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Flagler Sheriff’s Employee Arrested Over Leak to Her Son, Who Was Being Investigated

| January 25, 2013

Even before he took office, Sheriff Jim Manfre, seen here at his inauguration, signaled a major shift in culture at the sheriff’s office, in line with a promise to adhere to strict standards of integrity. (© FlaglerLive)

Even before he took office, Sheriff Jim Manfre, seen here at his inauguration, signaled a major shift in culture at the sheriff’s office, in line with a promise to adhere to strict standards of integrity. (© FlaglerLive)

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.

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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.

Elizabeth Cretella

Elizabeth Cretella

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.

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25 Responses for “Flagler Sheriff’s Employee Arrested Over Leak to Her Son, Who Was Being Investigated”

  1. Edman says:

    What???? Integrity equals political retribution???? We need more agencies in this state that have integrity and do what is best not merely business as usual. Kudos to the sheriff !

    • flaglerdave says:

      What Major Steve Clair was fired for was clearly wrong. Being fired for being loyal to Fleming does not merit dismissal only demotion. Major Clair has served long enough to remember the FCSO when Manfre ran before and the circus it was then …. and sure will be again.
      A person should be judge for the works they do ,,, like Major Clair’s record.
      Sheriff Manfre sure seems to like to self promote himself,,,,,give a man enough rope, he will swing.

      • jim atkins says:

        I agree flagler Dave. To be employed for over twenty years at the same agency, and work under three different sheriffs speaks volumes about the qualifications of Steve Clair. To just fire anyone with that much experience and knowledge makes no sense. I also understand that the sheriff himself could not even show any professionalism towards Clair (even for P.R. purposes) to actually dismiss him personally. And what about all the sheriff employees that were demoted?

  2. All about publicity says:

    Sounds weak and as consequences for supporting Manfres opposing candidate. Smells political to me. What was revealed didn’t jeopardize the investigation, so why the arrest?

    • deana carmen says:

      I would think that telling someone he is a suspect in a case is anything but weak! It’s not like they didn’t already know that, the articles say they work in an office that oversees department policies. I don’t think it has anything to do with politics. They are just paying the consequences for breaking the law.

  3. Magnolia says:

    She told her son, “you need to watch out?” That’s all she had to say to him?

    You have a son who is being investigated for sexual molestation and this is what you have to say to him?

    What a great mom… Who else was she tipping off?

    Thank God we have a new sheriff.

  4. Geezer says:

    Here’s a woman protecting her flesh and blood–her son, by giving him a heads-up on an investigation
    of whom he’s the focus, thereby jeopardizing her career.

    Sonny-boy throws mom under the bus!

    Elizabeth Cretella was wrong, but I understand her impossible situation in this matter.
    A mother, no matter the age, instinctively protects her children, (a good mother, anyway)
    come what may, whatever the consequences…….

    Look at what a creep for son! Holy crap! I really feel bad for Elizabeth Cretella.
    She has been served up a royal sh** sandwich, courtesy of Robert Allen (sonny-boy).

    A man of that calibre, certainly makes me think he’s guilty of the charges leveled upon him.
    A man who doesn’t love his mother, loves no one. Creep.

  5. glad fly says:

    i have never seen so much drama in a small rural county in my life. red light cameras in palm coast,arrogant palm coast city commission,flagler beach city hall and fire department a house of horrors,ad nauseum. this is the stuff movies are made of.

    • Magnolia says:

      Don’t get too excited, glad fly. We have the lowest unemployment in the nation. Not even movie companies want to come here.

    • Anonymous says:

      The red light cameras are just the beginning. Wait until phase two of the automatic ticket plan starts and you get a $350 ticket in the mail for going 38 mph in a 35mzone thanks to an automated speed trap.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      The red light cameras are just the beginning. Wait until phase two of the automatic ticket plan starts and you get a $350 speeding ticket in the mail for going 38 mph in a 35mzone thanks to a roving automated speed trap.

  6. PJ says:

    Sheriff Manfre doing a good job here.

    Yes it was her son and as aa Mother she was trying to protect him.

    As for the tip off, you can’t be fair without taking out most anyone and everyone involved for not following the letter of the law especially if they work for the Sheriffs office.

    If the Mom knew something she would have been better off going to her supervisor to help her son with his issues….PJ

  7. Nancy N. says:

    Wait a minute…Wendy Bentzly, who works in the **professional standards office*** according to the article, read the report to Ms Cretella knowing it was about her son and then provided her A COPY of information that should never have been shared in any form with the family member of the target of an investigation…but Ms Cretella is the one under arrest for simply warning her son he was being targeted once the information was handed to her?

    • Samuel Smith says:

      I 100% approve of the arrest, and here’s why. I think we can all probably agree that the following situations would and should warrant criminal charges:

      A sheriff letting a friend know he was being targeted in an investigation involving child molestation

      An officer letting his friend know that his house was going to get searched later for some specific item needed in an investigation

      This is no different. Sure there’s the whole “A MOM DOES ANYTHING FOR HER SON” crowd, but if your 35 year old son is being investigated for molesting a 7 year old, which I think we can all agree is one of the most egregious crimes and not defensible ethically you really do deserve to be tossed in jail with him if you think that giving him a chance to rabbit or hide evidence is even remotely a good thing.

      • Nancy N. says:

        Oh believe me…I don’t think that Ms Cretella should have been given a pass on this. What she did was clearly wrong if the allegations are true. I’m just saying that Ms Cretella’s infraction seems relatively minor compared to Ms Bentzly’s alleged actions, and yet SHE seems to have been given a pass for her actions, and I’m wondering why.

      • Geezer says:

        A good mother, having always been a “good mother,” won’t believe that her son could do such a thing (molesting children). And therein forms the torturous inner conflict. I believe that this mom was sure that her son was incapable of such sins.

        In retrospect, her son didn’t deserve that “heads-up,” but I understand her actions and motivation-be they right or wrong. Hindsight is always 20:20. Foresight is often myopic.

        Would you assume that your son was guilty and NOT bring up the investigation to him?
        What would that suggest about you? Ponder that awhile.

  8. What you don't know says:

    There is always more to a story than we are ever told. It is so sad the days on honesty, integrity and a hard days work seek like a thing of the past.

  9. RNYPD says:

    Somethingis really is starting to smell like revenge over there. Arrest seems very extreme in that situation but then again so does firing and demoting people.

  10. Maryjoe says:

    My question is the same as Nancy’s… It’s not like Cretella told the son (from what was reported here) what was in the report or anything, just that there was an investigation. But Bentzly, she is the one that told the mother to begin with and then printed out a report for her. Why is she not being reprimanded, demoted, fired? What the heck?

  11. bullgator2410 says:

    HIPAA prevents healthcare workers of any kind from release of personal health information… far as I know there is not a statute that prevents non certified LEO’s from telling her son to simply watchout. She didn’t interfere with the investigation…..Manfre could have easily terminated her but firing her was just another retaliation.

  12. Dennis says:

    I have to agree with RNYPD on this one. No doubt Cretella was wrong, wether she was between a rock and a hard place or not. From the article it doesn’t appear the leak had any effect on the outcome as no charges were filed against the suspect. Termination of Cretella seems reasonable. Arrest smells like retaliation. Particulalrly after it was revealed 2 high ranking officers of the sheriff’s office were dismissed for what clearly looks like political reasons. One would think that a new sheriff would want to keep the experienced high ranking officers around and put politics aside.

    I wonder what the discipline for Bentzly was. Who did she support in the last election?

  13. Magicone says:

    This is the way Flagler Sheriffs office works. This leak from mother to son was detected 120 days before the arrest was made. Supercop Supercop !!!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Not surprised……..if this investigation was so important then why was acess. Given

  15. Tom says:

    So I wonder who filed the charges in the first place were they false accusations? Maybe an ex wife with a vendetta this could just be slander against this guy only the family knows. I wonder how many times someone can get away with filing the same charges falsely and get away with it?

    Does anyone know if Allen was ever even questioned in this case? I know that answer. The answer is no. What Elizabeth did had no effect on the outcome in this case. People are to quick to judge only knowing half of the the facts.

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