Supporters using positions on other organizations to drum up support for Marco police chief

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle

When some members of the public speak at Monday's Marco Island City Council meeting in favor of embattled Police Chief Al Schettino, they will say they are doing so as residents, voters and taxpayers.

What they won't say, however, is that their involvement at the meeting was influenced by Marco Police Foundation members and supporters who pushed the membership of  other organizations to sign petitions and attend the City Council meeting.

Larry Honig
member, Marco Island City Council

Joe Swaja, vice-president of the Police Foundation, serves as Grand Knight of the San Marco Knights of Columbus Council and emailed its membership last week to encourage support for Schettino and ask for their attendance at Monday's meeting.

"One of our Brother Knights, Chief Al Schettino, is the victim of an unjust act," Swaja wrote. "As citizens of the community, we have a right and duty to provide support to a fellow citizen who happens to be a Brother Knight."

Two weeks ago, supporters of Schettino promised the City Council that they would see a wave of activism it had never seen before as efforts to keep him in place ratcheted up. 

Schettino, who announced in February that he would retire on June 15, has stayed mum since but others close to him, including assistant Sharon Kovacs, have suggested he was forced out.

More:Marco Island police chief intends to retire June 15

Schettino's leadership has been mired in controversy starting with multiple officers having sex on duty over a multiple year period.

Schettino was also found to have placed an officer whose credibility is so damaged that he is not permitted to testify at criminal trials back on patrol. This led to the state attorney's office declining to prosecute numerous arrests including one where a man barricaded himself in his home with a cache of weapons, which prompted SWAT to respond.

More:State attorney's office declined to prosecute multiple Marco Island criminal charges last month due to 'Brady cop'

An EEOC complaint filed by the department's record clerk was the latest blow.

Along with alleging discrimination, harassment and defamation by Schettino, details in the complaint suggest Schettino leaked information about a battery investigation into former City Manager Lee Niblock and along with former Councilor Bob Brown, sought his ouster.

More:EEOC complaint details Marco police discrimination, information leaks, potential perjury

In his email to membership, Swaja also reminded them that they would be attending as citizens, not as representatives of Knights of Columbus, which has rules governing speaking on behalf of the organization.

Former Marco Island Councilor Joe Batte sent a similar request to American Legion Commander Lee Rubenstein on Friday in an attempt to drum up support for Schettino.

"I would ask that you notify all our American Legion brothers to stop by and sign support petitions, not as Legion members, but as voters, citizens & taxpayers of Marco Island!" Batte wrote in an email.

Batte is listed on the American Legion Marco Island Post 404's website as a post trustee.

Adding to what is expected to be an explosive meeting, Police Foundation Treasurer Jose Granda has asked to give "(Councilor Larry) Honig the same treatment the police chief received when he was told to retire or be fired."

"I would like to propose that you allow me tomorrow when I speak, to propose to Mr. Honig to resign Monday from the Foundation and we will return his $500 dues immediately, or be terminated at the next board meeting by a motion to terminate him with no dues return," Granda wrote in an email.

While police supporters said they have collected thousands of signatures, as of Thursday, public records show there have been only a handful of emails to the City Council in support of Schettino that did not come from members of the Police Foundation.

Most of the emails the City Council received came after Honig's guest commentary in the Marco Eagle in which he wrote a scathing interpretation of what "Keep the Chief" signs mean.

Members of the Foundation ripped Honig and demanded a public apology after he stated the signs were paid for by it, which they denied.

Referring to Honig as "Lying Larry," Board Member Ray McChesney wrote on Friday, "Make sure to take your meds on Monday. Could be a tough night for you."

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