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Nine caught in theft sting being represented for free

Posted on Friday, May 9, 2014 at 1:48 pm

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
A Kissimmee attorney is fighting to clear nine people of felony theft charges after they were arrested in an Osceola County Sheriff’s Office sting operation last month.
Don Waggoner, a former county public defender and current independent attorney, said court paperwork has been filed in most of the cases against the defendants who Sheriff’s Office officials say, on April 1, stole $350 planted in a purse hanging from a bicycle at a bus stop along West U.S. Highway 192. That portion of the tourist strip features small hotels populated in many cases by a cross-section of
homeless people.
Ten people, including a teenaged minor, were arrested, but Waggoner said charges were dropped against one, an elderly man who was just along with the person who took the money.
He said one of the defendants came to him following the arrests for representation, which started the ball rolling into him representing the entire group for free.
“None of them have the money to afford an attorney,” he said. “I had already read the reports and had gotten pretty upset about it, but this is an opportunity to back up my belief that this was done improperly. The people arrested might not normally go through the process of fighting this and just take a plea deal.”
Waggoner said one defendant has yet to raise bail and remains in the Osceola County Jail. Three others had an Orlando bail bonds company post for them. A few have court dates set for June
and July.
Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Twis Lizasuain said money was placed in a wallet along with an identification card in the purse on the bike. An electronic device also was in the purse. In each case, the person took only the money, which being more than $300 made the crime a felony count of grand theft.
“One of them told detectives she would return it to the rightful owner, but she didn’t have the wallet or the ID card,” she said. “The operation was done as a result of about 220 larceny or theft reports our office has received since October in that area.”
Lizasuain said the operation was reviewed afterward, but she did not have the specifics of the detectives’ review.
The attorney said that as none of the defendants took the bike, the electronic tablet or the whole purse, the sting operation amounted to
a trap.
“I just don’t see the logic.  If you convince these nine people to never steal again, have you committed any real change in the crime rate
out there?”
Lizasuain replied that seven of the nine arrested had previous criminal histories prior to the operation.