NEW PORT RICHEY — Two years after Dale Massad was arrested for firing at the SWAT deputies raiding his home, the legal case against Port Richey’s armed and oft-troubled former mayor ended with a plea deal Wednesday morning.
Massad had faced five counts of attempted homicide, which carries up to a life sentence. Instead, he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, a weapons charge, resisting arrest 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 gets credit for the two years he has spent in county jail, awaiting trial.
It was “quite a deal,” Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mary Handsel said.
A masked Massad, who appeared in court on a video screen from the Pasco County jail, remained silent throughout the hearing.
The SWAT raid and arrest was 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.
Handsel made a point to note that the court had nothing to do with the plea deal, which was revealed in a court hearing last week. She also noted that even the reduced charges Massad is now convicted of could have resulted in a sentence of up to 35 years in prison.
Before sentencing, the court heard testimony from a member of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team that entered Massad’s waterfront home. Sgt. William Lindsey said he still feels anxiety when he thinks about the Feb. 21, 2019 raid on the then-mayor’s home.
The team of Pasco deputies entered Massad’s home to arrest him for practicing medicine without a license. Defense attorneys said Massad was frightened that somebody was breaking into his home and fired warning shots.
Lindsey said it was willful disrespect of law enforcement and an intended act of violence.
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The sergeant said he’ll never forget the image of Massad waving his gun at deputies from the top of his steps. He said Massad was fortunate his fellow deputies didn’t see that, saying they would have been justified in shooting Massad to stop the threat.
He also remembers coming home to his family, telling them that after 20 years in a law enforcement career, he could have lost his life because a politician felt he was above the law.
“Mr. Massad has clearly exploited the worst flaw in the criminal justice system and that’s that money and political influence buys you freedom if you’re rich,” Lindsey said.
He also called Massad a psychopath.
The ex-mayor’s defense attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, took issue with that.
“He was a frightened man who was defending his home,” Brunvand said.
After the sentencing, defense attorney Denis deVlaming said they wouldn’t have agreed to a plea deal had it not been for the coronavirus delaying trial. Massad’s first trial was set for February 2020, and was pushed back multiple times.
The attorney said he felt adamant that a jury would have acquitted Massad.
“It was almost a business decision to cut our losses and get a guarantee,” deVlaming said.
Massad was also adjudicated guilty on a charge of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice. A jury convicted him of that after a June 2019 trial. He will serve five years of probation on that charge.
That charge involved the arrest of another Port Richey mayor. After the SWAT raid, Massad was recorded calling his successor, then-mayor Terrence Rowe, and plotting to target a Port Richey officer involved in the unlicensed practice of medicine investigation. Rowe was arrested and in January 2020 agreed to a sentence of two years of probation.
The judge said if Massad is truly a psychopath, as the sergeant said, he won’t be able to obey the conditions of his probation.
Defense attorneys said they expect Massad will serve his time, adhere to his probation and then move to South Florida to be closer to his son.
Massad is actually a sharp, smart man, deVlaming said, who is angered that his reputation has been tainted during the past two years.