Admitting he committed a "sinful, wrong and criminal act," Marion County (FL) Sheriff Ken Ergle resigned October 15, 1998, after state officials charged him with grand theft and official misconduct.
Ergle surrendered to Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigators, who allege Ergle stole $170,000 from a fund he controlled which was supposed to be used for paying confidential informants. He was taken to the jail he ran with an iron fist, booked and released after posting a $15,000 bond.
Ergle attracted national media attention for his hard-nosed policies. In 1993 he removed the jail's televisions, and took snacks and coffee away from prisoners. In 1996 he began charging prisoners $1 a day for meals and a $10 co-pay for seeing a doctor or dentist. PLN recently reported that a number of former county prisoners are suing the county because they say Ergle knowingly employed a non-licensed dentist [See: Ex-Prisoner Sues Over Phony Dentist; Dec, '98 PLN ].
Ergle was widely known across the state of Florida as being tough on crime and having "zero tolerance" for anyone who broke the law. He was also one of the first sheriffs in Florida to implement a policy of warning residents about the whereabouts of sex offenders living in the community. Right up to the end, Ergle was preparing to set up his own showcase "tent jail" to house overflow prisoners.
Ergle claimed that his "get tough" jail policies saved taxpayer money. But while he was charging prisoners $10 to visit a phony dentist, he was garnering national media attention for using county money to purchase enough surplus military helicopters and airplanes to start his own air force; his department's budget grew by $17 million since he took office in 1992. Detractors say the air fleet was a zany and wasteful use of taxpayers' money.
Now he's accused not of wasting money, but of stealing it outright for his own use.
According to sources close to the investigation, Ergle made up a phony "task force" called "Operation Bird Dog" and used that as a code word when withdrawing money from the department's bank account. Investigators say Ergle withdrew more than $170,000 to pay confidential informants in the non-existent operation. The scheme unraveled after an unnamed source in the department noticed the large withdrawls and tipped off FDLE investigators.
Ocala Star-Banner, AP
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