The former mayor of Port Richey, Dale Massad, was found guilty Tuesday of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The jury’s verdict came at about 6 p.m. at the end of a one-day trial in which four witnesses testified. The jury took less than an hour to decide on the evidence.
Massad, 68, faced multiple charges from his February arrest, but the ones at issue Tuesday stemmed from a jailhouse phone call with former acting Mayor Terrence Rowe.
The state tried to prove that call showed Massad targeted a Port Richey police officer involved with his case.
Investigators claim that Massad called the man who filled his spot as mayor, Terrance Rowe, from jail and the two conspired to have a Port Richey police officer involved in Massad’s case fired.
The police officer testified that he felt threatened and intimidated by Massad.
The police officer had helped the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate Massad’s alleged practice of medicine without a license, and he was the one monitoring his calls for the agency.
Massad’s defense team argued that there was no clear evidence of conspiracy to intimidate the police officer in the call, including when the former mayor told Rowe that “anything he can do” where the police officer is concerned was good.
The call lasted 14 minutes. It took the jury about 50 minutes to convict Massad of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.
Jurors also heard from City Manager Vince Lupo, who testified that council members usually made records requests through him.
The state argued that because Rowe made repeated email requests to the city clerk instead of Lupo, he was trying to avoid the normal process.
Police Chief Gerard Decanio said the jury made the right call.
“To think that you’re going to call from jail and order certain things to be done, it’s ridiculous,” Decanio said. “So justice prevailed today. The jury brought back the right verdict.”
Massad’s attorney, however, believes the jury should have come back with the opposite verdict. The defense team believes city officials wanted him out as mayor, and that they unfortunately succeeded.
Massad’s legal team requested a speedy trial in the hopes that they would win and Massad could post bond. They are now working to expedite the prosecution for the original charges.
This was only the tip of Massad’s legal problems. He still faces trial on charges of attempted murder and practicing medicine without a license.
Massad will continue to be held in jail without bail, pending his next trials. However, Tuesday’s conviction could result in prison time.
At the first Port Richey City Council meeting since the city elected its new mayor, Scott Tremblay, it was business as usual, with no comments about the Massad trial during the first few minutes of the session.
Tremblay did say he’s looking forward to helping the city move forward, despite two other trials involving Massad looming over the city’s near future.
Conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges are nothing to scoff at. These crimes are nothing minor. In fact, these are felony offenses that can negatively impact one’s freedom, life, and livelihood. A person commits the crime of obstruction by engaging in any act or behavior that interferes with the investigation or prosecution of a crime. Both state and federal laws have many provisions written in regarding obstruction of justice for many different laws, but such actions can range from simply warning someone about a subpoena for documents to hiding a suspect from police. Certain types of interference may seem innocent, such as warning a co-worker that they are being investigated, while others cross the legal line more blatantly, like destroying evidence. The greater the obstruction of justice, the greater the criminal consequences.
Even a person who is not directly involved in a crime that is under investigation can be charged with criminal obstruction. These charges are not necessarily black and white, and can be quite confusing. If you have been charged with criminal obstruction or have questions about the crime, consult with our Pasco County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton who can make sure you fully understand what you are up against.