A lawsuit accusing almost four dozen current and former members of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and its sheriff of tyrannizing other employees now lists Citrus County sheriff candidate Mel Eakley as a defendant.
John F. McGuire, of the McGuire Law Offices in Clearwater, filed the amended complaint Thursday in the U.S. Court’s Middle District of Florida on behalf of 20 former employees of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO).
Compared to the original class-action racketeering (RICO) suit filed April 16 by three plaintiffs against PCSO Sheriff Christopher Nocco and 14 other agency employees, the amended, 228-page complaint names 20 plaintiffs and 45 defendants, including Eakley, court records show.
Eakley — who retired October 2016 as a colonel with PCSO after almost 23 years of service, and plans to challenge Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast in 2020 — said Friday he was notified Thursday about the lawsuit but has not been served, nor has he read it.
He would not comment further under the advisement of his legal team.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page, PCSO denounced the lawsuit, claiming some of the accusations had already been either successfully defended by the sheriff's office or dropped in court.
"We owe it to those individuals within our agency who have been wrongfully sued to answer these allegations and we look forward to doing that in the proper forum...and we look forward to vigorously defending against these frivolous allegations in court," the statement says.
Eakley was unnamed in the April complaint, which accuses his former boss and colleagues of subjugating other employees to “a pattern” of “unethical means” to maintain their positions, stemming back to when Nocco was first elected sheriff in 2012.
Some of those defendants in the initial and current lawsuits have donated to Eakley’s campaign.
Eakley told the Chronicle in May that Citrus County voters shouldn’t worry about the April complaint because it didn’t pertain to him.
“I had an impeccable career, and that’s all I can say,” Eakley said then. “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.”
McGuire said Friday that isn’t the case.
“All these allegations happened while he was there,” the attorney said.
Since that filing in April, McGuire said more PCSO employees came forward to document similar accusations.
“They just keep coming through ... people are afraid for their lives and some have fled the state,” McGuire said Friday. “The Pasco County sheriff is an absolute criminal, and the taxpayers deserve an answer.”
According to Thursday’s complaint, the sole allegation against Eakley occurred in January 2016, when Nocco was running for reelection.
It’s alleged Nocco and Eakley conspired to contact other members of the sheriff’s command staff and force them — under threat of termination — to donate $2,000 ($1,000 from them and $1,000 from their spouse) toward’s Nocco’s campaign.
Eakley, a major at the time, is alleged to have called one of the plaintiffs on Jan. 18 to donate $2,000 or be fired the next day.
At the time, the complaint alleges, Nocco wasn’t being opposed by another candidate, and informed his commanders — those with the rank of captain or above — he’d donate their unspent contributions to a charity of his choice, rather than return them.
McGuire attached Nocco’s 2016 campaign finance records to his latest lawsuit, claiming the timing and consistent amounts given to Nocco by PCSO officers collaborate the allegations.
McGuire added he has, and will obtain phone records between Eakley, Nocco and other involved parties to further prove accusations.
“He was the bagman for the sheriff,” McGuire said of Eakley.
Eakley is currently running against fellow Republicans Patrick Crippen, Michael Klyap Jr. and Prendergast.