The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office secret investigation into leaks making the administration of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw look inept kicked off last summer, when Bradshaw and his inner circle decided they had enough of deputies airing the agency’s dirty laundry on websites like Gossip Extra and the watchdog pbsotalk.com.
The probe kicked into high gear in the latter part of January — when news of an embarrassing incident involving the then-head of the elite SWAT team appeared exclusively on Gossip Extra.
And last week, Internal Affairs Lt. Dean Johnson was arrested and charged by Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe with four felony counts in connection with those leaks.
The joint operation by the sheriff and his political ally McAuliffe, however, has been one for the ages — one in which the brass even offered a disgraced captain a sweetheart retirement deal in exchange for her betrayal of Johnson, who was her friend and former subordinate!
While the investigation is continuing and now targets former deputy Mark Dougan – the owner and operator of pbsotalk.com and the man behind the anti-Bradshaw banners flown above the area – what has happened so far may be unprecedented in local law enforcement.
It all started when Lt. Dan Burrows, SWAT commander and local rep at the Police Benevolent Association, was mysteriously bounced from his job and sent to rehab for a nasty addiction to oxycodone pain killers — the same drugs peddled in pill mills, illegal clinics that Bradshaw and McAuliffe vowed to shut down.
The agency’s worst kept secret, meanwhile, was that Burrows, 46, had gone as far as stealing the stash of a pills from a dying former deputy, Mike Collister, while visiting his bedsite in December. Burrows also convinced the cancer-stricken Collister to open his safe and give Burrows a prized rifle.
At the same time, an obviously well-informed anonymous writer was posting unique insights about Burrows’ case on pbsotalk.com.
Burrows was arrested a week later.
By then, two separate sources inside PBSO tell me, Bradshaw and his trusted aide-de-camp, Chief Deputy Mike Gauger, were livid that word of Burrow’s professional suicide was out. Only a select members of the agency knew about the allegations, and Bradshaw didn’t want the negative press on the start of his second reelection campaign.
So they set out to plug the leak.
Within days, Gauger tracked down several PBSO members who were in trouble with the administration and dangled incentives before them in exchange for their cooperation.
The choice eventually fell on Sgt. Ann Burke, a longtime veteran who had one of the agency’s highest-ranking women but was double-demoted from captain in the wake of a 2007 scandal at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
Bradshaw accused her of causing irreparable damages to PBSO’s reputation when she allegedly tried to bring a gun to her academy dorm room, and she ended up with low-level patrol and jail assignments. She even sued PBSO, but recently lost the case.
Burke, however, had something Gauger wanted: She was the Internal Affairs commander until the mid-2000s, and she knew the squad.
She also knew Johnson well enough to get him to meet her at diverse area restaurants for chats about Internal Affairs business without raising his suspicion. So, Gauger offered her a deal: If she helped catch the deep throat, Gauger would consider promoting her back to captain and let her retire gracefully!
It has yet to be determined if Burke took the deal. But by early February, Burke was meeting with Johnson at Applebee’s on Military Trail, according to Johnson’s arrest affidavit.
On those lunch dates, she wore a wire — and other deputies at a distance for her safety.
On tape, Johnson allegedly told Burke there was an open investigation into a John Doe and his website. Translation: Dougan and pbsotalk.com. By late February, Burke and Johnson were discussing Johnson’s destruction of phone and computer records proving he was involved in leaks..
Burke, according to Johnson’s affidavit that lists her as CI #286, also surrendered emails between her and Johnson dating as far back as 2009.
According to the PC, Johnson was the author of a letter that ended up on my desk, then at The Palm Beach Post. The letter exposed an alleged attempt by Bradshaw’s administration to cover up sexual shenanigans by the then-Lt. Paula Kronsperger, who was accused of having sex with subordinates and conduct unbecoming.
The letter spelled out Kronsperger’s relationships with higher ups that were never investigated by Internal Affairs. In time, Kronsperger was forced to resign and moved to Wyoming.
Burke’s identity as the confidential informant was first revealed by Dougan on his website when he matched the coded narrative in Johnson’s affidavit with his own phone records. I independently confirmed she wore the wire with two PBSO sources who asked to remain anonymous.
As of Friday morning, warnings about Burke spread throughout the agency and she was at home because of the flu. Burke’s cell phone is disconnected and she didn’t reply to emails for comment.