LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A woman who dreamed about becoming a deputy is furious and claims the Lee County Sheriff's Office is playing favorites when hiring its officers.
This comes after a Four in your Corner investigation uncovered new information about Deputy Trevor Lehman, who was accused of using excessive force in the past.
Claudia Franco feels the LCSO may be more concerned with politics than good police work. "I just know I wasn't given a fair chance."
Franco says she first applied as a deputy in 2011. In her application, she admitted to smoking marijuana in the past. She didn't get the job at that time but says officials told her to keep trying. She says one sheriff's official told her one way to increase her chances was to get rid of the tattoos she had around her neck. Franco tells us, “He said I think it'll be a great idea if you have your tattoos removed. I had my children's names tattooed on me and I did that. I went through a series of laser tattoo removal which was costly and painful, to say the least."
In 2013 Franco graduated from the academy at the top of her class, earning the prestigious Andrew Widman award. Despite this, she says she was turned down again. “They just said we have more qualified applicants."
After watching a Four in your Corner report earlier this week about Deputy Trevor Lehman, Franco became furious. We discovered Lehman admitted to using steroids and smoking marijuana a year before he was hired by Fort Myers police in 2008. Then, in 2013, he was fired after dash cam video showed him hitting a man. He was later cleared of that charge but last year Lehman resigned after he was accused of being involved in a fight at a Cape Coral bar.
Franco feels she’s a better candidate. "I'm bilingual, I won that award because I put forth the effort. I've never been accused of excessive force. I just don't understand how he's more qualified."
We also found Lehman's mother and step mother have both worked at LCSO for over 15 years and one now makes nearly $81,000 a year. Franco wonders if Lehman was hired for his family ties. "I met people who failed the state exam and failed the academy more than once and still somehow managed to get hired because they have a relative who works with the agency."
Franco now works at a public safety department and says she's certain she will eventually land a job in law enforcement.
Fox 4 requested a comment from the Lee County Sheriff's Office about her claims but haven't heard back.