The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office is researching the possibility of filing state conspiracy charges against a former U.S. Coast Guard base commander serving federal time for hiring someone to kill a Marathon businessman in 2012.
“I think there’s more to this case than the public has been fed by federal authorities,” State Attorney Dennis Ward said Monday. “I’m going to look at it and see if we can come up with some state charges.”
Dennis Zecca, 55, a retired chief warrant officer who once commanded Coast Guard Station Islamorada, pleaded guilty in 2014 to attempted murder for hire. He planned to pay a man who turned out to be a Drug Enforcement Administration informant to kill Realtor Bruce Schmitt in 2012. The murder never happened because the informant tipped off his DEA handlers about the plot against Schmitt and the DEA agents told the FBI.
Agents staged the hit by doctoring a photo of Schmitt in a pool of blood, which the informant showed Zecca on Dec. 21, 2012. FBI agents arrested Zecca as he drove off to get $5,000 of the $20,000 he agreed to pay the informant.
Ward said he’s not satisfied with the outcome of the case because while Zecca admitted to hiring a hitman to shoot and kill Schmitt, redacted court documents strongly suggest he was the middle man in the plot who barely knew his intended victim. Ward’s Major Crimes Unit prosecutors are researching possible state charges this week, he said.
The 2014 plea deal appears to have strongly favored Zecca, with U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutors getting little or nothing in return, including not making public who else was likely involved in the plot. Meanwhile, Zecca is two years into a 10-year sentence he’s serving at a low-security prison in Central Florida. He faced life if the case went to trial. Possible drug charges were dropped.
Court documents include several recorded transcripts of conversations between Zecca and the informant discussing co-conspirators whose names have been blacked out. But Zecca was never forced to say who these people are.
A recorded conversation between Zecca and the informant right before he left to get the money, for instance, indicates he had co-conspirators who were the source of the cash to be paid to the hired shooter.
The informant said: “Because I don’t want a problem between me and you, because you’re my friend. You’re gonna give me my $5,000 tomorrow right?
Zecca replied: “I gotta go get it. I haven’t even talked to these people yet that it’s done. I haven’t said nothing to nobody.”
The informant: “Who?”
Zecca: “It ain’t [redacted]. I gotta go to [redacted] people.
The informant: “All right. I don’t want your money, I want it, I wanted the money from who the . . . this guy [unintelligible] it’s [redacted]
The informant: “I’m gonna throw away my phone, I’m gonna buy a new, a brand new phone when you, you say you’re gonna get me my money tomorrow?”
Zecca: “Well I’m gonna try, I have to go meet with these people to get it.”
It’s not clear why agents arrested Zecca before he could have led them to “these people,” who had the money.
No drug counts
Zecca was sentenced to 10 years in July 2014. He’s serving his time at the Coleman Low prison in Sumterville, Fla. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped two cocaine dealing charges that each carried maximum life prison sentences. Federal prosecutors also dropped a charge of giving a convicted felon a firearm, which carries a 10-year sentence.
At the time, Zecca was part owner of the Marathon Marina & Boatyard on 11th Street oceanside. The informant he hired to pull the trigger was a marina employee. Zecca offered him either $20,000 or a kilogram of cocaine to do the job, and he supplied him with the murder weapon — a 9 mm handgun.
The informant was cooperating with the DEA in its investigation into Zecca involving the purchase of 10 kilos of cocaine from fictional California suppliers. The sham deal was supposed to happen Jan. 3, 2013, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
In the meantime, Schmitt, who has been vocal in his anger that authorities have not pursued anyone else in the case, filed a civil lawsuit in November against Zecca and two other men named only in the complaint as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2. The lawsuit seeks compensation for emotional damages Schmitt suffered as a result of the murder plot against him. The FBI took the scheme so seriously that agents told him to leave the country and stay away for a while, even months after Zecca was arrested.
The civil suit, filed in Monroe County Circuit Court, also seeks to uncover who Zecca was working with or for. Schmitt’s lawyer, Laurence Kellogg, is scheduled to depose Zecca on May 15 at the Sumterville prison, Zecca’s attorney Mark O’Mara confirmed Monday.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204