Ex-Port Richey mayor held without bail; says he didn't mean to shoot at deputies

The governor also suspended Dale Massad from the office of mayor and the state said it is investigating him for insurance fraud.
Published Feb. 25, 2019

PORT RICHEY — Former mayor Dale Massad remains held without bail despite arguments in court Friday that there's no evidence he meant to shoot at deputies who raided his house to arrest him Thursday.

The ruling came during Massad's first appearance on charges including attempted homicide and practicing medicine without a license.

It followed an announcement from the state's chief financial officer that Massad is also under investigation now on suspicion of insurance fraud. And later that day, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him from the office of Port Richey mayor.

Massad, 68, was arrested at his home Thursday by agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement but not before he fired twice at deputies who came to assist, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

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He appeared on a courtroom video screen from the Pasco County jail. He hobbled to the lectern Friday and spent much of the hearing leaning in to listen, at times adjusting his striped, orange-and-white jail garb. He did not speak.

Marc Salton, one of two attorneys temporarily representing Massad, asked the judge for a "reasonable bond" and argued that the five attempted murder charges he faces, which require premeditation, were not substantiated.

"He'd have to know that he's shooting at somebody and ... that he's shooting at (at) least five people," said Salton, a former county judge.

Prosecutor Bryan Doeg responded by saying Massad "poses a real ... threat to members of the community" and that he should be held for now without bail.

Doeg also argued against bond on the grounds that Massad told authorities they should shoot him and asked whether the case would go away if he left the country. Doeg did not specify when Massad made the statements.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Declan Mansfield found probable cause does exist for all the charges and ordered Massad held without bail.

Frank Bianco, also representing Massad, said after the hearing that his team wants to conduct its own investigation to see where the bullets fired Thursday went. Bianco said Massad was sleeping when the SWAT raid started and his client's response was rational.

The lawyer argued that deputies could have served their search warrant at Massad's office and avoided escalating the situation. But because Massad is a political figure, Bianco said, the mayor was targeted with force.

Bianco also said the mayor has a hearing problem that may help explain his reaction to the raid.

Salton, who knows Massad personally, said, "This is totally out of character."

After Massad's arrest Thursday, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis ordered an investigation into whether Massad billed insurance companies for medical procedures he is accused of conducting at his home.

Massad turned in his license 37 years ago after the state Board of Medicine filed several counts against him in the death of a 3-year-old girl he had treated for facial birthmarks.

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FDLE agents started looking into Massad four months ago after receiving a tip from Port Richey police, and in September, set up an undercover operation, according to an arrest report.

Someone feigning a knee injury called Massad and arranged to meet with him, according to the report. Massad inspected the knee, diagnosed a tendon injury, and said he could find the proper medication to inject, according to the report.

In separate interviews, agents talked with two other people who said they had been treated by Massad.

One patient told agents that over four months, until April, Massad diagnosed a problem and removed an object from the lower back area, according to the report. He also injected the patient's shoulder with cortisone, an anti-inflammatory medication, the report said.

The other person told agents that in August, Massad anesthetized an ankle, cleaned a cut and sutured it shut, the report said.

In addition, another witness told investigators he saw Massad use a computer to order medications online between April and August .

Anyone with information about potential insurance fraud was asked to call (800) 378-0445.

The governor's office did not say if an interim mayor was appointed.

Contact Justin Trombly at Follow @JustinTrombly.