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LCSO chief deputy allegedly used status to advantage

By Staff | Mar 10, 2009

The second-in-command of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office exaggerated his own power and sometimes acted independently of Sheriff Mike Scott, the sheriff wrote in a memo to an agency detective.
Scott suspended Chief Deputy Charles Ferrante with pay Monday, after opening an internal investigation into his actions.
A pair of memos between Scott and a detective allegedly berated by Ferrante suggest the chief deputy used his status to his own advantage.
The detective, Sgt. Ryan Bell of the major crimes unit, wrote to Scott that Ferrante referred to himself as “Number 2” and told him “the election is over … I can do what I want to whoever I want.”
Scott responded that Ferrante had made an identical comment before — on the night the sheriff won the 2008 Republican primary.
“I have continually counseled the chief on his delivery and cautioned him about comments … that imply he operates with his own agenda relative to discipline,” Scott wrote in the memo.
Ferrante, 42, was appointed by Scott at the beginning of his term, in 2005. He joined the sheriff’s office in 1989, working as a corrections deputy before becoming a patrol officer and working his way up the career ladder.
His suspension Monday was abrupt, coming on the day he was to tender his letter of retirement to Scott. The sheriff had only announced Ferrante’s retirement Friday, mere days after Ferrante’s brother, Capt. Dominick Ferrante, resigned from the agency.
Dominick Ferrante, former head of the special operations division, had threatened another captain, Scott told reporters at the time.
Bell was set to testify about his run-in with Charles Ferrante at a civil service hearing Wednesday. But the hearing was canceled following Ferrante’s suspension. Wilbur Smith, a Fort Myers attorney who represented Bell, said Ferrante had pushed the line before.
“This will not come as a surprise to a lot of people,” he said of the new allegations.
Bell’s complaint, sent to the sheriff Monday, arose from a pair of meetings he had with the chief deputy in November. Bell was to be transferred from the forensics division to another post, a decision Scott made after receiving complaints about Bell’s ongoing feud with a crime scene technician, Harry Balke, the sheriff wrote.
In a meeting Nov. 5, Ferrante told Bell he thought the detective was “nitpicking” the technician to get him removed from the unit, with the help of the division commander, Capt. Rick Joslin, and Major James L. Jones, the bureau chief.
Bell wrote that “it was (Ferrante’s) belief that Major Jim Jones, Captain Rick Joslin and I were conspiring against Balke and we were trying to get Balke fired.”
Indeed, Balke complained in a September investigation that Bell, Joslin and Jones were targeting him. Three other technicians in the unit said they felt the same way, and they agreed the unit had changed for the worse since Bell was installed as a manager in 2006.
When Bell and Ferrante met again Nov. 6, Bell was told about the transfer and was led to believe it was Ferrante’s decision, he wrote. When Bell asked whether Balke would remain in the forensics division, Ferrante “went berserk, starting yelling and screaming and cursing at me,” he recalled.
“He asked me who I thought I was to sit and ask ‘Number 2’ a question,” Bell wrote in his grievance.
The chief deputy then said Bell would be placed on a six-month probation, Bell continued.
Scott, in a Tuesday memo to Bell, said Ferrante admitted he “lost it” during the meeting. He wrote that Ferrante’s administrative assistant felt “uncomfortable” from one of the meetings, and he said he had heard similar complaints about the chief deputy.
Bell’s transfer, Scott wrote, was never meant to be a punishment.
The sheriff also said several officers, including Ferrante; his brother, Dominick Ferrante; and Major Scott J. Ciresi, head of the special operations bureau, had asked around the agency about the upcoming civil service hearing. Their actions, Scott wrote, were “indicative of a bullying/intimidating posture.”
Neither Ferrante, Scott nor Bell could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Ferrante’s 20-year record with the sheriff’s office has largely been a clean one. Ferrante was the subject of four prior internal investigations, only one of which was substantiated. The 1995 report concluded he had arrested someone before establishing proper cause.
A search of Ferrante’s personnel file showed no evaluations after 2003. Sheriff’s office spokesman Larry King said evaluations were performed inconsistently for senior officers before 2007.