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Ex-sheriff's employee jailed for drug thefts

The St. Augustine Record, staugustine.com
BYLINE: RICHARD PRIOR
Link to Article

Ex-sheriff's employee jailed for drug thefts
Posted: April 16, 2010 - 12:12am

St. Johns County, FL

A former evidence custodian at the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office who became addicted to painkillers following heart surgery was sentenced to jail and 10 years of drug offender probation Thursday for stealing narcotics from the evidence room.

Circuit Judge Wendy W. Berger sentenced Paul Matthew Robinson, 38, to 270 days in jail as part of a probationary sentence.

She also ordered him to pay $10,000 in restitution to the sheriff's office and $6,458 in restitution to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their investigations.

"I recognize you have an addiction; I know what it does to people," the judge told Robinson. "Ultimately, you made a choice. That choice was ... to steal from the sheriff's office."

Discrepancies were noticed last fall during an inspection of the property room, said Sgt. Chuck Mulligan, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

FDLE handled the criminal investigation while Internal Affairs at the sheriff's office conducted an investigation.

Officers searched Robinson's house, where missing narcotics were reportedly found.

He was fired from the job he had held since 2001 when he was arrested on Nov. 25.

Mulligan said the sheriff's office is updating its security procedures since the thefts.

Robinson, who had been employed in the Forensic/Evidence Unit since 2001, was charged with official misconduct and grand theft, both third-degree felonies, each punishable by up to five years in prison.

The narcotics Robinson took had been collected during death investigations, cases that were closed as well as active cases, Assistant State Attorney Jacqueline Roys told the judge.

"The gravity of the situation is huge," she told Berger. "Many (drug) trafficking cases had to be reduced or negotiated out because he took the drugs.

"It was an escalation issue that went on for years."

Robinson apologized to everyone involved in law enforcement and thanked Berger for taking her time to preside over his case.

He extended a special "heartfelt apology" to "the men and women of the narcotics unit."

"They're the ones who put the most heart and soul into those cases."

"We who work in law enforcement take an oath, and we should never waver from that oath," Robinson told the judge. "Unfortunately, an addiction led me to do things that, 178 days sober, I can't believe what I did.

"I have to be a man about it and admit it and go forward and accept the punishment."

Robinson's wife told Berger that she was certain her husband would never be back in court.

"I know that his apologies are sincere," she said. "I know you hear that a lot, but this is for real. He will never do this again."

She also asked the judge not to designate her husband a felon, saying that would prevent him from attending school functions that their three young children might take part in.

Robinson's attorney, Koko Head of St. Johns, made the same plea.

"Because an addiction to pain medications arose after his heart surgery, Matt made some poor decisions that ... led him to this point today," said Head.

His client had never broken any law before this episode, added Head, urging Berger to withhold an adjudication of guilt.

The designation, he said, would be like "piling on" after Robinson has paid "his debt to society."

(That restriction quite likely would only apply to felons convicted of sex offenses, said Margie Davidson, spokesperson for the St. Johns County School Board. Some felons with children in school may have to be escorted during school hours, she said. That "probably" would not be required of parents attending their children's activities after hours, she added.)

In pronouncing sentence, Berger said she initially felt Robinson should go to prison. She credited Sheriff David Shoar and State Attorney R.J. Larizza with talking her out of it.

She then adjudicated him guilty of the official misconduct charge but withheld adjudication for grand theft.

"I don't think you're a bad person at all," Berger told him. "I think you're a man who had a problem who did a bad thing. There must be a consequence.

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