NEW PORT RICHEY — Every night around 7 p.m., a Pasco County Sheriff’s deputy pulls up to a gated mansion in a patrol cruiser and parks, watching and waiting for six hours until another deputy arrives.
Thousands of cars whiz by along this stretch of State Road 54 before the second deputy pulls away at 7 a.m., their drivers left to wonder whether they just flew by a speed trap.
But these deputies are strictly guardians, working a 12-hour duty each night during the past 1,600 nights for a woman named Lynnda Speer. She’s the widow of Roy Speer, the billionaire co-founder of the Home Shopping Network whose final years slid by in a haze of sex, greed and betrayal as his fortune was drained away by his stockbroker-lover.
Lynnda Speer, 75, likes the feeling of safety she gets from her unusual arrangement with the Sheriff’s Office, said her attorney Guy Burns.
“There was no particular event,” Burns said. “She is just a person with some amount of wealth who wants to have security.”
A deputy has parked outside the Speer home since August 2014, according to Pasco County Sheriff’s Office records. All told, by the end of this year, Speer will have paid the county nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for the service.
Law enforcement agencies around allow off-duty officers to provide their professional level of protection for a variety of purposes — big funerals, parades, sporting events, construction projects. In return, their employer receives a fee — generally $40 an hour in Pasco County, most of it passed on the deputies and the rest for expenses such as equipment and gas.
But in all of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, only one customer has signed on for nightly sentinel duty.
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Lynnda Speer was awarded a $34 million settlement in 2016 from Morgan Stanley, the firm that — according to a federal arbitration panel ruling — knowingly allowed its star broker to run wild with the account of her lover Roy Speer.
“She likes us there for security purposes,” said Pasco County Detective Anthony Cardillo, who has taken a turn or two sitting in a cruiser outside the Speer house.
Deputies work the detail in two six-hour shifts, Cardillo said.
Speer has a gated entrance to her home. If anyone approaches, the deputy will get out of the vehicle, show identification and ask the visitor why he or she is there.
“We make sure they have permission to go onto the property,” Cardillo said.
It’s not the most challenging of law enforcement duties, he acknowledges.
“We basically watch traffic all the time. When she does have guests, it gets a little busy. I use the time to catch up on reports if it is slow.”
But it would be a mistake to think the deputy in the driveway isn’t paying attention.
What’s more, there’s a clause built into each private contract that frees deputies to pull off for an emergency elsewhere.
“Numerous times, an off-duty deputy has assisted with something,” said Cardillo. “There is a Walmart next door, maybe someone running from a shoplifting case, or someone speeding. I had a gentleman who ran right in front of me who had just stolen from the Target at 54 and Little.”
Speer, he said, “likes us there for peace of mind. She owns a big piece of property and it’s become a very busy area, so she likes it to sleep better at night.”
There are a lot of rules deputies have to follow in off-duty details.
They can’t adjust their regular shifts to take the jobs, hire on for anything that might harm their mental or physical well-being, do work that might conflict with their normal duties, or make a workers compensation claim in the event they are injured.
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In Pasco County, most off-duty work involves providing protection for neighborhoods, construction zones and funeral processions, Cardillo said.
Deputies in Pinellas County take part in detail work every day, said Sheriff’s Cpl. Jessica Mackesy, a department spokeswoman.
“We are such a densely populated county, there is a lot to do,” Mackesy said.
Her department charges $55 an hour, most of which, as in Pasco, goes to the deputies.
Most of the assignments are special events, Mackesy said, like church and school sports and holiday programs that attract big crowds requiring traffic control. The biggest event by far this year has been the Valspar Championship golf tournament during March at the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor.
At any given point during the tournament, 50 to 75 deputies were on off-duty assignment there — a big jump from previous tournaments, she said. The reason: Tiger Woods was playing.
Off-duty details at private homes are rare, Mackesy said, and despite its abundance of wealthy people, Pinellas has no standing contracts like Lynnda Speer’s.
“We had one person who was having their house tented and wanted someone there so nobody would break in.”
Speer did not return a phone call and email message from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment on her security arrangements.
But she showed an awareness of her vulnerability in her response to the 2016 federal ruling in her favor and against Morgan Stanley.
“We are hopeful,” she said in a statement then to the Times, “the outcome of this case will prevent other elderly investors from being taken advantage of by their stockbrokers.”
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] Follow @haltman