Tampa State Attorney Found Dead
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The county’s top prosecutor apparently shot himself to death under an expressway after the state began an investigation into loans he got from subordinates.
State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III, 68, had disappeared from his office Wednesday, shortly after Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the probe. Attempts to reach him by cell phone, pager and at his home failed, and his body was found Thursday morning under a highway, several hundred feet from his home.
He died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, police Lt. Jane Castor said.
Several assistant state attorneys went to the scene, some in tears, some embracing each other. Coe’s body, covered with a white sheet, appeared to be slumped against one of the expressway pilings.
Ida Coe, his ex-wife, arrived with their adult son and criticized the Tampa-area media, which had covered his problems extensively in recent days.
``It’s a way of destroying a person and it’s a shame,″ she said. ``You put yourself in that position and you would probably do the same.″
A former circuit court judge, Coe was elected Hillsborough County state attorney in 1992. He was seeking his third four-year term in November.
On Wednesday, the governor had ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into allegations Coe solicited loans from two employees and erased public records being sought by the news media.
In January of last year, Coe borrowed about $12,000 from two people he supervised _ $7,000 from a now-retired investigator in his office and $5,000 from his chief of personnel. Coe later repaid the loans.
Coe said he saw nothing wrong with borrowing money from employees he considered longtime friends. He would not say why he turned to friends instead of going to a bank, and offered no explanation for why he needed the money.
Chief of Personnel Deanna Easterling said Coe repaid the loan when a reporter began asking questions in June.
Coe’s salary as state attorney and pension as a former judge exceeded $216,000 a year. Financial disclosure forms filed with the state show that Coe’s personal debts had grown since mid-1999 from $102,000 to $157,000.
Coe repeatedly declined to discuss reasons for his debt. He frequented dog tracks but told The Tampa Tribune on Tuesday that he was not gambling.
WFLA-TV had made a public records request for information from Coe’s government-issue laptop computer to determine if the state attorney had visited racing sites online.
The computer files showed that Coe had visited only two Web sites, neither racing-related. Coe and his staff denied tampering with the computer files.
Simon Canasi, a Tampa stockbroker who has known Coe since 1992, said he was shocked by his friend’s apparent suicide.
``I knew he was troubled by this, I knew he was feeling some stress by this,″ Canasi said. ``If you had asked me if I thought he would take it to this extreme, there’s no way. The man was 68 years old and he probably felt he couldn’t deal with it anymore.″