High-ranking sheriff's officials investigated for allegedly skirting SunPass tolls
BSO major, SWAT sergeant targeted in FDLE license plate probe
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – UPDATE: Local 10 News has learned from a Broward Sheriff's Office internal memo written the day after this story aired that one of the officers named in FDLE reports, Lt. Brad Ostroff, has been cleared of wrongdoing after it was determined that Ostroff was not in possession of the out-of-state tag in question at the time SunPass violations were accumulated. It's not clear at this point who was using that BSO vehicle at the time. The investigation remains open and is in the hands of the State Attorney's Office.
On paper, it seemed that Dorothy Rudnick was one of the worst SunPass toll violators in Florida. A license tag associated with Rudnick racked up nearly $3,000 in toll violations in South Florida. The state sent Rudnick one violation after another to her home in Killeen, Texas -- so many that she finally stopped opening them.
Rudnick told investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that the tag had been affixed to a car she'd given her son years before that had been impounded and never returned after his DUI arrest in 2007.
Those investigators already knew that. That expired Texas tag somehow wound up on the back of a take-home Chevrolet Silverado assigned to Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Tony Garcia, according to FDLE reports obtained by Local 10 News.
It was a scene that was playing out in other homes in South Florida. Jesus Rodriguez was also hounded by SunPass for toll violations that were associated to a New York tag that he told investigators he'd traded in at the Coral Springs Auto Mall in 2002. That tag somehow wound up on the back of BSO Maj. Donn Peterson's take-home vehicle and was associated with at least $800 in violations, according to FDLE reports.
As Rodriguez was hit with toll violations, he filed two police reports to document that he no longer had ownership of the tag.
Bonnie Feit, of Delray Beach, was also hit with numerous SunPass violations on a tag that she'd turned into the state of New York several years before. She told investigators she had no idea how it racked up more than $1,500 in SunPass violations on the back of numerous vehicles and had turned up on a BSO take-home car being driven by an unknown employee.
Then there was Timothy Hughett, an inmate in a Kentucky prison serving his sentence on an attempted murder of police officer conviction. His car had been impounded after his arrest in 2009 and, according to FDLE records, somehow ended up on the take-home car of BSO Lt. Brad Ostroff. The tag had a little more than $50 in SunPass violations.
It was part of a wide-ranging investigation by FDLE into misconduct at BSO regarding the use of improper tags to skirt SunPass tolls -- the same type of misconduct that recently led to the arrest of Sweetwater police Detective Octavio Oliu after it was alleged he was using a stolen tag to duck hundreds of SunPass violations.
FDLE agents charged Oliu with felony counts of official misconduct and organized scheme to defraud for the use of those plates.
But FDLE handled the case involving BSO much differently. It handed the case over to the BSO -- the agency under investigation -- on Dec. 10, 2013, in a meeting between FDLE agents and BSO Undersheriff Steve Kinsey, Detective Efrain Torres, additional BSO staff and state attorney's office corruption unit chief Tim Donnelly.
"The entire contents of the FDLE investigation was given to Colonel Kinsey and Detective Efrain Torres," wrote FDLE Special Agent Aida Limongi in her report on the meeting. "Colonel Kinsey stated that BSO would continue the investigation moving forward."
Now, about 19 months later, the BSO investigation remains officially open.
A BSO spokeswoman wrote in an email to Local 10 that BSO forwarded the case to the state attorney's office in April 2014 for review and is awaiting its decision.
Peterson retired with fanfare in October 2014. Garcia and Ostroff, who is the No. 2 deputy in Oakland Park, remains on his post with the SWAT team. After his arrest, Oliu was promptly suspended without pay and faces up to 20 years in prison on the charges.
"It doesn't look fair," C. Michael Cornely, Oliu's attorney, told Local 10.
Cornely acknowledged that BSO could still make arrests in the case despite the fact that BSO has been holding the investigation for nearly two years.
"We have a situation where we have an arrest in Sweetwater but no arrest in Broward County," Cornely said. "There's a potential there for selective prosecution."
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