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Bowen: Why is nobody surprised at Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad's downfall?

The accusations against the Port Richey mayor were greeted as inevitable
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Dale Massad, Port Richey mayor, appears before Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Declan P. Mansfield via closed-circuit video at the West Pasco Judicial Center on Friday for his first appearance after being arrested at his home in Port Richey. Massad faces charges of attempted homicide and practicing medicine without a license
Published Feb. 25

The public reaction to the spectacular crash and burn of Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad comes in a near unanimous one-word response.

Inevitable.

A disgraced former physician, Massad nonetheless found a niche in Port Richey politics where he moved on and off the council over the past 19 years. He became mayor after gaining 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race in October 2015 to complete the term of the late Eloise Taylor.

Massad's public service was noteworthy mostly for its cronyism. But even that undistinguished career in governing-by-acquaintance became overshadowed by his personal habits and the goings on at his Hayward Lane home.

He enjoyed intoxicants. He owned guns. He socialized with people of dubious repute.

A man stole Massad's pistol and used it to commit suicide. Multiple women accused him of domestic violence, and one said he sexually assaulted her. He denied the allegations and was never charged until last August. Then, both he and live-in girlfriend, Caj Joseph, were arrested on allegations they battered each other. The charges later were dropped.

In the past, two public officials privately volunteered their suspicions that Massad displayed questionable sobriety during some government meetings. At least one Port Richey resident made that claim publicly.

"You're in a fog,'' resident Arthur Giammarino told the mayor during a March 2016 council meeting. "You're definitely in a fog.''

There was a reason for that perception.

"You guys know I like to party,'' Massad once told the Port Richey police.

That conversation came in 2015, the night a gun-toting Massad summoned officers to his home to report homeless voyeurs were in his air conditioning vents watching him have sex. A woman in the house acknowledged to police that she'd been doing cocaine.

"If I was you, I would think I am crazy, too,'' Massad told the officers.

The self-portrait of a crazy man, however, went from bumbling, perhaps abusive stay-at-home partier to a significant public menace when other officers came knocking last week.

Massad is accused of firing two rounds from his .40-caliber handgun as Pasco SWAT deputies attempted to enter his house to serve a search warrant as part of a Florida Department Law Enforcement investigation. The state accused Massad of practicing medicine without a license. But discharging the firearm bought five counts of attempted premeditated murder.

Think about that. Here's a guy who, at some point, presumably repeated the wisdom of Hippocrates to try to heal the infirmed. Last week, the authorities said, he tried to kill five people.

"He's lucky he's not dead,'' Sheriff Chris Nocco told reporters several hours after the raid.

It's hard to ignore the irony. Not everyone shared that luck.

Twenty-seven years ago, Massad surrendered his license to practice medicine after he was accused of negligence after the death of a 3-year-old girl. The chairman of the state Board of Medicine called Massad "a serious threat to the public.''

No matter. Massad still maintained the nickname "Doc'' and had it embroidered on golf shirts with the Port Richey city logo. It's even listed as his nickname on last week's arrest reports. He has told people he was a retired doctor.

Not retired enough, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who said Massad was treating patients in his home and ordering medications online.

A day after his arrest, Massad's typical mayoral apparel of a dark suit was replaced by the orange and white stripes of a jail inmate during his advisory hearing. The premeditated attempted murder charges carry life sentences. A prosecutor told the court that Massad had made statements saying the officers should have shot him, and he also asked if the case would go away if he left the country. He was ordered held without bail.

Massad and I rarely spoke. He rejected or ignored interview requests from me each time he ran for office. The only time we had a lengthy sit-down was when he came in to pitch the benefits of dredging canals in Port Richey.

Then last year, out of the blue, he sent an email praising the way I had moderated a debate among two Port Richey City Council candidates.

It struck me as indicative of why he is mayor of Port Richey. Enough people bought into his personal charm to overlook his poor judgment and questionable ethics.

Yes, his downfall may have been inevitable. It is just one more stain, albeit the most remarkable, in a long list of embarrassments at Port Richey's City Hall. Still, the blame can be spread around.

Eighteen months after Massad won the mayor's office with a plurality of less than 50 percent, he was re-elected.

With no opposition.

Whose fault is that?

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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