MARCO ISLAND — A Marco Island police officer has been demoted for his role in the April arrest of businessman Joseph Oliverio for grand theft auto. Tige Thompson was stripped of his appointment as sergeant and demoted to patrolman in late June after a two-month internal investigation into the events of April 21, when Oliverio was arrested in the 200 block of Collier Boulevard. Thompson says he followed the law in arresting Oliverio, his chain of command never objected to his actions, and alleges that background documents regarding the arrest were added after an internal investigation of the event began.
Oliverio, owner of Joey’s Pizza, spoke out about his arrest on May 2 during a City Council meeting. He stated that he had met with Chief Thom Carr and City Manager Jim Riviere regarding the incident and demanded a full investigation into what happened. Oliverio claimed Thompson had a vendetta against him, and that his arrest was the result of a misunderstanding which could have been cleared up if Thompson had notified the investigating detective.
On Jan. 29, 2010, Oliverio filed a worthless check police report with Detective Glenn Zirglbel. According to that report, Oliverio entered into a business agreement with Gregory Perkins, but Perkins’ checks totalling more than $50,000 were returned for insufficient funds. Oliverio stated in the report that he had been holding Perkins’ 2005 white Bentley for nearly a year as collateral for the money owed.
According to the internal investigation, a caller contacted Officer Hector Diaz on his personal cell phone on April 21 to report that a stolen Bentley from Illinois was parked between Ne Ne’s restaurant and Joey’s Pizza. The caller also stated that Oliverio may be driving the vehicle.
After checking a national crime data base, Marco Island officers determined that the Bentley had been reported stolen from Chicago in 2010 and Chicago Police were alerted that a stolen vehicle from their jurisdiction might have been located. Several Marco Island officers, however, were aware that Oliverio was in possession of the Bentley.
Thompson conducted surveillance on the Bentley in an unmarked car while he contacted two higher ranking offers – Lt. Goetz and Capt. Dave Baer – and waited for their reply. During the internal affairs inquiry, Thompson said he understood his direction from those superiors to be that whoever got into the Bentley and drove away would be arrested, and if no one entered the car after businesses in the area closed, the vehicle would be recovered.
“We took action based on the probable cause that was established that night, the active report from Chicago Police Department and the fact that Mr. Oliverio was operating the property of another which was reported stolen from another agency,” Thompson said in an interview with the Marco Eagle on Monday. “I talked to my chain of command who expressed knowledge of this report (of bad checks) before I knew anything about the report, and (they) did not tell me to do anything different other than the surveillance, which would have concluded with someone coming back to the vehicle, or no one coming back to the vehicle. I look at it as we established the information that we needed for the arrest of an individual for grand theft auto.”
After approximately four hours, Thompson spotted a man enter the Bentley, after 10 p.m. on April 21, but says that from where he was he was conducting surveillance, he could not identify the person who entered the car. When the Bentley driver pulled out of the parking lot, Thompson followed the Bentley and an officer in a marked patrol car conducted a felony traffic stop. The driver, which turned out to be Oliverio, was handcuffed and taken to the Naples Jail. A second car following the Bentley, driven by Oliverio’s wife, Doreen, was also pulled over.
Joe Oliverio was charged with grand theft auto, but the State Attorney’s office later dropped the charges.
A final internal investigation concluded that Thompson discounted the suggestions of higher ranking officers and should have used better discretion knowing the possible vehicle driver was a well-known community businessman.
In his letter to Thompson, Chief Thom Carr wrote, “I have concluded that you have demonstrated an egregious lack of judgment in this matter.” Carr added that contacting Det. Glenn Zirglbel, the Marco officer who originally took Oliverio’s complaint, or another detective, would have cleared up any confusion about whether the Bentley was stolen or not. During his arrest, Oliverio requested that Zirglbel be contacted, but those requests were not granted.
Thompson says through the course of surveillance, he believed the police reports filed by Zirgbel were compete, but claims he later learned about a report indicating that the Bentley’s owner was charged with a second degree felony of Scheme to Defraud and was investigated by an insurance company for filing a false insurance claim. Thompson alleges that information would have been useful before an arrest was made.
“I don’t think the information was all placed together at one point for a thorough investigation.”
When reached for reaction, Oliverio claimed he arrest “was a set up to screw with me, ruin my name and my business.” He also questioned why an anonymous caller would contact a police officer on a personal cell phone.
“For what reason other than personal gain would someone do this?” asked Oliverio. The internal affairs report did not substantiate Oliverio’s initial claim that Thompson specifically targeted him.
Still, Oliverio thinks Thompson should have been fired.
“I’m not happy at all. I think it’s a joke.
“They pulled guns on me instead of going to the restaurant (and asking if I had the Bentley).”
Oliverio plans to meet with incoming police chief Don Hunter to discuss the investigation and express his disappointment to city councilman on Monday.
Meanwhile, Thompson also has criticism about how the internal investigation into his conduct was conducted. He claims no one has asked him to recount his version of events, but merely asked him to answer specific questions.
“I think it would have painted a clearer picture to the reviewers of this file,” Thompson states. “I’m disappointed that the investigation, in my opinion, did not provide all of the facts.”
Thompson, who has been with the Marco Police Department since 2006 and was promoted to sergeant more than a year ago, says he is investigating his legal options in the matter.
“I followed the law. I made contact with my chain of command and did not breach their authority, their direction.”
Oliverio is also considering his legal options.