Port Richey’s Police Chief Is Gone. Was It Retirement Or Revenge?

PORT RICHEY, FL — The chief never thought it would end this way.

Gerard DeCanio spent half a century in policing and firefighting. In late 2016, he became chief of the Port Richey Police Department, one last stop before retirement.

That is where his career ended — but not on his terms.

The police chief says he was forced to retire by City Manager Vince Lupo in an effort to protect the mayor. There are allegations that Lupo abused his power and silenced police whistleblowers. There are also accusations of misbehavior by Mayor Scott Tremblay, including an incident where city police officers said they saw him driving a golf cart while intoxicated.

It is the latest chapter of political strife and dysfunction in a city well known for it. Last year’s chapter was the most dramatic yet, with two mayors jailed amid accusations of attempted murder and conspiracy. Then Tremblay came on board and vowed to rehabilitate the city’s image. Months later, against the backdrop of the pandemic, city hall is back at it.

The central characters in this latest conflict played supporting roles in last year’s scandals. Lupo was tight with former mayor Dale Massad, who awaits trial on charges of attempted murder, accused of firing at the SWAT team that stormed his house in 2019.

DeCanio’s agency helped investigate Massad for the unlicensed practice of medicine, which led to the SWAT raid. Then Massad’s successor as mayor was arrested after both were caught on a jail phone call plotting to intimidate a Port Richey officer involved in the investigation.

Now DeCanio wonders if he was removed as payback for the Massad investigation — or to protect Tremblay.

“What,” the chief said, “do they think I’m the mayor-shredder?”

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If there’s a single event that started this latest contretemps, it may be when the mayor was riding his golf cart around the city’s waterfront on Nov. 24. What happened that night, and in the months that followed, were detailed in an interview with DeCanio and two memos. One was written by the chief and the other by former Port Richey police Sgt. Patrick Alu.

That evening, according to Alu’s memo, three officers on his squad reported seeing Tremblay repeatedly driving his golf cart between a local bar and a Hooters.

Riding with Tremblay was a Port Richey detective named Kenny Howard — the officer who went undercover in the Massad investigation and who was the subject of the ex-mayor’s threats.

Alu wasn’t there that night. But he said his officers told him that, while they were struggling to arrest someone, the golf cart stopped nearby.

The mayor and detective, they said, were “extremely intoxicated.”

The officers said they told them not to drink and drive. “We see you,” said someone in the golf cart, though the memo didn’t say who. Then it drove off.

Alu said he reported this to the chief, who said he’d talk to the city manager. Soon, Alu wrote, the city manager started harassing him.

He said Lupo called him into his office multiple times, used foul language, berated the sergeant’s appearance, ridiculed his charity work and accused Alu of angling to become the next chief.

Lupo told Alu that he constantly watched him, the memo said, and threatened to fire him. After 21 years on the force — not long enough under state law to qualify for his full pension — Alu took early retirement in March. He wrote that he did so “due to fears of being terminated because of retaliation against me.”

In February, according to the chief’s memo, an officer saw Tremblay and Howard driving around in the mayor’s off-road vehicle. The officer said he had previously warned the mayor that the vehicle wasn’t street legal.

Then on April 4, DeCanio wrote, as officers were gathered at the Sand Pebble Pointe Condominiums to respond to a call there, the mayor drove by in the same vehicle and waved. Tremblay owns a home nearby.

Days later, the chief wrote, the city manager confronted him about why the officers were gathered there. Lupo, the chief said, told him the mayor, city attorney and several residents had all called him about it and said that DeCanio’s job was on the line.

When the chief asked why, he said Lupo referred to a “sting” against the mayor.

“What sting?” DeCanio said he told Lupo. “There is no sting.”

“I think that the mayor may have thought that yes, they were there to get him,” the chief said of the April incident.

On April 13, the chief said, Lupo met with him and told him he was to retire on May 1. DeCanio said he offered to stay on for three months longer. The pandemic was still a problem, and he said he had taken on some debt to help his late sister-in-law’s cancer treatments.

He said Lupo didn’t give him a choice.

From The Tampa Bay Times

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