Jane Castor’s driver had role in exposing Tampa politico’s hidden past

But the question remains: What is the “public corruption” in Tampa that a prosecutor mentioned in a court document?
Mike Victor, the man who drives Tampa mayors, including Jane Castor. City of Tampa (2019)
Mike Victor, the man who drives Tampa mayors, including Jane Castor. City of Tampa (2019)
Published June 27|Updated June 27

TAMPA — When whispers circulated this spring that a local political player with ties to Mayor Jane Castor and other city leaders might be a sex offender using a false identity, the first to look into it was the mayor’s driver.

Michael Victor, a longtime Tampa cop who’s now Castor’s executive security officer, was familiar with the man many knew as Giovanni Fucarino. Victor had seen him at events with the mayor. Fucarino was also a fixture at the Italian Club, an event venue and social club in Ybor City that honors the city’s Italian heritage.

Victor consulted the department’s Ybor liaison, Master police Officer William “Brandon” Cain. Their conversation became part of the focus of an internal Tampa police probe that culminated last month in Cain’s resignation.

Department officials concluded that Cain lied when asked about his knowledge of Fucarino, and that Cain knew his real identity was John Robert Ring Jr., who’d served four years in prison for a sex crime.

Cain’s lawyer says he’s been made a scapegoat for Ring’s friendly but politically embarrassing relationship with the mayor and other power players, including high-ranking police officers.

Records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times related to the investigation further illuminate Victor’s informal but pivotal role in the case. They also raise further questions about Ring’s relationship with city officials.

John Robert Ring Jr., left, at Mayor Jane Castor's campaign kickoff at the Hotel Haya in December.
John Robert Ring Jr., left, at Mayor Jane Castor's campaign kickoff at the Hotel Haya in December. [ Charlie Frago ]

Castor’s spokesperson, Adam Smith, said that after Victor met with Cain this spring and confirmed that Ring was a sex offender, he passed the information to Castor’s chief of staff, John Bennett. Bennett notified the Tampa police criminal investigations division, which began conducting surveillance on Ring.

Three days after Victor met with Cain, Castor returned from a trip abroad and learned of Ring’s true identity, Smith said.

“Mike Victor is an active law enforcement officer and has an obligation to report any potential crime he learns of,” Smith said in a statement. “Like everyone else, Mayor Castor was shocked when she learned of (Fucarino’s) true identity.”

Ring was arrested March 17, the day after Castor found out. He faces charges of failing to properly register as a sex offender.

Still looming over his case is a prosecutor’s vague notation in a court document alleging that investigators, in searches of Ring’s cell phone and computer, found “potential evidence suggesting public corruption within the City of Tampa.”

Police previously said in a statement that no senior city officials have been implicated in wrongdoing.

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Yet three months after Ring’s arrest, and despite a Times request to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office for the case evidence to be released, investigators haven’t publicly disclosed any more information.

A meeting in Ybor City

On May 11, police internal affairs investigators interviewed Victor as a witness in an investigation of Officer Cain.

Victor said he’d been the mayor’s executive security officer for four years, a job that involves protecting Castor and driving her to events. He’d had a 30-year career with the Tampa Police Department and still serves as a reserve officer.

Victor had a variety of roles as a police officer, and started driving for mayors, first for Pam Iorio, who left office in 2011. He was Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s driver for Buckhorn’s full eight years in office. In a 2019 Times story, Buckhorn called Victor “a great cop and a trusted confidant to mayors.”

Victor said he’d overheard information “from people in the community” about a person who frequents political events. The information was that the person’s name was “John Smith.”

He called Cain. The pair met on March 13 at the corner of Adamo Drive and 19th Street to talk about the man people knew as “Gio Fucarino.” It is unclear how they made the connection from the “John Smith” name.

It was six days after the city elections in which Castor was easily reelected, and six weeks before a runoff that would determine several City Council races.

Victor said in the interview that he knew of Fucarino, having encountered him at events throughout the city.

Cain told Victor that he’d heard talk from some people in Ybor City about Fucarino being a sex offender, according to an audio recording of Victor’s interview. Cain also told Victor he’d run the tag number on Fucarino’s car.

Victor had the officer re-run the tag number and the names through police and state databases. They compared the photos that came up, and found that Fucarino and Ring appeared to be the same person.

Victor told Cain not to discuss the matter and that he would notify the department.

In his internal affairs interview, Victor was asked about Cain’s demeanor upon conducting the database searches and seeing the photos.

“I’ve known Brandon for a lot of years,” Victor said. “I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

Did he seem surprised?

“He seemed like he was surprised that I came to him about the inquiry,” Victor said. “It kind of surprised me that he kind of knew about it and never said anything.”

During his sworn testimony, Victor said he asked Cain if any women ever visited Fucarino’s office. Cain said there were always a lot of young women there, Victor said. He then forwarded to Victor a text message that featured an Instagram page in the Fucarino name.

The Times made a public records request to the city for Victor’s text messages, but no messages between the two were produced. City records officials said that communications between Cain and Victor won’t be disclosed because they contained information related to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Upon request, the city also provided a list of 12 other documents that the city says won’t be released because of an active criminal investigation. This includes five emails from a thread titled “restricted.”

Two names, one man, and an office

Two detectives interviewed Cain three days after he met with Victor.

Cain told them that about five months earlier, he ran the tag number on a car that belonged to the man he knew as “Gio,” but that it came back registered to John Ring. He saw a photo of Ring in a state database. The man in the image appeared thinner than Fucarino.

“When I initially saw the picture, I thought it was maybe a twin brother that the vehicle was registered in,” Cain said, according to a transcript of his interview. “Because I mean, it sort of resembled him, but I’m like, I wasn’t sure.”

He said he learned that Ring was a sex offender. He didn’t say anything about it until Victor came to ask him about John Ring a few months later. He said it was amid their discussion that he realized Ring and Fucarino were the same person.

Cain described Fucarino as a familiar face in the Ybor City area who let the officer come and go from his Italian Club office. Cain sometimes stopped by to use the bathroom.

Fucarino had tried to get Cain to join the Italian Club, and would email to let him know about special events, Cain told investigators. He’d had lunch with Fucarino one day when he was off-duty, he said.

As the detectives questioned Cain, they seemed interested in what he said about Fucarino’s business activities and associates.

Cain said he thought that Fucarino had a business doing real estate loan modifications and helping people with their taxes.

He was asked if he knew anyone whose taxes Fucarino had done. Cain mentioned a woman, whose name he didn’t recall, who had a page on Only Fans, a subscription service known for hosting pornography. Cain said the woman made a lot of money.

The detectives also asked about ways to get into the Italian Club, and how Cain would enter Fucarino’s office. He said Fucarino gave him a code to enter through a “secret door” between an Italian restaurant and a cigar shop on 7th Avenue. Once inside, he’d take an elevator to the second floor.

They asked if he knew anything else involving Fucarino, whether legal or not.

“Well, he’s very active with City Council,” Cain said. “He’s very active with Tampa Police Department.”

He said Fucarino attended officer roll calls and held meetings. He said he’d heard rumors within the last month that Fucarino did some jail time, which led him to check him out more.

Cain said he learned about his prior conviction.

It related to a 2008 case in which Ring, who was then working as a teacher’s aide in Tampa, was accused of contacting a 17-year-old girl by text message and soliciting sex and pornographic photos. The girl told police, who arranged a meeting with Ring outside a church on MacDill Avenue, where he was arrested, according to a news account.

The detectives asked if he’d ever seen Fucarino do anything like pick up a prostitute, heard him discuss picking up prostitutes, or done anything else he considered strange.

“Well I listen to him when he speaks to his female employees,” Cain said. “So the sexual innuendos, they’re always flying.”

Fucarino had two women who worked for him, one older and one younger, Cain said. The detectives showed him a photo of someone, but Cain said she wasn’t one of them.

An ‘anonymous tip’

John Robert Ring Jr.
John Robert Ring Jr. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

Ring was arrested on charges of failing to register his phone number, internet identity, and work address, as required by state sex offender laws.

In a sworn arrest affidavit, Cpl. Brian Campagnano wrote that he’d received an “anonymous tip” that a citizen was using the alias Giovanni Fucarino to hide a felony conviction and sex offender status. The tipster said Fucarino’s real name was John Ring.

The affidavit doesn’t mention Victor or Bennett’s involvement in the case.

It does note several businesses registered with the state Division of Corporations in the name Giovanni Fucarino. They include two inactive businesses, D & S Consulting LLC and GF Consulting LLC, and two active ones, Gio Fucarino Consulting and United Civic Organization of Tampa Inc.

His arrest stunned Tampa’s political community. Chatter abounded about his connection to Castor and council members.

Ring’s attorney, Anthony Rickman, said that the investigation of Ring was politically motivated.

Having looked at the state’s evidence so far, “there is nothing that establishes or proves that my client was involved in public corruption,” Rickman said. He said the evidence also shows that several members of local law enforcement were aware of Ring’s true identity for years, and that his client didn’t violate any reporting laws by using an alias.

Records of routine sex offender checks that Tampa police conducted on Ring from 2011 to 2023 list “Giovanni Fucarino” among his aliases, along with “Juice” and “Jose Rodriguez.” It’s unclear when or which officers would have known that information or if it would have reached command-level staff at the department.

Victor is not among the list of witnesses in the state’s case against Ring. But Cain is.

In an April interview with internal affairs investigators, Cain was asked about several searches he’d conducted in police databases from 2021 to 2023 for Giovanni Fucarino and John Ring. He said he couldn’t recall the specific reason he conducted the searches but that he often ran random tag checks on cars in Ybor City as part of his job.

He said he didn’t know that Fucarino and Ring were the same person until Thanksgiving of 2022, a little more than three months before his meeting with Victor.

“I wasn’t doing an investigation on a sexual offender,” Cain said, according to an interview transcript. “So I had no reason to go any farther.”

He was asked why he didn’t notify his captain of what he’d found.

“I just didn’t dig into the investigation farther,” he said. “I just believe that if there’s no harm, there’s no foul because I’ve started to see a lot of prominent employees go there. I was the business liaison and the last thing I want to do is … go up and falsely accuse him of something that I didn’t do a thorough investigation on and so I just left it alone.”

Investigators didn’t believe him. They concluded that his past searches for information in police databases related to the Ring and Fucarino names and his knowledge of where Fucarino lived and the car he drove indicated that he was aware of his real identity.

Cain was asked if he ever saw any other Tampa police employees going to meet with Ring.

Yes, he said. Asked who they were, he named his supervisor, Capt. Alexander Thiel, along with Major Eric DeFelice and Deputy Chief Calvin Johnson.

In response to a request for comment from Thiel, DeFelice and Johnson, Tampa police spokesperson Eddy Durkin said “there are numerous people who had contact with this person without knowledge of his true identity” but the department can’t comment on the case because of the active criminal investigation.

On some of his visits to Fucarino’s office, Cain said he saw City Council members there. He mentioned Guido Maniscalco, Bill Carlson, and Lynn Hurtak, and former member Orlando Gudes.

He also saw Fucarino with Castor.

“Every place the mayor was at, Gio would attend,” he said.

Cain’s attorney, Rick Escobar, gave investigators several photos that show Ring with city officials. Some show Ring at functions where other police were present. There are also images of Ring posing with the mayor, and standing with council members at various events.

Cain was not an investigator of registered sex offenders, Escobar said, and it was not his duty to determine if someone was a sex offender. He denied that Cain was untruthful. He also alleged that Victor was “the go-between insulating the mayor.”

Escobar said he advised Cain to fight disciplinary action but that Cain decided to retire rather than risk losing accrued sick pay and other benefits and spending months without a paycheck while an arbitration case was pending.

“Brandon Cain became the fall guy for this political mess,” Escobar said, “because the mayor was embarrassed that she was rubbing elbows with Gio Fucarino.”