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Records detail Wrigley heir's $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

Helen Rich was photographed with her dog, Lady, at their Odessa home in September 2014. Rich dispatched two employees to charter a jet and fly Lady from Kansas to Florida after reading of the dog's plight. The two employees, Barbara DiCioccio and Chet Ragsdale, are now accused of stealing from Rich.  [Times (2014)]
Helen Rich was photographed with her dog, Lady, at their Odessa home in September 2014. Rich dispatched two employees to charter a jet and fly Lady from Kansas to Florida after reading of the dog's plight. The two employees, Barbara DiCioccio and Chet Ragsdale, are now accused of stealing from Rich. [Times (2014)]
Published Jun. 15, 2018

ODESSA — One day in the summer of 2014, Helen Rich spotted a Facebook post about an aging black Labrador in Kansas named Lady who badly needed a new home.

The author and heir to the Wrigley gum fortune had recently lost her own Black lab.

Rich decided Lady, with chocolate brown eyes and a gray-flecked face, should live out her days on a sprawling Odessa ranch, where the 65-year-old woman ran a rescue operation.

She sent her bookkeeper Barbara DiCioccio and ranch manager Chet Ragsdale on a chartered jet to pick up Lady from the Kansas shelter and fly her back.

"We don't mess around here," DiCioccio told a news reporter after returning home. "We get things done."

Within months of that trip, authorities say, DiCioccio and Ragsdale would begin to siphon thousands of dollars from the wealthy employer who had promoted them from housekeeper and ranch hand.

Last month, after more than a year of investigating, authorities arrested the couple, accusing them of bilking Rich, now 69, out of more than $480,000.

Court documents filed in the case, along with a civil lawsuit Rich filed this month against her former employees, lay out how DiCioccio, 52, and Ragsdale, 45, took on increasing responsibilities on the ranch and then used an array of schemes to pilfer from her.

• • •

The great-grandaughter of William J. Wrigley, founder of the famous chewing gum company, Rich has a love for animals that lured her and then-husband James Rosburg to Odessa in 2006.

"As soon as I could walk, I was rescuing,'' Rich told the Tampa Bay Times in 2012, when she still went by her married name.

The Rosburgs had been living in a manor in Palm Beach where Rich hid rabbit hutches in the bushes to avoid code violations. The couple already had a growing stable of show horses in Lutz, so they decided to make the move and built a three-story, 12,000-square-foot mansion, with a wraparound veranda and imposing columns, on 127 acres off Gunn Highway.

By then, Rich had already founded a publishing company and had written romance novels with titles like By Honor Bound and The Dream Thief. In Odessa, she could continue to write and have space pursue her other passion: giving shelter to animals with nowhere else to go.

Rich, who did not respond to a Times inquiry after the recent arrests, shares her ranch with a menagerie of dogs, cats, horses, goats, chickens, exotic birds, among many others. Rich also founded On the Wings of Angel Rescue to rehabilitate dogs and find permanent homes for them.

Into this growing operation came Ragsdale and DiCioccio, at first in modest roles.

James Rosburg hired Ragsdale about 10 years ago as a "maintenance vehicle technician" for the ranch, according to a 65-page arrest warrant written by Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Ricardo Acevedo. After the Rosburgs divorced — records show the split was finalized in 2014 — Ragsdale took on more duties and was eventually made ranch manager. He also chauffeured Rich to horse shows throughout the country and served as her bodyguard during domestic and international trips.

DiCioccio started as a housekeeper and in September 2009 became Rich's personal assistant and bookkeeper, tasked in part with paying ranch expenses, preparing checks for Rich to sign and depositing and withdrawing funds from her bank account. DiCioccio reported to Ragsdale.

"While away from the farm and animal rescue operations, I entrusted Ms. DiCioccio, Mr. Ragsdale and others with all operations," Rich wrote in an affidavit attached to a civil lawsuit she filed this month against the two former employees. "Additionally, given my travel schedule and other demands, I regularly provided Ms. DiCioccio with signed blank checks to pay for expenses of the daily operations as they came due."

At some point, the records say, Ragsdale and DiCioccio became romantically involved. Rich told them she would allow the relationship but only one of them could attend horse shows and the other would stay at the ranch to take care of day-to-day operations while Rich was away, the arrest warrant says.

Around January of last year, according to Rich's affidavit, she asked Ragsdale to travel to an Arizona auction to sell two of her vintage cars. While he was away, she learned of some "improprieties in and around the farm," fired him and told him to return the truck and trailer. Ragsdale returned but initially refused to turn over the truck and trailer. He produced titles — fraudulently obtained, investigators would later conclude — with his name on them.

"I was flabbergasted by this news, as I had authorized Ms. DiCioccio to provide checks to Mr. Ragsdale to purchase the Freightliner truck and enclosed trailer and directed Mr. Ragsdale to have them titled in my name," Rich wrote. When she presented him the $121,000 purchase order for the truck and a copy of the check she'd signed, Ragsdale returned the truck and trailer.

Rich soon learned that Ragsdale had used a check in the amount of $220,951.24 to purchase two recreational vehicles from Camping World RV in Holiday. Rich had given the check to Ragsdale to buy just one RV, but he secretly bought a second one — a 2013 Winnebago Journey — and registered it in his name, the warrant says.

Rich fired DiCioccio and took these discoveries to the Florida Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution, which requested help from the FDLE.

Once they started digging, records show, investigators discovered a trail of financial deceit.

• • •

Numerous checks mailed to Rich at the ranch had been deposited in Ragsdale's bank accounts, including a joint account he had with DiCioccio, investigators learned. In some instances, Ragsdale or DiCioccio would hand Rich checks, usually face down, and ask her to endorse them, the warrant says.

The check amounts ranged from $14 to $9,000 for a total of $52,619.32.

Investigators also found that $98,050 was deposited into DiCioccio checking account from checks made payable to cash and withdrawn from Rich's account.

In many cases, her signatures on the checks had been forged by Ragsdale, investigators allege.

Investigators reported that Ragsdale and DiCioccio used most of the money to buy six properties in New Port Richey. Some of the money went to pay Ragsdale and DiCioccio's homeowner fees, credit card bills and other personal expenses, the records say.

Ragsdale also tried to bilk his boss out of a boat, investigators found.

On New Year's Day 2016, the warrant says, Ragsdale walked into Land 'O Lakes Marine and told the owner his boss had directed him to come to the dealership to pick out a boat for his yearly bonus. He selected a 2016 Sea Hunt 234 Ultra, a new 2016 Yamaha F250XCA motor engine and a new Magic Tilt trailer. Ragsdale paid $66,141 using a check drawn from Rich's account, the warrant says.

Rich told investigators she never gave him permission to buy the boat, and he apparently used one of the blank checks she'd given DiCioccio to cover ranch expenses like wood shavings and hay.

DiCioccio and Ragsdale were arrested in Pasco County on May 21 and booked into the Hillsborough County jail two days later. They posted bail and were released the same day — $175,000 for her, $225,000 for him, records show.

DiCioccio faces 24 counts including grand theft, racketeering and money laundering. Ragsdale faces 82 counts, with additional charges of forgery and dealing in stolen property.

Neither has a prior arrest record in Florida, records show. According to FDLE, they live together at a home on Sea Turtle Court in New Port Richey.

Kevin Napper, an attorney representing Ragsdale, declined to comment for this report. An attorney listed for DiCioccio did not respond.

• • •

Back in 2014, after DiCioccio and Ragsdale returned with the black lab named Lady, DiCioccio told the news reporter that the dog would be sleeping in Rich's main house with her several other dogs and cats.

The story notes Rich's long history of helping animals and ends with a quote from DiCioccio.

"That's the reason I like working for her," she said. "I see all the good she does."

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

More: Wrigley heir Helen Rich


Wrigley News Stuns Heiress; Odessa Estate Comforts (May 5, 2008)
A Wrigley chewing gum heir puts rescued animals up in style (May 5, 2012)
Wrigley gum heir calls Odessa home (May 7, 2013)