WINTER HAVEN – With so many Central Florida homes falling into foreclosure, too many of the families moving out of these homes have been forced to abandon their pets, unable to bring them along to the apartment or house they’re sharing with family or friends taking them in.
It’s one of the reasons why local Animal Control offices often set up donation boxes, like the one that’s on the front counter of the Animal Control facility in Winter Haven. These “Save our Homeless pets” boxes are designed to generate funds that can provide for the care of pets that have been abandoned by the owners.
On Monday, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested one of its own, an Animal Control officer who got charged with two counts of grand theft and one count of dealing in stolen property. His crime: according to the sheriff’s office, this Animal Control officer was dipping into that “Save Our Homeless Pets” donation box, stealing money from it, and stealing other items that had been donated to the office in Winter Haven.
Benjamin Derrick, 21, of Fort Meade, had been removing cash from the donation box placed on the front counter at the Animal Control facility at 7115 De Castro Road in Winter Haven for the past six months, the arrest report noted.
“Derrick confessed to Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives to taking the money with no intention of paying it back,” noted Carrie Eleazer, public information officer for the sheriff’s office. “Derrick also confessed to taking items donated by local businesses and private citizens, including dog food, treats, toys, beds, leashes, brushes, etc., intended for use by the animals housed at Animal Control.”
According to the arrest report, Derrick told detectives he had been giving the stolen goods to friends, family members, and veterinary clinics.
It turned out to be a sizeable amount of goods, Eleazer noted. Once the sheriff’s office began investigating the money and items that had been stolen from the Animal Control facility, the trail led them back to Derrick – and his pickup truck.
“Detectives located three large garbage bags filled with the aforementioned items in the bed of Derrick’s pickup truck,” Eleazer noted. “Detectives also found within the bags items purchased by Animal Control for use at the facility, including flea medication, shampoo, flea collars, and cleaning supplies.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he was disappointed that this theft occurred by someone who worked for a department under his own law enforcement agency.
“We will not tolerate any kind of criminal activity being conducted by agency members,” Judd said. “A thief is a thief, no matter what, and we will ensure this thief is punished for taking advantage of the good citizens of Polk County.”
Derrick had been hired by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in December 2010 as a detention support specialist. He transferred to Animal Control in February 2011, and was assigned to the kennels.
He resigned from the agency on Monday, Feb. 6, the day he was arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail. His bond was set at $7,000.
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