TAMPA, Fla. -- A special federal grand jury returned a 45-count indictment against three former Hillsborough County commissioners, five prominent lawyers and 17 others charging them with racketeering.
The indictment, returned late Wednesday, charged the defendants with soliciting bribes, committing extortion and obstructing justice in the pursuit of favorable commission decisions.
If the defendants are convicted, it will prove that 'Hillsborough has been held hostage by a corrupt governing authority ... and that the era has come to an end,' said U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle.
From 1976 through 'the time of this indictment,' the county commission operated essentially as a 'racketeering enterprise,' Merkle said.
Gov. Bob Graham was in Tampa on another matter and called it 'a sad day for this proud community.'
'I'm very distressed whenever a person who has a public responsibility, a trust to the community failed that responsibility,' he said.
Among those indicted were insurance executive Nelson Italiano, who was Hillsborough's patronage chief for former Gov. Reubin Askew; former commissioners Fred Anderson, Joe Kotvas and Bob Curry; lawyers Paul B. Johnson, Laurence I. Goodrich, John D. Demmi, Robert Cannella and Michael Sierra; former farm owner Ronnie Fullwood; and former night club owner Cesar Augustus Rodriguez.
The indictment also said former county commissioner Charles F. Dean III accepted a bribe in connection with a zoning case but he was nnt named as a defendant.
Also named, but not charged, was former County Commissioner Jerry Bowmer, who pleaded guilty to bribery and extortion two years ago in a zoning scandal, and then testified against his fellow commissioners Anderson and Kotvas in returned for a reduced sentence.
Anderson and Kotvas were convicted in that case and each was sentenced to eight years in prison. Bowmer has not been sentenced yet because authorities say he has been helping in an investigation resulting in Wednesday's indictments.
The indictment alleges that Tampa tire store owner Leroy Gonzalez, one of those indicted, tried to bribe Bowmer after Bowmer's arrest in 1983 in an effort to prevent Bowmer from testifying about the alleged corrupt enterprise.