Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder, who for years has been blowing the whistle on courthouse shenanigans, was in danger of assassination — physical, character or both — by corrupt judges or law enforcement personnel, according to a confidential police affidavit obtained by the Weekly Planet.
"We emphasized to Judge Holder the extreme danger he was in," Tampa Police Detective James Bartoszak said in his affidavit, signed Oct. 27. "This was done for his protection and that of his family."
Also, federal agents and prosecutors apparently and inexplicably have called off an investigation into courthouse corruption — despite an abundance of evidence of wrongdoing by Hillsborough officials, Bartoszak's sworn statement recounts.
The possible shutdown of the federal probe resulted in Holder filing a complaint a year ago with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility. Both Holder and Bartoszak said the department's inspector general is investigating Holder's complaint.
U.S. Attorney Paul Perez responded to inquiries about the complaint and Bartoszak's affidavit with the authoritarian panache of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Your questions do not warrant a response or any comment whatsoever," Perez said by e-mail.
Perez also would not comment on whether his office and the FBI are doing anything to protect Holder and his family.
Holder's participation in the federal probe definitely put him in danger, according to Bartoszak, a 25-year police veteran who has long teamed with federal agents. "We had very grave concerns about his [Holder's] safety and the lengths that the targets [of the federal probe] would go to either harm Judge Holder or attempt to discredit his testimony,'' his affidavit says.
The affidavit reveals many details in the Hillsborough corruption investigation, but doesn't name names. "Specifically, we had information regarding corruption being committed by local members of law enforcement and the judiciary, including taking bribes," Bartoszak said.
"Each and every agent," Bartoszak said, felt the corrupt judges and cops "had the money, resources, and the motivation to conduct wiretaps, conduct surveillance, arrange 'suicide,' and even murder."
The affidavit says agents believed "Judge Holder's cell phone had been tapped and his phone conversations with our agents were being monitored. At that point, we asked Judge Holder to change his personal cell phone number and begin carrying one of our own FBI cell phones. It became obvious that those persons that we were investigating had knowledge of Judge Holder's participation and cooperation.''
Bartoszak said he met clandestinely with Holder along with FBI agent Kelly Thomas. "Judge Holder provided us with tremendous leads in this investigation and was always absolutely truthful."
Holder was involved, according to Bartoszak, because "we were confident he was not committing any corruption."
Holder assisted Bartoszak and federal authorities for two years, until late 2002 when, the detective said in his affidavit, "the investigation was halted and the investigation team dismantled for reasons that were not made clear. I am uncertain whether the federal investigation remains open or closed."
The affidavit has surfaced in connection with a state Judicial Qualifications Commission inquiry into allegations that Holder plagiarized parts of an Air Force research paper. Holder authored the research paper as part of the process to gain promotion to colonel in the Air Force Reserve.In July, the JQC brought charges against Holder, alleging that the judge copied 10 of 21 pages of his research paper. In early 2002, someone slipped Holder's paper and the one he allegedly plagiarized under the door of Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Del Fuoco, who kept the documents without acting for about a year before forwarding them to the Air Force.
Bartoszak's affidavit is one of four affidavits made public so far that support Holder's claim of innocence — and which also spotlight the likelihood that Tampa's sleazy courthouse denizens are trying to exact revenge on the whistle-blowing judge.
The charges of plagiarism "are payback for what I had to do with the investigation. Nothing else makes sense," Holder said in an interview.
In his affidavit, Bartoszak agreed. ""I am convinced that it is more than an 'amazing coincidence,' that the allegations against Judge Holder only surfaced after he wrote to complain about the [courthouse] investigation being stopped."
Bartoszak explained how Holder could have been framed.
"The persons we were investigating had complete access to and control of the courthouse computer system," Bartoszak said. "It would be very easy for them to forge a plagiarized version of the Air Force paper. I believe, based upon my extensive knowledge of this case and the target individuals, that is exactly what happened."
The Bartoszak affidavit was not submitted to the JQC but to the Air Force, which, after Del Fuoco forwarded the allegedly plagiarized paper, reprimanded Holder and removed him as a military judge. Holder is appealing that.
The Air Force, in turn, sent Bartoszak's affidavit to JQC lawyers, who failed to post the document on the commission's website where other papers in the case can be viewed.
Bartoszak refused to comment except to say that he was angry that the Air Force released his confidential affidavit to the JQC.
JQC Special Counsel Tom Pillans, who is in essence the prosecutor against Holder, at first denied the Planet's request for the affidavit. Then, unable to find an exemption to court rules governing public records, he produced the document last week. Pillans said he had no obligation to post the affidavit online after it came into his possession.
Pillans, a Jacksonville lawyer, reports to Thomas MacDonald, the Tampa-based JQC general counsel. MacDonald is perceived by many Tampa lawyers as using his position to pursue vendettas — as when the JQC in the late 1990s sought removal of appellate Judge Richard Frank. Frank several years earlier had caused the bank fraud prosecution of Tampa lawyer Steve Anderson, a close friend of MacDonald's. Frank and his attorneys felt MacDonald inappropriately leaked JQC material to the St. Petersburg Times.
MacDonald could not be reached for comment, but Holder sees the current episode as more of the same.
"MacDonald frequently leaks heavily spun, heavily tainted information," he said. "And now Pillans is mad because he was forced to release information that is exculpatory to me."
The complete Bartoszak affidavit can be found here. Other documents in Judge Holder's case are posted at http://www.flcourts.org/pubinfo/summaries/briefs/03/03-1171/index.html.
John F. Sugg was editor of the Weekly Planet until 2001. He now is senior editor of the Planet's sister paper in Atlanta. Sugg can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at [email protected].