EXCLUSIVE: FWC’s brass thieves sentenced to probation, must pay restitution

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John Weatherholt gestures to the camera and reporter after hearing his sentence in the stolen ammunition brass case at the Charlotte County Justice Center Thursday June 2, 2106 in Punta Gorda. Mr. Weatherholt received 5 years probation and must pay $15,000 in restitution, $3,960 in court costs and $5,000 to the Florida Wildlife Commission's Inspector General. ( Pool Photo / Herald Tribune )

John Weatherholt gestures to the camera and reporter after hearing his sentence in the stolen ammunition brass case at the Charlotte County Justice Center Thursday June 2, 2106 in Punta Gorda. Mr. Weatherholt received 5 years probation and must pay $15,000 in restitution, $3,960 in court costs and $5,000 to the Florida Wildlife Commission’s Inspector General. ( Pool Photo / Herald Tribune )

by Lee Williams

PUNTA GORDA — The two former state officials linked to a theft ring uncovered by a Herald-Tribune investigation at the Cecil M. Webb shooting range have each been sentenced to five years of probation and restitution.

Glen Nickell, who had been the chief range safety officer at the Webb range, operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and his former boss, John Weatherholt, appeared in Charlotte County Circuit Court Thursday afternoon for a plea acceptance hearing and sentencing before Circuit Court Judge George C. Richards.

Each faced one count of grand theft and one count of “organized fraud,” both third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation and a $5,000 fine.

In court Thursday, Nickell wore a gray suit, white shirt and tie, and was accompanied by his defense attorney Steven Leskovich of Punta

Glen Nickell listens to the judge read his sentence in the stolen brass ammunition case at the Charlotte County Justice Center Thursday June 2, 2106 in Punta Gorda. Mr. Nickell received 5 years probation and must pay $13,000 in restitution, $3,960 in court costs and $5,000 to the Florida Wildlife Commission's Inspector General. ( Pool Photo / Herald Tribune )

Glen Nickell listens to the judge read his sentence in the stolen brass ammunition case at the Charlotte County Justice Center Thursday June 2, 2106 in Punta Gorda. Mr. Nickell received 5 years probation and must pay $13,000 in restitution, $3,960 in court costs and $5,000 to the Florida Wildlife Commission’s Inspector General. ( Pool Photo / Herald Tribune )

Gorda.

As part of a plea agreement, Nickell agreed to plead guilty to one count of organized fraud.

Because he had no criminal record, Judge Richards withheld adjudication of the guilty plea and sentenced Nickell to five years of probation. He also must pay $13,098 in restitution to FWC’s foundation, $3,690 in court costs and $5,000 to the agency’s Inspector General’s Office, to cover the cost of their investigation.

Judge Richards asked Nickell how he pleaded to the felony fraud charge.

“Guilty,” Nickell said.

Weatherholt appeared wearing a blue polo shirt and green military style pants, with his attorney, Hunter Chamberlain of Tampa.

He, too, pleaded guilty to organized fraud, and was sentenced to five years of probation, but he must pay $15,000 in restitution. He must also pay $3,690 in court costs and $5,000 to FWC’s Inspector General’s Office.

Weatherholt’s attorney asked the court if his client could continue working as a firearms instructor.

Judge Richards said because the adjudication of the felony charge was withheld, he could not prohibit Weatherholt from working in his profession.

Both men were told they cannot return to the Webb range.

As he was being fingerprinted, and again as he was leaving the courtroom, Weatherholt made several obscene gestures toward a Herald-Tribune reporter and photographer in the room.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Jessica Costello, of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Citing the AG’s policy, Costello declined to comment about the plea offers.

The investigation

The 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 AX162_5DC8_9pockets.

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 had 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.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: EXCLUSIVE: FWC’s brass thieves sentenced to probation, must pay restitution - 2nd Amendment Right

  2. The blue shirted thief was obviously struggling to communicate his feelings. Doubt he could do better with more prep time. Good job and good reporting ?

  3. That’s the problem with our judges and the justice system , do you think that thieves learn anything by putting them on probation ? Let the two dirtbags spend at least half the max in prison and you will see the crime rates go down. As long as dirtbags like them know that they will get a slap on the wrist by crooked judges they will continue to feel crime does pay.

  4. Crime does pay…justice was not served…..why the hell was a plea deal made? There is a high level rat in the mix who has pulled strings to avoid exposure.

  5. Lee, correct me if I’m wrong, but withheld adjudication in a felony is still considered a conviction in the eyes of the feds and NICS. I would say the judge is wrong, and he is now a prohibited person.

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