Flagler Sheriff’s Employee Arrested Over Leak to Her Son, Who Was Being Investigated
FlaglerLive | January 25, 2013
Elizabeth Cretella, a civilian employee at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office since 2006, is under arrest on a Flagler warrant, and being held at the Volusia County jail, on a third-degree felony charge of misuse of public office. The charge stems from an allegation that in late 2012 she leaked information of an active investigation of sex crime allegations to her son, before her 35-year-old son-Robert Allen-was to be interviewed by a detective in connection with the allegations.
The arrest is the latest in a series of aggressive moves by Jim Manfre, the new sheriff, signaling a major shift in culture at the sheriff’s office, in line with a Manfre promise to adhere to strict standards of integrity-a promise some of his opponents have interpreted as a veil for political retribution: Cretella, 64, had publicly supported Don Fleming, the former sheriff, and included among her Facebook friends Steve Clair, the former major Manfre fired the moment he took office. Clair was also a Fleming ally.
The disposition of Cretella’s case was swift.
Last Sept. 15, according to Cretella’s arrest report, “the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office received a sworn complaint alleging [lewd and lascivious molestation] on a 7-years-old child. The suspect of this investigation was Robert Allen. At the time of the disclosure of the information described, this was an active criminal investigation. Disclosure of the described information impeded and obstructed this investigation by limiting our ability to conduct special investigative techniques.”
The internal investigation took place earlier this week when Lt. Chris Sepe asked Cpl. Michael Lagana to conduct a criminal investigation involving Cretella and Wendy Bentzley, who worked in the department’s professional standards office. Bentzley, according to the report, told the investigator that she had printed a report of the investigation that involved Allen and handed it to Cretella, but that that had been the extent of her involvement.
Cretella told the investigator that after Bentzley had read the report, she’d asked Cretella if she knew her son was involved in the case. Cretella said no. Bentzley, according to Cretella, began to read the report to her, only to be stopped when Cretella told her she couldn’t easily follow, and that she’d rather the report be printed for her.
The same day, Robert Allen and his wife Kelly were summoned to the sheriff’s Investigative Services Division and interviewed. Robert, according to the report, conceded that his mother had contacted him. “She just called and said it was an open investigation,” he said. “You need to watch out,” she had told him.
Kelly Allen told investigators, according to the arrest report, that her husband had “recently received a phone call from his mother and he was told there is an active investigation going on in reference to how the report information was leaked out, and if asked he was to say that Wendy pulled the report.”
The sheriff’s office charges that the alleged leak took place on Sept. 20. Previous reports dating from September, around the time of the investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse, make clear that the sheriff’s office investigators knew then that the report of the investigation had been leaked to Allen.
“I advised Lt. Sepe of the above information,” a sheriff’s office investigator wrote in his report on Sept. 25, referring in detail to the succession of events concerning the leak, “and also told him I would be concerned if information was given to the suspect as it would seriously undermine the integrity of my investigation in this matter. I advised Lt. Sepe that the reported crime would be a capital offense if the allegations could be confirmed.”
The same report, however, with an entry dated Sept. 26-a day after the entry about the leak-goes on to detail the accounts of an interview with the alleged victim in the presence of officials from the Child Protective Team and the Department of Children and Families. The redacted report outlines various allegations of disturbing sexual improprieties that the child described as having allegedly been inflicted on her. But the report also makes clear that the investigator and the two other officials agreed that the alleged victim’s disclosures “were inconsistent with the initial report,” with information provided that could not have logically been recalled. The report goes on to state that the “disclosures were not credible enough to sustain any criminal charges.”
Other investigators involved in the case reported inconsistencies in the allegations as well, leading each separate investigator to conclude that criminal charges could not be filed. The sheriff’s office’s case was closed on Oct. 19.
It does not appear from the reports that the leak materially affected the outcome of the investigation in September and October. But that’s irrelevant, as far as the law is concerned, regarding the “misuse of public office” charge, if information of an ongoing investigation is released as the sheriff’s office alleges Cretella released it. It’s not clear, however, why the matter was not addressed before this week, after the investigator made Sepe aware of the alleged leak, though it is one of Manfre’s contentions that Fleming’s administration was more lax and leaderless in matters of internal discipline.
“Sheriff’s office employees are entrusted to maintain confidentiality and to not release confidential information that could impede a criminal investigation,” Undersheriff Rick Staly said in a news release announcing the arrest late this afternoon. “Sheriff Manfre was elected on a commitment to return integrity to the sheriff’s office and violations of the law and our policies will not be tolerated.”
Cretella worked in the accreditation unit and was responsible for ensuring compliance with agency policies. She was arrested on a Flagler County warrant at her home in Edgewater, by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, and booked into the Volusia County Jail on $2,000 bond. The investigation was conducted by the Sheriff’s Investigative Services Division, and is continuing. Cretella has been suspended, without pay.