Two respected Tampa Police officers — Eric and La Joyce Houston were recently fired amid allegations that they took part in tax and welfare-fraud schemes carried out by an informant and known scammer, Rita Girven.
Federal authorities are looking into whether Eric Houston, a former homicide detective and 24-year veteran, used personal information found in police databases to carry out the scheme involving thousands of fake tax returns.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed in federal court, 21 of the individuals whose names were filed were victims, witnesses and defendants of homicides and aggravated batteries Houston and the Tampa Police Department investigated.
It all paints a very grim picture for the Tampa Police Department, especially when you consider the relationships the Houstons had with Girven, who made a career out of gaming the system, even if she did help police.
According to records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, Girven has been arrested 34 times in the past 20 years and has been convicted of everything from grand theft to attempted burglary and credit card fraud.
Yet the Houstons had built a relationship with Girven, one that steadily grew over the years.
The Houstons obtained custody of Girven’s youngest child. Girven was recorded in a phone call telling Houston where to find her food stamp card, which Houston used to buy $365 worth of food at a Wal-Mart in Gibsonton, according to TBO.com.
Girven received up to $150 when requested. Her friends and family members were able to get out of speeding tickets. There was also a jump on a car dead battery and care packages in jail.
Girven received these perks, despite her criminal record, because she got witnesses to talk and helped put big-time criminals behind bars.
She did not sleep for four days during the hunt for Dontae Morris, who shot and killed two police officers, David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, in 2010. Eric Houston was part of that investigation, which involved Morris’ girlfriend, Cortnee Brantley, who received a year in federal prison despite leaving both officers to die.
Houston was also part of the investigation of Julie Schenecker, who was sentenced to life in prison last month for killing her two teenage children. Police have since begun the process of reviewing every case Houston was responsible for.
But when it comes to responsibility, how much is the TPD at fault for this too? Aren’t there ethical guidelines for keeping the relationships between officers and informants professional?
The department fired and arrested La Joyce Houston back in October of 2013. Police had begun to investigate her in August, which is when the phone call was recorded. In other words, they did their job and followed through by immediately stripping her of her badge, but how long had this misconduct gone on and how many other officers are breaking the law today?
Before Houston’s firing, an officer was terminated for stealing money from an evidence area. Sgt. Ray Fernandez was fired after police said he lied about his involvement in a drunk driving arrest of a Tampa attorney, which prosecutors say was a set up.
How many more crooked cops are out there whose wrongdoings are a complete slap in the face to officers like Curtis and Kocab, officers who gave their lives trying to protect the community?
You are the company you keep, and in the case of the Tampa Police Department, keeping Girven around and in such close proximity completely compromised the integrity of an organization responsible for protecting the community from crooks and criminals, including those she converted and/or corroborated with.