Elected Gateway official engages LCSO to do her dirty work in street parking battle

Posted on January 14, 2020, 12:10 pm
16 mins

It’s a classic case of the left hand not talking to the right hand at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

At the October 3, 2019 meeting of Gateway’s Board of Supervisors the long-running feud regarding street parking in Stoneybrook was brought up by Supervisor Ed Tinkle.

Tinkle explained to the board that Sergeant Gary Levine of the LCSO told Tinkle that the Sheriff’s Office would not enforce traffic laws in the Stoneybrook community until an interlocal agreement between the Gateway District and Lee County had been entered in to.

Levine was apparently unaware that the LCSO had already been enforcing traffic laws in Stoneybrook without a proper interlocal agreement in place. There is a 2006 agreement between the Stoneybrook HOA and Lee County, but as the roadways in Stoneybrook are owned by the Gateway District and not the HOA there doesn’t seem to be much legal validity to the 14-year old agreement entered in to by the Stoneybrook board.

The Stoneybrook HOA board has the same amount of legal authority to enter in to agreements for traffic enforcement on roads owned by the Gateway District as they do to enter into a similar agreement to patrol the roads in the Daniel’s Preserve or Silverlakes communities – that is to say, no legal authority whatsoever.

Interlocal agreements between special districts and counties required for traffic enforcement are outlined in Florida Statute 316.006(3), and we can confirm the Gateway District has not entered in to such an agreement with Lee County. There is no provision in that law that would allow an HOA to enter into agreements for roads owned by other legal entities such as a special district.

So it came as a surprise on December 16, 2019 when a homeowner in Stoneybrook reported that an LCSO officer had issued Parking Citation #19P001342 (Case #19-592139/C3) to their cleaning lady who was parked outside their home at the cul de sac on Green Stone Court.

Within minutes my cell phone and Facebook Messenger app were being peppered with screen shots from the private Stoneybrook Facebook group with some of the now over 300 comments that have been written about this one parking ticket.

Before I saw a copy of the ticket – which I stress to you that I have seen and appears real – comments were being made that the officer who wrote the ticket was a Stoneybrook resident. When I saw the ticket and the name of the officer, I immediately knew who it was.

Stoneybrook residents had contacted me in the past to complain that a police officer who lives in the community was receiving preferential treatment from the HOA board. He was being allowed to park a large commercial vehicle in his driveway which is contrary to HOA rules. The officer should have received $100 per day fines up to the Florida maximum of $1,000. I saw the commercial vehicle parked in the driveway with my own eyes on at least 3 occasions. I had contacted a member of the HOA board to find out what was going on and they confirmed the board knew of the violation and that the board willfully turned a blind-eye to it for this LCSO officer.

Unfortunately that situation has regained relevance here as it is the same officer who wrote the December 16 parking ticket.

I do believe there is enough circumstantial evidence for the LCSO’s Internal Affairs division, or perhaps the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to investigate the officer’s conduct. Quite frankly it may be the only way we ever find out the truth. And if you’ve been following this saga since we started reporting on it in 2017 you know I’ve never made such a serious statement.

Here’s the basis for that opinion…

Yesterday, a public records request to the LCSO that was made on December 18, 2019 was finally fulfilled.

The document that was returned was the “Detail Request Form” for traffic enforcement in Stoneybrook on December 11 and December 16 of last year. That document proved that the special detail on December 16 was to begin at noon and end at 4:00pm.

This is a post from the homeowner within the private Stoneybrook Facebook group that was forwarded to me four weeks ago when the ticket was issued: I’m all for ticketing speeders but the officer who ticketed my cleaner yesterday said he sat there and watched her car for 20 mins.

After receiving the results of the records request, I contacted the homeowner and asked them to verify that they’d made that comment in regards to the officer and the ticket. The homeowner replied: He said (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my ability) “no, I sat here and watched her car not move for 20 minutes. She’s getting a ticket. They are paying me $45/hr to write parking tickets.”

The ticket was issued at 12:08pm.

Another piece of information we learned yesterday? The ticket does not seem to exist in the court system.

The cleaning lady reports that she has made three separate trips to the court house to pay off this ticket only to be told each time that they cannot find the ticket in the system, despite the fact it was issued nearly a month ago.

And if the traffic detail began at noon, and the ticket was issued at 12:08pm, why did the officer state he had been watching the car for 20 minutes?

The answer seems simple enough: he searched the neighborhood for a car to issue a parking ticket to, but he had to wait until his shift started at noon before he could process the ticket.

But on whose orders? Certainly not the LCSO’s. According to the detail request, the orders were:

“Traffic presence requested due to issues with speeding in community. There is a traffic agreement in place. Deputy will be made aware that community prefers ticket but all tickets & warnings will be issued at the deputy’s discretion. If parking is an issue & deputy makes contact with owner & vehicle is moved, the the condition is considered corrected & no ticket necessary. An activity report will be sent at the end of the shift with activity, personal info will be provided if tickets are issued.”

So the officer was both ordered to focus on speeding in the community and to find ways to de-escalate parking ticket situations.

He literally did the exact opposite.

This is a map of Stoneybrook showing the location of the parking ticket:

If you’ve been tasked to spend your efforts on “speeding in the community” and you happen to live in that community you know that the majority of the speeding happens on its main road, Pebblebrook Run. So why would you position yourself to look for speeders in a cul de sac at the furthest possible position in the community some 20 minutes prior to the beginning of your detail, watching a parked vehicle? To provide some context regarding the size of Stoneybrook, the graphic you see above contains approximately 9 miles of roadway.

Second, if your orders are to adhere to “corrected” situations in regards to street parking and the homeowner approaches you and says hey, hey, we can have the car moved no problem and (according to the homeowner) “begs” you for a warning – why would you ignore your orders and be hellbent on issuing the parking ticket anyway despite your specific orders to look for de-escalation opportunities?

Again? Whose orders was this officer following?

The HOA wants you to believe it wasn’t their orders because they altered their version of the detail request form after it was sent to the LCSO. Someone at the HOA wrote in that the enforcement they requested for December 11 was for “speeding, parking after 7” while on December 16 they only requested enforcement for “speeding”. These hand-written notes do not appear on the LCSO’s version of the document.

We know that the officer and the HOA board are quite familiar with each other.

We know that it was that Gateway District’s board chair Margaret Fineberg that instructed HOA staff to order the special detail. Fineberg also happens to serve on her HOA board, giving her the authority to give such an instruction to the HOA staff.

We know that Fineberg specifically directed the HOA staff to request the detail for December 16, a date which the officer obviously was available.

We know that despite the fact the detail request was made on December 10, Fineberg knew she needed to be sitting in the HOA office on December 16, which is exactly where she was when the upset homeowners called the office.

We know that the ticket complaint was posted at 12:22pm in the Stoneybrook Facebook page and had over 140 comments within 3 hours.

And again, we know the parking ticket itself cannot be located in the court’s computer system.

Since the officer and HOA board are extremely familiar with each other, and we know the HOA board has been improperly trying to ban street parking for over a decade, it is fair to wonder whether this officer agreed to write a parking ticket as a favor to the HOA. It is also fair to assume, again given the familiarity of the parties, that the officer advised Fineberg when to request a special detail so he could be the one to sign up for it.

Based on the officer’s comments it is certain that the officer (or possibly Fineberg herself) stalked the community looking for a car to write a parking ticket on. Once a car was located, the officer had to wait for 20 minutes before his shift could start, and then defied his orders to de-escalate parking situations and wrote the ticket – obviously unaware this level of attention would be the outcome.

And due to the uproar, combined with a post that same day by the Gateway Sun explaining the lack of a proper interlocal agreement, the officer most likely reconsidered processing the ticket at the end of his shift which is why it cannot be located in the court’s computer system.

Then when a homeowner requested the Detail Request Form from the HOA, someone at the HOA altered the document to make it appear as though they only wanted speeding enforcement on December 16 so they could say the officer was obviously acting on his own.

Here is a link to a 56-page, 2010 memo (yes, this all goes back that far) from the Gateway District’s lawyer to Fineberg proving that Fineberg knew the roads in Stoneybrook do not belong to the HOA, but rather they belong to the district:

https://gatewaysun.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/pires-to-fineberg-memo-stoneybrook-2010-08-04.tif (4.5MB .tif file will download. Green Stone Court conveyance detailed in Exhibit ‘A’ and Exhibit ‘C’ )

Here is a link to a Gateway District video from October 3, 2019 proving Fineberg and the rest of the Board of Supervisors know that there is no interlocal agreement in place, and that Sergeant Levine of the LCSO told Tinkle they won’t enforce traffic in Stoneybrook until there is an agreement in place with Lee County.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eNCeqs6Law (fast forward to 49 minute, 15 second mark)

Since Fineberg has been formally advised both of the road ownership situation and that no interlocal agreement exists, Fineberg knew she should not have ordered the HOA staff to request this special detail. Yet she did.

There is also strong circumstantial evidence regarding Fineberg and the officer colluding, and our best guess is that once all hell broke loose the officer likely tried to reverse course by not fully processing the ticket, and someone at the HOA tried to cover it up on their end by altering the Detail Request Form document to make it appear as though they did not request parking enforcement on December 16.

The Gateway Sun will not name the officer unless and until misconduct can be 100% proven and that standard has not been met. Fineberg is a public official and her misconduct in regards to her sought after parking ban goes back years, but in this particular case can be attributed to her knowing about the lack of an interlocal agreement and engaging the LCSO anyway.

We will be reaching out to the LCSO for comment.

Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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