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City manager warned officer that Port Richey mayor was 'coming after him,' records say

Acting Port Richey Mayor Terrence Rowe, right, is accused of conspiring with former mayor Dale Massad, left, to intimidate a witness. State agents say the city manager tried to sound an alarm by warning the target of the mayors’ plan. [ALICE HERDEN, special to the Times; jail booking mugs from Pasco County Sheriff’s Office]
Published Mar. 19

PORT RICHEY — City Manager Vincent Lupo warned one of his police officers that Mayor Terrence Rowe was "coming after him full speed," according to court records.

But it was Rowe who got caught in an obstruction of justice investigation, accused of plotting with his predecessor Dale Massad to target Officer Donald Kendall "Kenny" Howard for Howard's involvement in Massad's arrest.

Records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday provide new details in the City Hall scandal that started with a state investigation into a tip that Massad was practicing medicine without a license.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday also suspended Rowe as acting mayor and as a member of City Council — just as the governor suspended Massad after his arrest.

READ MORE: Port Richey ex-mayor, acting mayor conspired in jailhouse call, agents say

Mayor Rowe began targeting Officer Howard on March 3 when he asked the city clerk for the officer's personnel file, according to an arrest warrant affidavit from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The same day, Massad called City Manager Lupo looking for Rowe's phone number, the affidavit said.

Howard is a witness against Massad in a charge of practicing medicine without a license. Rowe succeeded Massad as mayor after Massad's arrest.

The obstruction charges stem from a phone call, also on March 3, between Rowe and Massad.

Massad was in the Pasco County jail at the time and authorities recorded the call.

Here are excerpts from their discussion about Howard, according to the affidavit:

"I don't know why, but he is in on everything," Massad said.

"I'm on it," Rowe replied.

Massad said anything Rowe could do for him would be "good."

"You know, this doesn't go down without somebody answering for it."

Rowe is quoted as saying, "I'm doing some research to find out who, what, when."

The next day, March 4, Lupo told Howard he was worried that Mayor Rowe aimed to threaten the officer by pulling the personnel file, the affidavit says. The day after that, March 5, Rowe called Port Richey Police Chief Gerard DeCanio and "pried into the background" of the officer, asking why he was involved in the investigation into Massad, the affidavit says.

Then Rowe asked the chief about a 2017 administrative investigation that ended up clearing the officer of wrongdoing, the affidavit says.

Rowe had been the council member who submitted a motion at a February 2018 City Council meeting to reimburse Howard for costs involved in the investigation, the affidavit says.

Chief DeCanio confirmed to the Times that Rowe called him and asked about the officer's background, but would not elaborate.

Neither Lupo nor Rowe responded to phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Howard has not returned messages placed during the past week.

Massad turned over his medical license in the 1990s after a state board found him negligent in the death of a child patient.

When a SWAT team of deputies busted down Massad's door Feb. 21 to arrest him for practicing medicine without a license, he fired two rounds at them, authorities say, and now also faces charges of attempted murder.

Massad's attorneys dispute the charges, saying the ex-mayor was firing warning shots at people he believed to be intruders.

Massad remains in jail without bail. Rowe was released on bail.

Contact Justin Trombly at jtrombly@tampabay.com. Follow @JustinTrombly.

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