A U.S. District Court judge dismissed a racketeering lawsuit against Citrus County sheriff candidate Mel Eakley and four dozen of his former Pasco County Sheriff colleagues, but gave plaintiffs time to refile updated accusations.
Judge Charlene Honeywell on Thursday granted a motion to dismiss the class-action RICO suit accusing Eakley, Pasco County Sheriff Christopher Nocco and 43 other current and former PCSO personnel of tyrannizing agency employees, court filings show.
Honeywell also allowed the 20 listed plaintiffs, represented by the McGuire Law Offices in Clearwater, to draft a third amended complaint by March 30, according to court records.
Eakley said Thursday he knows a limited amount about the status of the case but is happy it’s gone for now, allowing him to devote more to his campaign challenging Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast.
“I feel good it’s been dismissed and I’m putting it behind me,” Eakley said. “I’m moving forward and I’m focusing on making Citrus County better.”
Attorney John F. McGuire said he agreed to have his second RICO complaint dismissed if the judge allowed him to refile it, which he said he’ll do, listing the same defendants, including Eakley.
“She wants me to fine-tune some things and shorten it up,” McGuire said about Honeywell’s ruling on his 228-page complaint, filed in June with the U.S. Court’s Middle District of Florida.
David J. Stefany, who’s representing Eakley and other named defendants, could not be reached for comment Thursday through his law firm of Allen Norton & Blue, P.A. in Tampa.
McGuire’s original RICO complaint in this case was filed in April by three plaintiffs, against Nocco and 14 other Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) employees, prior Chronicle reports show.
It alleged Nocco and his officers subjugated other employees to “a pattern” of “unethical means” to maintain their positions, stemming back to when Nocco was first elected sheriff in 2012.
Eakley, who retried October 2016 as a colonel with PCSO after almost 23 years of service, was not named in the first complaint.
McGuire, joined by 17 more plaintiffs, expanded their accusations to include Eakley and dozens more in their latest and now voided complaint from June.
Its sole allegation against Eakley was that he conspired with Nocco in January 2016, when Nocco was running for re-election, to contact sheriff’s command staff and force them — under threat of termination — to donate $2,000 toward Nocco’s campaign, reports show. Eakley was a PCSO major at the time.
Some of those defendants in the initial and latest lawsuits have donated to Eakley’s sheriff campaign.
“I had an impeccable career, and that’s all I can say,” Eakley said when the first complaint was filed in April. “I worked with some fine men and women in law enforcement. ... They have a lot of integrity ... and that spans across all the job descriptions there.”
Eakley said Thursday the lawsuits were nothing more than an attempt to disrupt his campaign and distract voters.
“I haven’t let it be destructive for my campaign,” he said. “I knew it was frivolous from the beginning.”
McGuire said these lawsuits are happening for another reason.
“I don’t care if he’s elected sheriff or anywhere else,” he said. “These criminal acts — the police officers should be held accountable for what they did.”