Ex-cop says firing unfair

Former Marco Island police Officer Mike Fagan, fired after a department investigation in June, says he won't take his termination lying down. He plans to sue the city to clear his name.

Fagan, 55, was fired June 3 after police Chief Roger Reinke and Capt. Thom Carr said they determined the veteran officer lied to them about his association with local real estate agent Frank Pollara, who has a felony record. They also said Fagan tried to pass confidential information about a case to Pollara.

Now city critics are second-guessing actions taken by City Manager Bill Moss, City Councilman Glenn Tucker and the Marco Island Police Department in the events that led up to Fagan's termination. And Fagan says he has hired an attorney to set the record straight.

"I loved this job," Fagan says. "It was the best job I ever had. The worst day on the job at the Marco department was still better than my best day on the New York police force."

There are different accounts as to how Fagan's firing came about. But they all agree that the trouble began when he responded to a one-car accident Jan. 1.

At 4:50 a.m. Jan. 1, Fagan and Officer Brian O'Malley, in separate cars, responded to the accident in the 1000 block of Caxambas Drive. Someone had crashed a white Mazda into a Lee County Electric Cooperative concrete power pole.

Fagan says he was the first on the scene. A police report filed by O'Malley says the power pole was cut in two, power lines were lying across the roadway and a transformer was on the ground. The Mazda was engulfed in flames.

The officers approached the car, but the flames were so intense, they couldn't see if anyone was inside. They determined that no one was in the car after Marco Island firefighters put the fire out.

Marco police Lt. Maya Ziglar arrived on the scene, and O'Malley and Fagan began to look for the driver. They found no one.

O'Malley then ran a check on the wrecked car's license plate and found that it was owned by Ramona Ann Fohlbrook of Marco Island. According to the police report, Fohlbrook told them the car had been used by her son to go to a friend's house on New Year's Eve.

Ramona Fohlbrook accompanied police to her son's friend's home. Her son and the 15-year-old friend came out to talk with them. They appeared nervous, and both smelled of alcohol, the report says. The 15-year-old had swelling under the right eye and several scrapes on his face. He had a fresh scratch on his left leg.

Both youths denied knowing how the car wound up on Caxambas Drive in a burning heap. They said the car keys had been left in the vehicle's console, and both said they had been asleep since around 1:30 a.m.

O'Malley and Ziglar told the parents of both youths that the accident report would state that the driver was unknown. The Fohlbrooks did not believe the car had been stolen, according to the police report.

Tucker gets involved

When their next duty shift began Jan. 1, Ziglar told O'Malley that the 15-year-old's family wanted to meet with them to discuss what happened. Ziglar and O'Malley went to the family's home, where they found the boy, his parents and Tucker waiting.

Tucker is a local real estate attorney whose partner handles criminal matters. He said he was there only because it was New Year's Day and his partner was not available. As a favor to the family, he agreed to represent their son in the matter until his partner arrived.

Tucker says he called the city manager to let him know that he was not trying to use his position on the City Council to influence the case and was there only to act as the boy's legal representative.

Tucker told the officers the boy had something to tell them, and the officers had the boy sign a waiver of his Miranda rights. The boy then admitted he took the car and accidentally slammed it into the power pole. According to the report, he said he then walked home.

Ziglar contacted Ramona Fohlbrook, who told police she did not want to press charges against the boy and just wanted to be reimbursed for the loss of the car. The police report says Fohlbrook and a member of the minor's family "worked this out with Tucker for reimbursement."

The power pole damage was estimated at more than $12,000, and the boy's family also agreed to pay LCEC for the repair.

Reinke says he ordered Ziglar to charge the boy with a misdemeanor for leaving the scene of an accident with property damage, and to issue him a citation for violating his learner's driver license restrictions.

Tucker says he suggested to the officers that the boy be issued a notice to appear in court, and he vouched for the boy's parents as reliable for his supervision.

Reinke says he ordered Ziglar to issue the misdemeanor charge because the Fohlbrooks did not want to pursue a felony charge of grand theft auto against the boy.

"Had the car's owner wanted us to do that (grand theft auto), he would have gone straight to juvenile detention," Reinke says. "As it was, had we not gotten the minor's confession, we wouldn't have been able to charge him with anything. We wouldn't have had much of a case."

Reinke says that before releasing the minor, Marco police contacted the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in Naples, said they had charged the minor with a misdemeanor, and explained the incident.

Paula Chaspain, intake officer at the juvenile detention center, told the officers to issue the boy a notice to appear in court and to release him to his parents, according to the police report.

Fagan now says he and O'Malley didn't like the way the case was handled because it appeared Tucker interfered with the investigation, which wasn't complete.

Reinke declined a request to interview O'Malley, citing a department policy regarding officers speaking to the media. But the chief provided a copy of the transcript from O'Malley's interview with Carr during the investigation.

In that interview, O'Malley said nothing about being upset with how the case was handled. He did, however, say Fagan asked him to get the police report on the crash. O'Malley said Fagan told him: "I really need it because there are some people that are trying to get rid of the city manager and Tucker."

Tucker denies any interference and says he violated no rules. Reinke also denies any undue pressure from Tucker. The chief says the matter was turned over to the State Attorney's Office for proper processing. Because the defendant is a minor, the case's final adjudication was sealed.

Fagan says he forgot about the case because, as far as he was concerned, the matter was closed.

It would come back to haunt Fagan, however, when Pollara got involved in March.

The Pollara problem

Pollara, 62, is a real estate broker and developer who owns the Marco Island Real Estate Center in the Shops of Marco.

In December 2001, Pollara, who lives in Fiddler's Creek, was arrested by the Collier County Sheriff's Office. He was charged with grand theft for failing to finish a driveway at a home on Sandhill Court on Marco Island. He also was cited on two counts of contracting without a certificate.

Court records show that Pollara paid $10,000 in restitution and the judge dropped the grand theft charge.

Pollara, however, says he didn't pay restitution. He says he built a pool and a screened enclosure and made other improvements at the home. The owner also wanted his driveway redone, and Pollara told him he knew someone who could do the work.

Pollara says the person he brought over took a deposit from the owner but never completed the job, and the owner felt he was responsible.

"I told the judge what happened, and he dropped the grand theft charge," Pollara says. "The guy who was supposed to do the work paid the money back. I didn't bring any money to court that day. It was all settled before I got there."

Carr says it was around that time that an investigator in the State Attorney's Office informed him that Fagan was associating with Pollara.

A look into Pollara's criminal history reveals a lengthy list of arrests and convictions that begins in the 1960s in New Jersey and winds its way through several South Florida jurisdictions. Charges include grand larceny, fraud, worthless checks and drug trafficking. Some convictions landed him in prison.

His Florida convictions include writing worthless checks in Fort Pierce in 1973; contempt of court in St. Lucie County in 1974 (a 60-day confinement was ordered); cocaine and marijuana trafficking in Broward County in 1984; larceny in Broward County in 1988; and fraud via bad check in Fort Lauderdale in 1989.

Fagan, who was an officer with the New York Police Department for 18 years before moving to Florida, says he worked for Pollara for about a year before joining the Marco force. He says he had only a casual association with Pollara afterward.

"It's not like we went to dinner at each other's homes or hung out together," Fagan says. "I'd see him in front of his real estate office and speak to him, or see him out about town somewhere and would speak to him. I didn't think I had to ignore him just because I ran into him."

After the investigator's call, Carr says, he warned Fagan not to associate with Pollara from that point on, and Fagan agreed to stay away from Pollara.

Pollara falls out with city officials

By then, Pollara had become a vocal critic of city officials.

He says his problems with the city began after the city charged him $1,200 — four times the amount of a standard $300 permit — to remodel his offices at the Shops of Marco.

"I asked (Collier) county people what they would have charged me to do the work I wanted, and they said they wouldn't even have required a permit at all for it. ... Wouldn't have cost me a dime had I been in the county," Pollara says.

Bob Mahar, Marco Island's building official, says Pollara was charged the hefty fee because he failed to submit required documentation and secure permit approval before beginning construction.

"Parties who begin construction prior to the issuance of a permit are charged a permit equal to four times the original amount," Mahar says. "This permit charge for nonpermitted work is found in building codes throughout South Florida, including Naples and Collier County."

Pollara also was angered when Marco code compliance officer Liz Carr cited him for code violations at his Marco real estate office on Jan. 23, 2003.

Liz Carr is Thom Carr's wife. Pollara says her efforts to bring him to court over the violations for illegal signage backfired when the city lost its case against him in March 2003.

But the city's legal pursuit of the matter left a sour taste in Pollara's mouth.

"The city should be bending over backward to be nice to and help people who want to start businesses here," Pollara says. "Instead, they harass people over ridiculous, petty issues."

Pollara claims Fagan was told to stay away because Pollara was making trouble for Liz Carr. Thom Carr says the accusation is ridiculous.

"I'm very glad that Mr. Pollara is admitting that he is on this campaign to slander me and the department because my wife issued him a code violation," Carr says. "Last time I looked, code enforcement is not part of the Police Department, nor do we have any control over them. Further, I would say that this just goes to Mr. Pollara's credibility and honesty in this whole mess."

Pollara says he also was angered when he went to Moss' office in January to report that he saw a city building inspector use a city truck on city time to do demolition work on a home in Hideaway Beach.

Pollara says Moss refused to investigate his claims.

The inspector, who is now retired, "was hauling carpet, cabinets and all sorts of fixtures from that home," Pollara says. "No way he could have been doing that for official city business. But Moss wouldn't even look into it."

Moss at first did not recall meeting Pollara to discuss his claims, but then said he was reminded by his secretary of a meeting on Jan. 8 with Pollara at Moss' office.

"A preliminary inquiry was made at that time," Moss says. "While I do not recall the specifics, I believe the employee was not in town on the day the alleged incident took place."

Moss also says that employee did not have a city truck available to him, and his compact vehicle used for inspections would not hold carpeting and cabinets.

Pollara says Moss promised to get back to him on the matter, but never did.

Pollara also was unhappy that Fagan had been told not to associate with him. Pollara says his criminal history is in the past, he's a legitimate businessman who contributes to the Marco community, has donated money to YMCA programs, paid for a new volleyball court at Marco Island Charter Middle School, supported local Little League baseball, and paid for a graduation party at the Marco Island Marriott Resort for middle school graduates this year.

"You see how they are," he says. "When I'm giving them money for this program or that program, then I'm OK. But when I'm criticizing the city, then I'm a felon. What I am is a single parent with a 14-year-old daughter who I live for every day.

"I have several businesses. I paid my debt to society and served my time. That was more than 20 years ago. My past is just that — my past."

Pollara says it was his daughter who told him about the New Year's Day incident that eventually would lead to Fagan's firing.

Pollara points finger at Tucker

In March, Pollara says, he overheard his daughter talking about the New Year's Day accident. Pollara says his daughter told him the boy who wrecked the car was bragging about it to kids in the neighborhood, and the boy noted how the family's attorney, Tucker, had gotten him off the hook.

"Tucker closed that case in 10 hours on New Year's Day, before Officer O'Malley ever finished his investigation," Pollara says. "All that kid got was his wrist slapped. If you commit a crime on Marco, all you have to do is know Tucker."

Tucker vehemently denies the accusations.

"Pollara is lying," Tucker says. "Nothing that this law firm did was unethical, inappropriate or would be misconduct on my part as a City Council member. I am a friend of the family, and they asked for help. It was all handled through the State Attorney's Office and the court system. The police and the city weren't involved in the adjudication of this case."

Tucker says he did not pressure the Fohlbrooks to accept restitution.

"The families knew each other, and that was between them," Tucker says.

Later in March, after learning of the New Year's Day incident, Pollara saw Fagan outside his shop and asked him if he knew what had transpired.

Pollara, according to Fagan, asked if he had seen the accident report. Fagan said he hadn't, but suggested that Pollara get it from the Police Department because the case was closed and the report was a matter of public record.

Fagan investigated

In March, Pollara began circulating a letter he wrote to Guy M. Tunnell, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, regarding the actions taken by Reinke, Moss and Tucker in the New Year's Day incident.

A copy of that letter ended up on Reinke's desk, along with a letter from Marco resident Tom Dawber mailed to City Hall and copied to City Council Chairwoman Terry DiSciullo.

Moss responded to Dawber's inquiry in a letter dated April 5: "I offer you complete assurance that no officer was coerced or otherwise encouraged to charge or not charge any individual, by this writer, Chief Reinke, or Councilman Glenn Tucker. ...

"To my knowledge," Moss continued, "the investigating officers handled the situation exceptionally well. I am not aware of any dissatisfaction on the part of the parties involved. I trust appropriate adjudication was administered by the State Attorney's Office through the normal course of the judicial process."

When Reinke saw Pollara's letter, the chief believed there were many details that Pollara couldn't have known unless he talked to someone inside the Police Department who had been involved in the case.

Reinke called Fagan and O'Malley into his office April 8. Both officers denied seeing Pollara's letter.

Reinke ordered Carr to conduct an internal investigation into whether Fagan provided Pollara "confidential police" information and violated his promise not to associate with Pollara.

On April 21, Carr interviewed Fagan, and he says Fagan admitted having conversations with Pollara about business deals.

Fagan says he told Carr he called Pollara to ask him about potential properties for sale, as Fagan had done with several other local real estate agents.

"We were not discussing drug deals, if that's what they're thinking," Fagan says he told Carr.

Fagan says he denied asking O'Malley for a copy of the New Year's Day incident report, but admitted verifying information about the case to Pollara.

"Frank already knew everything about it. So I didn't think anything of it," Fagan says. "I mean, I saw Frank when I was in the dollar store next to his offices. He asked me about it. As far as I was concerned, and especially as the department's community liaison officer, there was nothing wrong telling him basically what happened. This was March. The case had been closed in January, as far as I knew. But I told Frank to go down and get the report himself. I never offered to get it for him."

Carr, however, got a different story from O'Malley when he interviewed him April 22.

Fagan's disciplinary file states that O'Malley told Carr that Fagan said he needed the report "because some people, including Frank Pollara, are trying to get rid of City Manager Bill Moss and City Councilman Glenn Tucker."

O'Malley also told Carr that Fagan asked O'Malley to bring him a copy of the report the next day.

Fagan says he only wanted the report, which he had never seen, for his own use. He had no plans to pass it to Pollara.

"To this day, I have never seen that report, and yet I was fired for passing information from the report to Frank (Pollara)," Fagan says. "Frank asked me for details that I didn't know myself, as far as what was officially filed in the report. That sparked my curiosity. I didn't know how to get the report out of the computer system, so I asked Brian (O'Malley) to get it for me. I even told him to do it when he had time, and that he could just drop it by my house when it was convenient. I never did get the report."

Pollara and Dawber, in the meantime, met with Reinke on April 12. Reinke says he gave them a copy of the report during that meeting.

"I didn't even know Mike (Fagan) was at the scene of that crash until the day Chief Reinke gave me the report and I saw his name on there as one of the first responding officers," Pollara says.

On April 30, Fagan, not knowing what O'Malley told Carr, signed the transcript of his initial interview with Carr. Fagan then was ordered to submit to a polygraph test.

On May 5, Fagan reported to John Hisler for a scheduled polygraph, but Hisler didn't administer the test after Fagan changed his story and admitted that he did remember asking O'Malley for the report. Fagan also admitted to having lunch with Pollara while on duty three weeks earlier. He also said he spoke to Pollara on the phone about a letter Pollara had written concerning the case.

Reinke says he based Fagan's June 3 firing on flip-flops he made during the investigation and his final admission that he had associated with and discussed a confidential police matter with Pollara.

"Police officers have to tell the truth," Reinke said. "They must be held to a higher standard. They have to testify before judges and juries under oath. They have to tell the truth about crimes. They cannot associate with known felons because it undermines their professional integrity as public servants and police officers. It also makes them vulnerable to suspicious activity.

"The public has to be able to trust them."

Carr says he admires Reinke's position.

"The chief is a stickler for the truth. Had Officer Fagan just admitted everything during his first interview, he probably would still be a police officer here," Carr says.

Fagan wants back on force

Mike Fagan says hardly anyone on Marco knows he's been fired, although neighbors ask him why his police car isn't parked in his driveway anymore.

"Everyone is so shocked when I tell them, and it's really embarrassing," Fagan says.

Fagan says he's going to sue the city, in part because Carr failed to present O'Malley's statements to him before he submitted to the polygraph interview, a violation of a sworn police officer's right under internal investigation rules.

"I really simply forgot I had asked Brian for the report," Fagan says. "I didn't know what they were after. I met with Frank (Pollara) at Joey's (Pizza & Pasta House) for lunch. Frank called me because he found out they were investigating me about his letters. Frank was just concerned. It wasn't like we were doing anything illegal."

Reinke says he and Carr followed Florida law in conducting their investigation.

Fagan applied for and received unemployment, but lost it on appeal because the city told state employment officials that he was fired for misconduct.

Standing by a bedroom wall covered in awards and citations for his service as a Marco police officer, Fagan turned teary-eyed as he reviewed his situation.

"I never thought I'd ever live in a home like this," he said of his spacious canal-front house on Edgewater Court. "I may lose this home. I'm living on savings right now. My New York police pension won't cover our mortgage payment.

"We had to sell a 1980 Corvette. I will have to sell my boat. But worst of all, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement could remove my police certification because I was fired for misconduct."

Fagan says he's hired an attorney to clear his name and keep his certification, which to date has not been officially revoked. Meanwhile, he's working part time for a demolition crew run by a local marine construction firm. Fagan makes money only if he sells what he salvages from homes.

"I've never been in trouble for anything in my whole police career," Fagan says. "I accomplished a lot of good things for the Police Department here. I have so many friends and there are so many good people here. I don't know what's going to happen.

"But I don't plan to take this lying down."

Pollara says he feels terrible about Fagan's firing and has offered his support.

"I told Reinke I would submit to a polygraph to prove I'm not lying when I say I got none of the information about that case from Mikey (Fagan)," Pollara says. "I heard about it all from my daughter, and the rest I learned on my own.

"The city wanted to get to me. Instead, they got Mikey. But their day will come. I really believe he can win against the city in court. I really do."

Reinke and Carr, however, say Fagan should look only at his own actions to find the person responsible for his termination.

© 2004 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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