FORT MYERS, Fla. — Although the sheriff is an elected position, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno was appointed in 2018 by then-Governor Rick Scott, after the previous Sheriff, Mike Scott, resigned. Marceno has announced he will run for the top position in 2020, with the primary election fast approaching. A FOX 4 investigation now reveals big questions about Marceno's employment history.
Carmine Marceno's law enforcement career began in New York
Marceno started his law enforcement career in 1998. He worked for the Suffolk County Park system in the Long Island area of New York. A year later, he moved to Southwest Florida. To work in law enforcement, Marceno had two options. He could take almost 800 hours of police academy training required to work in Florida law enforcement, or go through what is called equivalency of training, or EOT.
Evening anchor Jane Monreal turned to Walter Zalisko, a now-private investigator and long-time law enforcement professional for his expertise. Zalisko is a former police chief from New Jersey who had to go through EOT himself in 2004, when he moved to Florida. In the goal to get an unbiased opinion, Jane did not disclose who she was referring to in her line of questioning.
The requirements to land a job with a Florida law enforcement agency
Zalisko says it takes two steps to land a job with a Florida law enforcement agency. "Once they complete that equivalency training, they can then be qualified to be employed by that agency. But, they still have to take a written test. And, they have one year to take that written test from the day they get their equivalency training certificate."
Pamella Seay is an attorney teaching criminal law at Florida Gulf Coast University, to students planning to go into law enforcement. She confirms that process is an absolute must for out of state officers to work in law enforcement in Florida. "So, you have to go through a class and you have to take this (EOT) and show it and get authorized. Once you're authorized, you take that exam."
Requirements can vary by state. But in Florida, in order to even qualify for the EOT, the state's top police agency, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or FDLE, says officers must have worked at least 1 year, full time as a sworn officer.
Zalisko stresses, "You can't be part time. You can't be an auxiliary or anything like that."
Carmine Marceno's time cards show he was part time/seasonal in New York
Fox 4 Investigative Reporter Frank Cipolla got hold of Marceno's time cards from Suffolk County, New York. In New York, employees are required to work at least 37 and a half hours to be considered full time. These time sheets clearly show Marceno did not work full time. In a roughly 16-month period he was there from 1998 to 1999, he worked full time just over 20 weeks. That's not even half a year. Many weeks, he worked 15 hours. Some weeks, Marceno worked only half that. According to the New York employee retirement system document signed by Marceno, his job is clearly described as part time and seasonal, not a full time position.
FOX 4 wanted to give Sheriff Marceno a chance to explain whether he had other experience to meet the FDLE requirement, that he work full time for a year in order to skip police academy training. Marceno declined requests for an interview.
So, we sought him out at a Memorial Day parade. When Frank asked about his employment, Sheriff Marceno would only say, "No comment."
Frank then asked Marceno to at least confirm that he even worked in New York, before the Memorial Day parade started. Frank asked the sheriff, "Were you a Suffolk County, full time Suffolk County Parks and Recreation ranger?" Marceno answered, "Sir, I'm going to have to do the Veterans Parade. I'm sorry, if you would just step aside, thank you." Frank pressed, saying, "Will you grant us a formal interview? We've asked for a request."
Frank asked a question you might expect someone running for public office would be ready, even eager, to answer. He asked Marceno, "Sir, why won't you talk to us? Sir, don't you think the people of Southwest Florida deserve some information on your education and professional qualifications with this job?"
Our FOX 4 investigation uncovered other unanswered questions. With records showing Marceno did not meet the requirement of working full time for a full year, how was he able to get a job? Our investigation found someone in authority vouched for him. FOX 4 found a sworn statement, an affidavit, signed in 1999 by administrator John Brown at the police academy at St. Petersburg College.
Question number 8 says, "Does the applicant have one year full time of sworn experience?" The yes box is marked with an "x," although there was no written proof that he worked full time.
Naples Police Department terminated Carmine Marceno
Jane called the academy to see if they had any such proof. They said they don't keep records for more than four years at a time. Jane then asked to speak to Mr. Brown about why he signed the document, despite Marceno having only worked part time in New York. The academy said Brown retired six years ago and is traveling and unable to be reached.
Another discrepancy points to when Marceno first applied and got hired at the Naples Police Department in 1999. It was under one big condition: He had to pass the state officer certification exam within a year of receiving that EOT.
FDLE records show Marceno failed in his first two attempts. Naples Police would terminate Marceno about 9 months after hiring him.
After being terminated from the Naples Police Department, Marceno went back up to Suffolk County, New York and worked in a seasonal position, back at Parks and Rec.
However, FDLE records show Marceno did eventually pass the state certification exam in October of 2002. That means he does now meet that requirement to be a law enforcement officer, although there is no paperwork showing Marceno was ever eligible to take the test.
Carmine Marceno's application with LCSO not completed
That leads us to another gap, as Marceno started his employment with the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The department's application asks every candidate to mark full time or part time for all previous jobs. Marceno's application was filled out except for the section that asks if he was full time or part time, in the New York job. Marceno was applying to an office then headed by Sheriff Mike Scott, who often made a point of publicly declaring he held his employees to the highest standards.
Jane reached out to the former sheriff and brought up what appeared to be inconsistencies in Marceno's employment history. He declined to be recorded, only to say that he hired Marceno from the Collier County Sheriff's Office, where he was considered a fully certified deputy and thought that he did a great job for the Lee County Sheriff's Office, and continues to do a good job.
Zalisko, experienced in the hiring and firing of officers before, believes the people doing the hiring should have noticed the missing response in the application. He says, "If I was reviewing that application, I would ask that individual, "You need to check that off," or, "Why aren't you checking it off? What is the issue?"
Seay says that while some of this seems technical, there's a bigger and more important picture here, and Florida law clearly states what qualifies and disqualifies a person from being a sworn officer in Florida. "We have a rule of law here. The law applies to everyone, including law enforcement officers. Otherwise, we lose respect for the law itself."
The former law enforcement chief Zalisko says something like this could point to a leadership problem that would affect rank and file officers. "As a police supervisor somewhere, and the issue of your qualifications comes up, it would be in the best interest of the entire department or agency to say, 'Look, here are my qualifications. There's no issue here.' Clear it up, because that could affect department morale."
Law enforcement expert and former police officer, Dr. Dave Thomas, addresses why the public should care. He believes it boils down to ethics, the very foundation of the profession. "Understand that the position of chief, or sheriff, or whatever we're talking about - that position is always respected. It's not necessarily the person in that position (who) is respected. So, respect the office but you don't necessarily respect the person who sits there and for whatever reason. And, you'll see where the agency is divided. Where people respect that person and other people think that individual is useless."
Jane has reached out to Senator Rick Scott for comment, since he was the governor in office who swore in Marceno. At the time, Scott said at the podium, "I want to thank Sheriff Scott for one, his hard work here, and two, to groom someone as good as Carmine."
Marceno told FOX 4 just a few days before his swearing-in ceremony, "I'm humbled by the process and respect the process that I go through at this point with the Governor, and I will absolutely run in 2020."
Now, Marceno is refusing to address even the basics of his professional background.
Jane has also reached out to FDLE and the Florida Sheriff's Association for their perspective. Both agencies declined interviews. The Florida Police Benevolent Association didn't respond. Jane is awaiting public documents from Governor Desantis' office, after requesting any correspondence between the governor and Marceno.
Sourcing Our Information
Fox 4 is committed to accuracy and transparency in reporting. We only present facts that are established through clear documentation or credible sources. With that in mind, here is a list of every source we utilized, consulted or sought comment from throughout the investigation into Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno's work history.
FDLE form CJSTC 76 - Item (8.) "Does the applicant have (1) year of full-time sworn criminal justice work experience in the discipline as marked item 7?"
FDLE Summary of Exams - Shows he failed twice in less than a year while he was employed at Naples PD
NAPLES PD - TERMINATED EMPLOYEE 08/02/2000 NAPLES PD INTERNAL MEMO FROM ACTING CHIEF STEVEN MOORE TO HR - Request for leave for Carmine Marceno. "He has not been able to obtain his law enforcement certificate ." End of memo says, "If this request is disapproved, he will be terminated."
- Walter Zalisko - Went through EOT. Former commander with Jersey City PD. Also served as an international police trainer and consultant for the US State Department.
- Pamella Seay - Criminal Justice professor at FGCU
- Dr. David Thomas - certified law enforcement expert. FGCU professor. Senior fellowship with The Police Association.
- Mike Scott - Former Lee County Sheriff. Declined to speak on camera but said he thinks Marceno is doing a good job.
- Ken Blessing - Investigator at St. Petersburg College. Replaced John Brown who signed FDLE form 76.
- Cecil Pendergrass - Lee County Councilman and former law enforcement officer. Declined to be interviewed due to being out of law enforcement for over 10 years.
- Todd Everly - SWFL Public Service Academy. Declined interview due to conflict of interest. Could not comment on any SWFL agency.
- Jessica Cary - FDLE. Couldn't promise interview but answered questions via email.
- Nanette Schimpf - The Florida Sheriff's Association. Declined interview. "As a non-sworn law enforcement Association, we do not handle certification or oversee any portion of certifications or employment for any sheriff’s office."
- The Florida Police Benevolent Association - Didn't respond.
- Governor Desantis - Waiting on requested documents.