9 Investigates: Are troubled ex-cops guarding the Sanford airport?

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SANFORD, Fla. —

Two million passengers flew through central Florida last year, bypassing Orlando International Airport for the smaller, yet growing, Orlando Sanford International Airport.

But Channel 9's Karla Ray found that half of the officers in charge of keeping that airport safe were forced to leave other agencies.  She took a look at the legal problems they avoided before coming to the Sanford Airport and found they went straight to the top.

Newly promoted Sanford Airport Police Chief Thomas Fuerher just got a bump in rank this spring, but Ray found he is no stranger to Seminole County law enforcement.

In 2002, Fuerher was fired from the Sheriff's Office. Documents 9 Investigates obtained show he violated an order to not contact an ex. It’s something that could have earned him criminal charges

But airport CEO Larry Dale authorized his promotion.

“He's done a good job for us since he's been here as captain,” Dale said.

Yet, out of the 10 officers, aside from Dale, working at the airport, 9 Investigates found that half had problems at other agencies.

For instance, Mark Gilotti was caught with a known prostitute in his Deland Police Department squad car in 2008. He resigned during an internal investigation and avoided being punished.

Eldridge “Lee” Fuller left the Leon County Sheriff's Office in 2009 the same way after he was arrested for allegedly stalking a woman. In 2010, charges against him were dropped after he agreed to take counseling sessions for four months.

And 9 Investigates first reported about George Small in 2009. As deputy chief of the Altamonte Springs Police Department, he was caught “fixing tickets” for friends, according to records.

After a suspension, he was given two years of probation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 

“There's a couple I wouldn't have hired,” said Mark Lang, a former law enforcement officer and Orange County captain who teaches criminal justice courses to aspiring officers.

Sanford Airport Officer John Balao couldn't cut it during training to be an Orange County “reserve” deputy. His training supervisors wrote that he has officer safety issues and that made him unsuitable as a deputy sheriff.

“That's 10 percent of your agency that couldn't pass training at another agency,” Lang said. “Why are you going to take a chance on him?”

So Ray asked Dale again about the airport’s officers.

“Do you think they could get jobs at any other agency?” Ray asked Dale. 

“I think they could, yes,” Dale told her.

Currently, security screenings at the Sanford Airport are handled by TSA agents. However, the airport is working to get into a program that would allow a private group to perform those functions.

Ray asked if that would give the airport officers additional responsibilities, and Dale insisted the change would not.