Former Sheriff Acquitted In Influence-Peddling Case
DADE CITY, Fla. (AP) _ A former county sheriff was acquitted Wednesday in connection with accusations that he gave favors to a part-time deputy who had loaned him money and sold him a house for half its worth.
Former Pasco County Sheriff John Short, who was indicted after a year-long investigation by the St. Petersburg Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for the story, was acquitted by a jury of two counts of unlawful compensation.
″Really and truly, I don’t think they ever should have charged me,″ said Short, who lost a re-election bid last fall after the story was published. Short refused to say if if he planned to run for sheriff again.
His attorney, Anthony Battaglia, said: ″The system works. It really works.″
Prosecutors claimed that the part-time deputy, millionaire John T. Moorman, bought Short’s ailing travel business and sold Short a four-bedroom house appraised at $119,000 for $60,000. Short sold it 18 months later for $133,000.
Prosecutor Richard Mensh called it ″the buying of the badge.″
Had he been convicted, Short faced up to 10 years in prison.
During testimony Tuesday, Short denied any impropriety in the transactions. He admitted he got ″a good deal″ on the house and acknowledged borrowing more than $77,000 in unsecured loans from Moorman, but insisted he did nothing wrong and defended Moorman as a dedicated volunteer.
Moorman was indicted with Short, but the charges were dismissed last week as trial began.
Circuit Judge Harry Fogle agreed with Moorman’s attorney, who argued that the defendant’s right to protection against self-incrimination was violated. Moorman was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury that later indicted him, based on his forced testimony. The state has said it will refile charges.
Short said he first met Moorman in 1979 and described him as a friend. Also, Short testified Tuesday that he identified a friend of Moorman’s, Richard Terry, as a sheriff’s office employee in a letter to get the man into Smith & Wesson’s armorer’s school. Short told the grand jury last August that he didn’t know Terry.
After the verdict, St. Petersburg Times Managing Editor Mike Foley praised his reporters’ work on the story.
″It is our duty to report on matters of public interest,″ Foley said. ″This was such a matter, and I believe that we did some of our very best work on it.″