Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 12:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 12:17 p.m.
The two former state officials linked to a theft ring uncovered by a Herald-Tribune investigation at the Cecil M. Webb shooting range may take plea deals rather than go to trial, according to documents filed with the court.
Glen Nickell, who had been the chief range safety officer at the Cecil M. Webb shooting range, which is operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and his boss, John Weatherholt, are due in court June 2 for a plea acceptance hearing and possible sentencing.
Their plea deals will not become official until accepted by Circuit Court Judge George C. Richards, who is presiding over the case. That is because either defendant could change his mind or the court could reject the offers.
Attempts to find out details about the plea bargains by the Herald-Tribune were not successful.
Neither Weatherholt’s lawyer, Tampa attorney Hunter Chamberlain, nor Nickell’s lawyer, Steven S. Leskovich of Punta Gorda, immediately returned calls seeking comment on Thursday for this story.
The case is being prosecuted by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Officials at the Tampa office did not immediately respond to questions about the plea bargains.
A Herald-Tribune investigation first published in June revealed that Nickell and Weatherholt had pocketed thousands of dollars from sales of the recycled brass at the Webb range.
Signs posted on the firing lines at the range falsely claimed that money from the recycled brass went to promote youth hunting. But the Herald-Tribune’s probe and subsequent evidence collected by state prosecutors show that it instead went into Nickell’s and Weatherholt’s pockets.
For its series, the Herald-Tribune interviewed former range safety officers, officials with the commission and other state agencies and people familiar with the practices at Cecil M. Webb and other ranges. The newspaper asked for more than 30 types of documents through requests to state and county agencies made under Florida’s open records law. The Herald-Tribune also arranged a surveillance “sting,” after a reporter was told of the brass theft ring by the owners of a local ammunition reloading firm, who invited the reporter to position cameras in their business.
Glenn Demoss, an ex-con who did side jobs for Nickell, cooperated with prosecutors and gave several taped interviews to investigators.
Prosecutors also have taped and written statements from Nickell, recorded during two days in July.
Weatherholt invoked his rights and declined to be interviewed by investigators.
Nickell was fired by the commission after the newspaper series was published. Weatherholt resigned after the Herald-Tribune began asking questions.
The two former FWC employees were arrested in September by investigators from FWC’s Inspector General’s Office.
Each face one count of grand theft and one count of “organized scheme to defraud,” both third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
Neither Nickell nor Weatherholt returned calls seeking comment.