Women Accuse Sheriff of Covering-up Criminal Activity, Mafia-style Tactics Used to Silence Victim
HERNANDO – On October 10th, a domestic violence survivor stood before the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in Brooksville to complain about criminal activity and unhealthy living conditions inside a local shelter. (ORIGINAL REPORT).
Ashley Wieder stayed at the Dawn Center Domestic Violence Shelter on more than one occasion because of an abusive situation with her long-time boyfriend.
RNRF conducted interviews with Wieder and dozens of former Dawn Center occupants over the years, who all complained of drug dealing and use, thefts, violence, prostitution, and even fraud that occurs in and around the facility. Several occupants and neighbors filed complaints with the Sheriff’s Office since we began investigating the issues in 2013, but despite a one year total of having 187 calls to service at the Dawn Center, the Sheriff’s Office refuses to conduct a formal investigation.
But let’s back up to Wieder’s testimony at the BOCC and what occurred the very next day.
At the direction “the Colonel.” According to Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Denise Moloney, Detective Shawn Galarza was directed to investigate Wieder’s complaints mentioned at the BOCC. Keep in mind that Wieder did not ask for the Sheriff’s Office to respond to her residence.
On October 11th, at the request of Det. Galarza, Wieder agreed to an interview at her home. Wieder and Galarza agreed to both audio record the interview (CLICK HERE).
To Wieder’s dismay, Det. Galarza seemed to focus more on why she spoke at the meeting, rather than the problems at the Dawn Center. During the interview, Wieder is asked several times if this reporter [Tom Lemons] and or Commissioner Steve Champion coerced or even paid her to “Raise this kind of stink…” Galarza even threatened to arrest Wieder if he found out that she had lied about the reason she spoke at the BOCC. Wieder agreed to sign her written testimony and turned it over to Det. Galarza. But what is missing from this picture? A case number…
With most investigations a law enforcement agency will generate a case number and give it to the complainant but Wieder was not given one. Because of this exclusion, Wieder believes that Det. Galarza was not there to help but rather to “shut her up” and scare her into not complaining about the Sheriff’s Office’ involvement with the Dawn Center. Of course, this would all be speculation until we contacted the Sheriff’s Office to check the status of their investigation.
On October 23rd I contacted Denise Moloney and asked for an update on the Dawn Center investigation. Turns out, there was no active investigation and it appears they have no intention of conducting one at all. Moloney says, “The contact with Ms. Wieder provided no information not already investigated in the 2015 investigation.” But the 2015 “Investigation” was not an investigation – It was a neighborhood canvass conducted by a patrol deputy, where he talked to several local residents. There were no interviews conducted with occupants or former occupants and the Deputy made no attempt to inspect the facility.
When Wieder found out that she was “Lied to” by Det, Galarza, she decided to speak to the BOCC again yesterday. Joined by at least two other former occupants, Wieder asked why “no one is taking these claims seriously?” Wieder goes on to say they “I don’t get what it is they (Hernando County Sheriff’s Office) are trying to cover-up – besides the fraud and other criminal activity.”
Former occupant Melanie Ladd also spoke and says, “Don’t you think an outside agency should conduct an investigation, being that the Sheriff (Al Nienhuis) of the entire county is the actual one that’s on the board?” Ladd goes on to claim, like so many other women who stayed at the Dawn Center, that “My name was put on things that I never received. And we’re talking about over a million dollars a year in tax money.” Ladd is referring to millions of federal and state tax dollars that the Dawn Center receives each year, and that women are signing for goods and services that they do not receive.
Ladd then turned her focus on Commissioner John Allocco, who during the previous meeting appeared to be smiling during Wieder’s testimony. Commissioner Allocco denies smiling or laughing at Wieder and says, “We (he and his wife Randi Allocco who sits on the Board of Directors for the Dawn Center) are trying to be part of the solution but instead we are being attacked for it. Allocco goes on to explain that the BOCC has no legal authority to order an investigation.
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Steve Champion condemned the Sheriff’s Office and Det. Gala rza for mentioning his name. Champion says, “…Just because I said we should investigate something doesn’t mean that I’m part of it.” Champion goes on to say, “I resent the fact that some Detective put my name – asking about if I have some involvement.” CLICK HERE TO WATCH FULL VIDEO
We contacted Chief Deputy, Col. Mike Maurer this morning and asked the following questions:
Did you personally direct Det. Galarza to interview Ashley Wieder on or about October 11th, with the intention of opening an investigation into the serious criminal allegations against the Dawn Center and Sheriff Al Nienhuis?
I was listening to the BOCC in the background while at work at my desk. I heard the young lady speaking and heard her mention that she was aware of criminal activity at the Dawn Center. At my direction I told Det. Galarza to watch the video and attempt to confirm the ID of the young lady and interview her, regarding her statements of criminal activity.
When listening to the audio recording of their interview, it is apparent that Det. Galarza’s focus was on why Ashley spoke to the BOCC and who prompted her to do so. Was this your directive or that of another commanding officer within the Sheriff’s Office?
It was at my direction since she was making criminal allegations at the BOCC Meeting.
Did Sheriff Nienhuis Direct you to handle the Dawn Center issues because of the potential lawsuit that exists regarding a defamation case that I am involved in? (The Dawn Center has a poster of RNRF [Tom Lemons], stating “Do not contact this reporter.”)
I am not aware of any such lawsuit. I took the action on my own, I am the Chief Deputy and I give instruction as necessary.
The 2015 investigation that Det. Galarza states was “Thorough” was not thorough at all. It was a patrol deputy’s canvass of the neighborhood and interview with 10 neighbors.
I received conflicting information from Denise Moloney regarding the “investigation.” Ashley Wieder was told that a “serious investigation would take place” and I was advised of the same on October 16th. On the 23rd I was advised that an investigation was never opened and none was conducted – which makes since because Ashley tells me that she never even received a case number. And as you know, with every investigation there is a case number.
In your position of authority, will you now order an investigation into the alleged criminal activity and unhealthy living conditions inside the Dawn Center? If not, why?
Detective Galarza’s instructions were to interview the young lady and see what first-hand knowledge she has that we could use to evaluate whether or not we need to open a criminal investigation. It is my understanding that none was developed.
There is growing speculation that because Sheriff Nienhuis is on the Board of Directors that a conflict of interest exists and that it may be the reason he refuses to ever investigate the allegations. Is that the case? That is not the case.
I have worked with Sheriff Nienhuis for several years now. We have had to make difficult decisions to expose and prosecute our own employees. To date, no first-hand knowledge of criminal activity has been presented to HCSO to pursue.
Is the Sheriff’s Office covering up criminal activity in the Dawn Center?
No, we have repeatedly asked for anyone with first-hand knowledge of criminal activity to report it. To date, we have not received any.
Because of the direct connection between Sheriff Nienhuis and the Dawn Center, will you now request that an outside agency to investigate the issues. Would it be in the best interest of all to do so?
I would not recommend such action unless we get definitive first-hand information, if that transpires, I have confidence that our detectives can investigate without bias. (ie; Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department Case)
RNRF has provided the Sheriff’s Office with information from occupants and former employees of the Dawn Center for several years, so it raises the question as to what evidence it takes to open an actual investigation. On several occasions the Sheriff’s Office has requested that I provide information on potential criminal cases, so it’s not unusual to use information provided in my reports.
Melanie Ladd says she’s contacted every media outlet in the Tampa Bay area and all of them have ignored her except for RNRF. Ladd says ABC Action news told her “We are the Domestic Violence Network and we would not be interested in a story because we have dealings with the dawn center.”
The only news agency to investigate a local domestic violence shelter is the Tampa Bay Times. Their investigations revealed similar issues with the Spring of Tampa.Tampa Bay Times reports: Inspections and Violence
It should be noted that the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Dawn Center Board of Directors, The Hernando County School Board (who partners with the Dawn Center) and anyone associated with the facility, has refused to answer questions or comment on the issues.
So the question still remains, will there ever be an investigation into the Dawn Center or are they protected by the power brokers of Hernando County?
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