PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Former Port Richey Mayor 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.
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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.
"I thought they were going to be coming after me any way they could," Officer Donald Howard said. "When you say, 'Anything you can do,' that's pretty alarming."
Howard 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 Howard in the call, including when the former mayor told Rowe that "anything he can do" where Howard is concerned was good.
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 e-mail requests to the city clerk instead of Lupo, he was trying to avoid the normal process.
Reaction from both sides, city officials
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.
"it’s just our thoughts that these charges, even the practicing medicine without a license, are so tenuous and so flimsy that there has to be some reason behind it," said attorney Denis Devlaming. "I think they wanted to get him out as mayor and they succeeded."
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.