1. News

Hillsborough fire rescue deputy chief resigns during pay investigation

Deputy Chief Newell "Chip" Branam resigned Friday from Hillsborough County in the midst of a county investigation into suspicion of pay fraud in his department. [Times file]
Published Jul. 14, 2017

TAMPA — A deputy fire chief with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue is retiring in the midst of an investigation into suspected pay fraud in his department.

Newell "Chip" Branam will retire effective July 28, he informed the county on Friday. He and three shift commanders he oversees have been on paid administrative leave since June 14.

The county is investigating whether the shift commanders — Michael Guincho, Grant Preseau and Nelson Diez — falsified pay stubs when Branam was on vacation.

Fire Chief Dennis Jones first told Deputy County Administrator Greg Horwedel on June 8 that he was concerned about the shift commanders' time cards, according to a memo Horwedel sent the next day to County Administrator Mike Merrill.

The chief compared the time cards to the department's rotational fill-in schedule and concluded there was a "reasonable basis for a further investigation," Horwedel wrote.

The county then hired the private investigations firm of James Orr, a former special agent and polygraph examiner with the FBI. County spokeswoman Liana Lopez said the investigation will continue as planned despite Branam's notice that he'll leave the department.

In a brief phone conversation, Branam confirmed he put in his two weeks on Friday but declined to discuss the investigation.

"It's been 42 years and it's time for me to retire," Branam said. "That's the only comment I got."

Often, public employees who are planning to retire enroll in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, a state authorized retirement program that provides financial incentives for workers to set a retirement date and leave their jobs by that day. Branam was not in the program.

Through Lopez, Jones declined to comment on Branam's retirement, citing the ongoing investigation.

Branam, 60, joined the department in 1975. During a career that spanned four decades, he rose from a rank-and-file firefighter to one of the top positions in the department.

Jones promoted Branam to deputy chief of personnel in June 2016, calling Branam in a nomination letter the "go to guy on tactical and operational concerns." His salary is $125,236.

Branam earned a rating of "superior," the highest distinction, in a December 2015 job review, and has consistently earned high marks throughout his career.

However, he was also the subject of previous disciplinary investigations, some for poor driving.

As division chief in 2011, Branam was verbally disciplined after he failed to follow an order to ensure certain employees received training to operate emergency vehicles, according to a record in his personnel file.

The next year, Branam received "informal counseling" after failing to notify some employees to take a random drug test.

On four occasions between 1994 and 2011, Branam was involved in an accident while driving a county vehicle. After the most recent incident, when he made an U turn in front of another vehicle, causing a crash, Branam was formally disciplined by the county.

He also received a written reprimand in 2005 for unauthorized use of a vehicle. A resident spotted his county vehicle outside of a Harley-Davidson dealership overnight.

Contact Steve Contorno at or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.


  1. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is hoping to secure a $21.8 million federal grant to help pay for a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches. St. Petersburg City  Council approved an interlocal agreement Thursday supporting the project. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
    Pinellas transit officials hope the project will get a federal grant in 2020. However, St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena still oppose it.
  2. Marissa Mowry, 28, sits in a Hillsborough County courtroom court before her sentencing hearing Thursday. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting a boy when he was 11-years-old. She was his former nanny, and became pregnant with his child. Photo courtesy of WTVT-Fox 13
    Marissa Mowry was 22 when she first assaulted an 11-year-old boy. Now he’s a teenager raising a son, and she was classified as a sexual predator.
  3. The tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico that’s projected to strengthen as it approaches Florida could put a crimp ― or much worse ― in Tampa Bay’s weekend plans. National Hurricane Center
    The National Weather Service warns that the Gulf of Mexico disturbance could strengthen and bring wind, rain and possibly tornadoes to the bay area.
  4. Pat Frank, at a 2016 candidate debate with then-challenger Kevin Beckner. She won. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
    From school board to state lawmaker to clerk of courts, she just keeps on going, Sue Carlton writes.
  5. Researchers from the University of Central Florida and International innovation company, Imec have developed a camera that uses specific wavelength of light to easily find pythons in habitat where they are typically well camouflaged. 
    University of Central Florida researchers worked with Imec to develop the cameras.
  6. Pasco County Sheriff's deputies lead three teenagers from a Wesley Chapel Publix store after responding to reports that the boys had been showing off handguns there in a Snapchat video. PASCO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    The three Pinellas boys were apprehended while they were still walking the aisles of the Wesley Chapel store.
  7. The 59-year-old pastor was arrested Oct. 2 after a young woman told investigators he began abusing her in 2014 when she was 14 and he was senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Winter Park. Orange County Sheriff's Office via AP
    Rev. Bryan Fulwider was released Wednesday night after posting a $700,000 bond.
  8. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The shuttered store has been reinvented and debuted to the community.
  9. Yogi Goswami
    The Molekule Air Mini is a scaled-down version of its original purifier.
  10. In this image taken from video provided by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, border patrol agents escort a woman to a patrol car on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, at Aventura Hospital in Aventura, Fla. The woman had been detained by border patrol agents when she fell ill. The agent took her to the hospital emergency room for treatment. The presence of immigration authorities is becoming increasingly common at health care facilities around the country, and hospitals are struggling with where to draw the line to protect patients’ rights amid rising immigration enforcement in the Trump administration. (Florida Immigrant Coalition via AP) AP
    Hospitals are struggling with where to draw the line to protect patients’ rights amid rising immigration enforcement in the Trump administration.