Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office makes a mockery of public corruption

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John Weatherholt and Glen Nickell stole thousands of dollars from children in the state — that much is very clear.

The two former state employees concocted an elaborate theft ring that was centered at two shooting ranges in the state, both of which were owned and operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Nickell was rangemaster at FWC’s Cecil M. Webb range. Weatherholt was his boss, who worked out of the commission’s Lakeland office.

The pair, along with the help of Nickell’s ex-con handyman, took spent brass — tons of brass — from Webb and another range to a half-dozen local recyclers and pocketed thousand of dollars in cash.

The most egregious part of their scheme? There were signs on the firing line at the Webb range that falsely told shooters that the proceeds from their recycled brass would go to youth shooting programs in the state. I’ve been contacted by dozens of shooters who told me that rather than picking up their spent brass, they left it at the range. It was for children, after all. Right?

Wrong.

Don’t think for a second that Weatherholt or Nickell picked up and sorted all the spent brass themselves. They ordered the Range Safety Officers — low paid hourly employees — to do that dirty, demeaning task. If an RSO balked at the illegal order, they didn’t last long.

When I was first told of the Weatherholt/Nickell scheme by the guys at Sarasota’s Amendment II Armory — the real heroes in this saga — I knew we had to do something. So, once invited to set up cameras inside AIIA, we arranged a sting.

Once the series was published, FWC’s Inspector General pounced. The IG conducted a very thorough criminal investigation.

This is where things went wrong. This is where the system broke down.

Because there were alleged violations in two jurisdictions — Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution was brought in to prosecute the case.

To be clear — a state agency was tasked to prosecute state employees, albeit former ones.

Weatherholt and Nickell 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. But in court yesterday, it became clear the fix was in.

Weatherholt and Nickell were given plea deals — extremely light plea deals, for them.

Each was allowed to plead guilty to one count of organized fraud, but the judge withheld adjudication and sentenced them to five years of probation.

What does this mean? According to the statute, once the duo completes probation “the court is divested of jurisdiction and there is no adjudication of guilt… In addition, defendants could safely check the ‘no’ box on job applications when asked if they had ever been convicted of a criminal offense.”

Of course both men were ordered to pay restitution, court costs and the cost of the IG’s investigation, but neither Weatherholt nor Nickell will

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 )

ever spend so much as one night behind bars.

Weatherholt even had the temerity to ask the judge if he could continue working as an NRA-certified firearms instructor. The judge said he could. Bondi’s statewide prosecutor certainly didn’t object.

In addition to making a mockery of public corruption laws, Bondi’s team has sent a clear message to other state employees. If you get the opportunity to steal — steal.

What’s the worst that can happen? If you’re caught — and that’s a big if in Florida — you’ll only be required to pay back what you stole but, other than some probation, there won’t be any real consequences — certainly nothing long term.

I tried to talk to Bondi’s prosecutor about the plea deal yesterday as she was walking out of the hearing.

She declined to comment, citing an office policy that prohibits prosecutors from talking to the media. Now, I understand why Bondi has that policy in place. We reporters tend to ask uncomfortable questions, like what the hell were you thinking?

In the courtroom, Nickell appeared somewhat remorseful. He was quiet, taciturn.

As to Weatherholt, well, I think the images our photojournalist captured as Weatherholt was walking out of the courtroom sum up his reaction far better than anything I could ever come up with.

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 )

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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.

8 Comments

  1. Make sure the NRA instructor certification office receives this. It is hard to imagine they’d want Fingers Weatherholt representing their instructor cadre.

  2. Pingback: Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office makes a mockery of public corruption - 2nd Amendment Right

  3. Maybe a class action lawsuit is in order against Weatherholt by anyone who left brass at the range. Theft by deception pure and simple.

    • Carl Buehler on

      Court ordered restitution is seldom paid in full. Just a couple of bucks get paid during probation, then once that period is over, the rest of the money is never paid. A class action suit however could result in an enforceable judgement. But given these were state employees, State Consiglierre Pam Bondi would likely oppose it and defend Fingers Weatherholt.

      • Kind of funny how all these fingers are pointing at the AG. There’s more out there. Bet you any amount of money.

  4. I sued a judge and guess who was the defense team, pam bondi office. So how does the state attorney general become the protector of a state judge when the office us supposed to protect the people? It is called Felony Rescue. They are all corrupt to the core.

    • Am watching this case with great interest. If she does not see vertical bars in a year, here’s what you should do if you “accidentally” blow the brains out of two business competitors.
      1) Put a wad of cash in a brown paper bag.
      2) Have someone go to the prosecutor with the bag in hand.
      3) Have that person say to the prosecutor “I’m with (your name)”
      4) Have the person drop the bag of cash on the prosecutor’s desk & say “this is for your nice campaign fund”
      5) Have the person heartily laugh.

      Will work great. No quid pro quo there if there ain’t any here.

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