In a prior interview with the Times, Chronister said he disagreed with Warren’s policies about refraining from prosecuting certain misdemeanors, and said Warren’s office often failed to prosecute violent crimes.

Chronister has been with the sheriff’s office since 1992. His wife, Nicole DeBartolo, is the daughter of Eddie DeBartolo Jr., a businessman and former owner of the San Francisco 49ers. Forbes estimates DeBartolo’s net worth at about $3.1 billion dollars, and DeBartolo donates heavily to Florida Republicans.

In 2020, DeBartolo was pardoned by former President Donald Trump for a 1998 crime of not reporting a bribe from a government official.

Nicole DeBartolo was part of Warren’s 2020 fundraising committee.

Brian Dugan

Brian Dugan, the former Tampa police chief, was also particularly critical of Warren in his public statement during the news conference when DeSantis announced Warren’s removal. Dugan retired in 2021 after serving as chief for four years.

At the news conference, Dugan called the state attorney “a fraud.”

Warren’s attorneys noted that Keefe spoke to Dugan but not the current Tampa police chief or former police chief, now Democratic mayor, Jane Castor.

Dugan was appointed by former Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat. In 2021, Dugan called himself a “law-and-order Democrat.”

In the summer of 2020, Dugan received criticism for how his department handled groups of protesters demonstrating in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Dugan at that time criticized Warren for saying that a group of protesters arrested were peaceful. Reached by phone Friday, Dugan said Warren “sold the police officers out.”

In a prior interview with the Times, Dugan said when DeSantis was in town to sign a bill in June 2021, he and Chronister spoke with the governor about “Warren’s lack of prosecution and just his laissez-faire approach to things.”

Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.