TAMPA — Before his arrest Friday rocked the Tampa political world, Giovanni “Gio” Fucarino was everywhere. Ribbon cuttings. City Council meetings. Campaign events.
He was a host at Mayor Jane Castor’s reelection kickoff and also contributed to City Council members’ campaigns.
Fucarino was photographed with the mayor and was also on the host committee for an Italian Club political fundraiser for council member Lynn Hurtak. Hurtak and the mayor aren’t allies. In fact, they have been opponents.
It turns out Gio, as most know him, told people he was one of the last members of an old Tampa family that had migrated from Italy to the former cigar capital of the world in the 1880s.
“The guy was like Zelig,” said Castor’s spokesperson, Adam Smith, referring to the 1983 Woody Allen movie about a “human chameleon.”
Indeed, Fucarino wasn’t his last name. Arrest documents from the Tampa Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that he is John Robert Ring Jr., 52. Add Gio Fucarino to a long list of aliases, including “Juice Ring.”
Ring’s arrest made headlines this week when his involvement in Castor and Hurtak’s campaigns came to light following his arrest for violating requirements for sex offenders.
Records show Ring was arrested in 2008 for sending a text to a 17-year-old girl asking for sex and pornographic photos. The girl told police, who arranged a sting operation that nabbed Ring when he arrived to meet the girl. He served three years in a Florida prison and was released in 2014.
Hurtak declined to comment beyond a statement saying she wasn’t aware of Rings’ alias or criminal history until Wednesday. She said she met Ring through the mayor, who introduced her after Castor’s State of the City speech on May 11, 2022, shortly after Hurtak’s appointment to a council seat following the resignation of John Dingfelder.
“Mayor Castor told me he was a good friend of hers and a valuable resource to get input from Ybor City residents and business owners, and I took her advice. He has had no role in my campaign other than being a host for a single event; similarly, he was a host for Mayor Castor’s re-election launch event. Mayor Castor regularly talks about how people deserve second chances, and I applaud her for living out those words,” Hurtak wrote.
Smith said Castor didn’t know Ring beyond seeing him at events. Ring attended Castor’s campaign kickoff in Ybor City in December. And he attended at least one “Coffee with Castor” event last year at Alessi’s Bakery in West Tampa.
“She has zero recollection of that,” Smith said of Hurtak’s allegations that Castor recommended she get to know Ring for his Ybor City expertise.
“Everyone just found out about his past. Mayor Castor has zero recollection of introducing this person to Lynn Hurtak and certainly never encouraged her to take him on as an advisor,” read an earlier statement emailed from Smith.
When asked to confirm if Castor or any member of her staff had met with Ring on city business, Smith requested that the Tampa Bay Times file a public records request. That request had not been fulfilled Thursday.
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Meanwhile, Janet Cruz, the mother of the mayor’s domestic partner, Ana Cruz, called the Times to emphasize that she didn’t know anything about Ring, a board member at the Italian Club, until she said he called her to try to dissuade her from entering the race for the citywide District 3 council seat held by Hurtak.
Ring, who Cruz knew as Fucarino, was persistent in his arguments, Cruz said. “I almost felt a little threatened,” she said. “But I don’t back down.”
When asked how Ring had threatened her, Cruz said he acted like he had a lot of “schwag.”
“It was hilarious,” Cruz said.
The publisher of the online website Florida Politics, Peter Schorsch, drew attention to the arrests of the man known as Fucarino in a story first published Wednesday. While that story highlighted Fucarino’s role as a host for the Hurtak event, it didn’t mention similar connections to other Tampa elected officials, including Castor. In December, for instance, Fucarino was listed as a host for a Castor reelection campaign kickoff event.
Schorsch has faced accusations that he provides favorable or negative coverage of politicians based on whether they advertise with him and acknowledged in a recent interview that he doesn’t observe traditional journalistic practices.
A car was in the driveway of the single-family West Tampa home listed for Ring in the state’s sex offender registry Thursday afternoon. No one answered the door. A call to a cellphone listed in law enforcement records as belonging to Ring wasn’t returned.
Some council members confirmed that Ring had lobbied them on city business, including a dispute over the Italian Club cemetery. Other council members, including Guido Maniscalco and Bill Carlson, said they had never been lobbied by Ring.
Maniscalco said Ring told him the story of his family’s origins. He said the story was “typical” of many Italian and Spanish families. He just assumed it was true, he said.
When Maniscalco found out the news, he said he returned Rings’ $1,000 contribution to his campaign. Ring was very involved in Ybor City and West Tampa issues, Maniscalco said. “He was just one of those people who was everywhere,” he said.
But Maniscalco, who is of Italian heritage and takes an interest in Tampa history, said he didn’t know any other Fucarinos in Tampa.
“It’s bizarre,” Maniscalco said of Ring’s transformation.
No one interviewed said they could remember seeing Ring around town much before a year or two ago. The Italian Club didn’t return a phone call requesting comment Thursday afternoon. Ring, as Fucarino, is no longer listed on the club’s website as a board member.
Times Staff Writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.