Unmarked BSO boat used for family fun, but who paid for it?

Boat allegedly used for years with permission from superior

Local 10 News has learned that a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy has been helping himself to a taxpayer-bought sheriff’s department boat.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – While most of us can’t afford the high prices of owning a boat and record-high prices of filling it up and maintaining it, Local 10 News has learned that a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy has been helping himself to a taxpayer-bought sheriff’s department boat.

And he’s used it for his own personal use.

His punishment? Nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, law enforcement experts told Local 10 News that, in their view, the department’s internal affairs investigation is incomplete.

So why won’t Sheriff Gregory Tony sit down with Local 10 News and answer questions about the veteran Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy taking friends and families out for a day on the water.

Local 10 News has learned that veteran Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Dunning has been using the 23-foot Intrepid boat for his own entertainment.

“My daughter and many other girls from her class have been going boating with the Dunning family for years. We always assumed it was a family boat,” one parent, who didn’t want to be identified, told Local 10 News.

It does belong to a family — and a big one. It belongs to the taxpayers of Broward County.

The boat is unmarked and supposed to be used for undercover operations.

A veteran sheriff's deputy takes family and friends out on a boat owned by BSO, so did taxpayers foot the bill for his pleasure cruises? (WPLG)

There are several photos that have been taken on the boat from various families that the girls took when they were out on these boat rides and they were plastered all over social media. So the photos had been very public.

A parent of one of those girls said that it’s been going on for years.

“It wasn’t until recently we learned it belonged to the sheriff’s department,” said the parent.

Multiple emails and pictures were sent to the sheriff’s office, not only with claims that it’s been going on for years, but allegations of alcohol onboard.

Some of the pictures obtained by Local 10 show fishing equipment, too.

Parents also were concerned because they never signed a liability waiver.

“Who is footing the bill for this?” parents wondered.

And more questions.

“Who is paying for the gas for these outings?”

“Who would be stuck with the liability if there were an accident?”

It would seem as though it would fall back on the taxpayers, who actually are the ones that own the boat.

An internal affairs investigation was opened. According to a report obtained by Local 10 News, Sergeant Matthew Perricone, a supervisor who was transferred into the marine unit two and a half years ago admitted to giving Dunning permission to use the boat for personal and recreation while Dunning was off duty. That happened after Dunning asked for permission.

It was then determined by internal affairs that Perricone and Dunning were eligible for an “Admit It and Move On” option with a written reprimand for violating department policy. They took it and the internal affairs investigation abruptly ended.

The investigator wrote in the report: “I terminated my investigation and took no further action in this case.”

Perricone was moved out of the marine unit but remains a ranking sergeant with BSO.

We caught up with Perricone.

“Can I talk to you about your judgment call in allowing a fellow deputy for personal use, a BSO boat?”

“No statement, sir, thank you,” he responded.

We asked him: “Should you have been demoted?”

Dunning, a 30-year veteran of BSO, remains on the marine unit.

We caught up with Dunning.

“Can I talk to you about how many times you used the boat for pleasure? With your family? Deputy Dunning? Did you think it was a good idea to use the boat for pleasure? Did you use our gas? Taxpayers’ gas, sir?”

And we asked him this:

“Do you owe the taxpayers money? Refund for gas, sir?”

The investigation was halted, but many questions remain.

  • How many times did Dunning used the boat?
  • Was taxpayer gas used on the private excursions?
  • Jay Dunning was never questioned as part of the investigation. Why?
  • The teens and their parents who were guests were never questioned as part of the investigation.
  • We will never know if alcohol was ever on the boat.
  • How many other department policies were violated?

Robert Drago, a retired lieutenant colonel with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, says the investigation is not only incomplete, but “there was no investigation done,” in his opinion.

Drago was on the marine unit in the 1980s. In his 38-plus-year law enforcement career, he’s led police misconduct investigations. He’s created policies and he is now a consultant.

He says “Admit It and Move On” may be an option, “but the investigation still has to be completed. There are juveniles involved. There is alcohol involved apparently, according to the initial inquiry that I have seen -- no one has cleared out all of these questions. They need to be answered,” Drago said.

Andrew Scott, former police chief for Boca Raton, concurs.

“The investigation was not thoroughly conducted. When you have something of this nature, I don’t think it fits in the category of admit and move on,” he said.

Scott is now a consultant after spending 44-plus years in law enforcement and he has a Ph.D. in criminal justice.

Scott says being on the marine unit is a privilege and Dunning wouldn’t remain there under his watch.

“The individual would have been removed from the unit as well as the supervisor, and I’d have to take a hard look at the supervisor maintaining his rank.”

Sheriff Tony refused multiple requests to do an on-camera interview, and a statement from his media relations office didn’t answer any of our specific questions.

So we caught up with the sheriff outside a commission meeting last week.

“Sheriff Tony, do we know how many times he used the boat?”

Tony: “I don’t know off the top of my head. I don’t.”

“Do we know whose gas he used. Taxpayers’ gas? Or did he fill it up?”

Tony: “I do not know.”

We asked the sheriff: “Isn’t that something you’d want to know?”

Tony said: “The way you are phrasing that is if there is some failure.”

We responded: “According to two law enforcement consultants, including someone who worked for BSO for 38 years . . .”

Tony interrupted.

“Let me ask you a question? I have been in office for three and a half years. Have I failed to hold anyone accountable in this organization? From terminating employees to disciplining them to removing them to removing colonels? If there is a process that needs to be handled or disciplinary action I won’t shy away from it.”

He then walked away.

“Sir, I’m not done. You’re comfortable with the outcome of the investigation?”

He continued to walk away.

We followed him.

.” . . as the elected sheriff?”

Tony said: “You’re trying to create conflict.”

“I’m not trying to create conflict.”

Tony responded: “Let me tell you how inappropriate that is on your side.”

We told him: “That’s your opinion. There are others who have an opinion. Why should this gentleman still be in the marine unit?”

With that, Tony told us to “Take care.”

We asked again: “Why should this gentleman still be in the marine unit?

Tony: “Take care.”

We reminded him: “You are elected by the people. The people filed a complaint because their daughters were on that boat. There are allegations of alcohol on that boat. And all of a sudden the investigation just stopped? The investigation just stopped?”

Tony responded:

“This is Channel 10′s best work here?”

We responded:

“Well, you won’t sit down with us and answer questions.”

Tony then headed for the escalator.

“I mean, Deputy Dunning could owe taxpayers thousands of dollars in gas money? But the investigation was just stopped.”

“Have a good day, sir,” Tony responded.

Drago believes they should reopen the investigation.

“(They) should do a lot more to make sure they didn’t miss any possible violations and or criminal acts,” he said.

On March 11, Local 10 News made a public records request to review the personnel file of Perricone.

Almost two months later, that request is still pending.

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.