WEST PALM BEACH — In what’s mushrooming into a political scandal within the administration of Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, a PBSO investigator discussing open criminal cases on a recorded phone line said he was ordered by superiors to delve into the life of former West Palm Beach Fire Rescue Capt. Rick Curtis, a man whose only crime was to complain that a judge wasn’t treating him fairly.
Curtis, who now in the private sector, criticized vehemently rookie Judge Marni Bryson for sentencing him to jail for a DUI despite the fact she dated a fire union boss who butted heads with Curtis.
And that, it seems, was enough to spark a full-fledged criminal investigation of Curtis, his work history and close family.
The admission by PBSO Detective Kenneth “Mark” Lewis that he spent two weeks digging into Curtis’ background is another element in a scandal that broke Monday, when Gossip Extra published excerpts from 10 hours of conversations between Lewis and a woman he appeared to be smitten with.
Gossip Extra‘s story, where Lewis seems to indicate there’s an organized effort within PBSO and on the taxpayers’ dime to investigate those who criticize the sheriff and other public officials, also caused WPTV-Channel 5 and The Palm Beach Post to start looking into the tapes nearly two days after us.
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Our report also forced PBSO’s Internal Affairs unit, Lewis’ own unit, to investigate whether Lewis broke PBSO policy by discussing his job with the woman.
In addition to discussing open cases, Lewis revealed some of his tactics — including the use of a hacker who’s dutifully employed as a PBSO civilian contractor to break into computers, Facebook pages and email accounts.
Lewis named three individuals marked for investigations: Jim Donahue, a former candidate for sheriff arrested during his campaign against Bradshaw in 2011 then cleared of any wrongdoing; Mark Dougan, founder of the anti-Bradshaw website pbsotalk.com, who’s been under investigation for four years but never charged; and former fire captain Curtis, whose investigation was closed after prosecutors told PBSO they wouldn’t prosecute.
Curtis tells us today he had no idea he was under investigation. By the way, Lewis calls Curtis “a nut” in his phone calls with the woman.
Officially, Lewis says on the recordings below, Curtis was being investigated because he started an Internet campaign against Bryson that included threats. But after examining unrelated civil court actions involving Curtis, Lewis ended up trying to have Curtis charged for perjury. The case died after the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office refused to prosecute.
Here is Lewis on the tape:
Later in the conversation, Lewis told his long-distance friend how he strategized to get Curtis:
“This scares me to death,” the former firefighter said. “I never threatened a judge and didn’t do an Internet campaign.
“I defended myself from unfair treatment by the judiciary and next thing I know, PBSO is trying to find ways to have me arrested.
“I never heard of a Detective Lewis, but he is obviously slandering me to another person on your tapes.
“I guess that’s why I haven’t been able to find a good job in this town despite the fact I was a fire captain with an MBA. I’m definitely going to look into this in the legal sense.”
We reached out to Bryson but she declined comment.
A source close to the judge told us she did visit with her personal lawyers, Jack Scarola and Pat Quinlan, during the Curtis situation and complained bitterly that Curtis “made her look like a whore” when she did nothing wrong.
One of the two lawyers called PBSO to have Curtis investigated criminally.
A courthouse source told Gossip Extra that Lewis visited Bryson in late 2011 but wasn’t privy to the conversation.
“Judge Bryson was very clear that she didn’t want her status as a sitting judge used to motivate anyone to do anything that wouldn’t be done for any citizen,” Scarola told us. “There was an investigation, and then the state attorney exercised his discretion not to bring a criminal case.”