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Ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad gets ‘quite a deal’ with 3-year prison sentence

Massad faced attempted murder charges and a potential life sentence for firing on the SWAT team that raided his home.
Ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad pled guilty on Wednesday to lesser charges in the attempted murder case against him during a plea hearing held before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge Mary Handsel at the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. Authorities say Massad fired on Pasco sheriff's deputies raiding his home in a 2019 investigation of allegations he was practicing law without a license. He was sentenced to 3-years in prison, but will get credit for the two years he has spent in county jail awaiting trial.
Ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad pled guilty on Wednesday to lesser charges in the attempted murder case against him during a plea hearing held before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge Mary Handsel at the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. Authorities say Massad fired on Pasco sheriff's deputies raiding his home in a 2019 investigation of allegations he was practicing law without a license. He was sentenced to 3-years in prison, but will get credit for the two years he has spent in county jail awaiting trial. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Mar. 3
Updated Mar. 3

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.

Former Port Richey mayor Dale Massad during a 2019 court appearance.
Former Port Richey mayor Dale Massad during a 2019 court appearance. [ Times ]

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.

Related: Drugs, guns and politics collided in the small town of Port Richey. Two mayors went to jail.

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.

Ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad, seen Wednesday on a video screen in the West Pasco Judicial Center, waits for his plea hearing from the Pasco County jail.
Ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad, seen Wednesday on a video screen in the West Pasco Judicial Center, waits for his plea hearing from the Pasco County jail. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

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.

Related: Ex-Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad agrees to plea deal after shooting at deputies
Pasco sheriff's Sgt. William Lindsey testifies in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mary Handsel's courtroom on Wednesday. Ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad pled guilty to lesser charges in the attempted murder case against him. Authorities say Massad fired on Lindsey and other SWAT deputies raiding his home in 2019.
Pasco sheriff's Sgt. William Lindsey testifies in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mary Handsel's courtroom on Wednesday. Ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad pled guilty to lesser charges in the attempted murder case against him. Authorities say Massad fired on Lindsey and other SWAT deputies raiding his home in 2019. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

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.

Related: The long, odd history of Pasco County politicians behaving badly

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.

Defense attorneys Bjorn Brundvand, left, and Denis deVlaming, right, talk with prosecutors before Wednesday's plea hearing for ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad.
Defense attorneys Bjorn Brundvand, left, and Denis deVlaming, right, talk with prosecutors before Wednesday's plea hearing for ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

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.

A still photo taken from body camera footage from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office SWAT team that raided ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad's waterfront home on Feb. 21, 2019.
A still photo taken from body camera footage from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office SWAT team that raided ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad's waterfront home on Feb. 21, 2019. [ Pasco County Sheriff ]

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.

Related: What Port Richey’s elected leaders really think, and other deleted scenes from our investigation
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Mary Handsel speaks to defense attorney Denis deVlaming during Wednesday's plea hearing for ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad at the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Mary Handsel speaks to defense attorney Denis deVlaming during Wednesday's plea hearing for ex-Port Richey mayor Dale Massad at the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]