Baiting homeless into crime? Osceola judge drops charges



OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Channel 9 has learned all charges were dropped against a group of homeless people who were arrested during a controversial sting in Osceola County earlier this year.

In May, deputies left a purse with cash sitting at a bus stop on US-192 in an effort to crack down on thefts in the area.

Many of those who took the bait were homeless, and a Kissimmee attorney representing several of the suspects argued the sting was entrapment.

Late Tuesday morning, Channel 9 learned the charges were dropped.

A major part of the case came down to how the money used in the sting was placed on the bicycle, according to Channel 9's Nancy Alvarez.

The Sheriff's Office said the cash was deep inside a purse, but the judge sided with the suspects, who said the money was hanging out in plain view.

"I don't have to worry anymore," said defendant Denise Kennealy. "I don't have to worry about my rights being taken away, about having to get another job."

Kennealy lives in a motel on US-192 and thought it was her lucky day when she spotted $350 in a purse sitting on a bike at the bus stop.   She had never been arrested until the moment she took the money.  

Nine others also went to jail during the sting.

Shortly after the 9 Investigates story aired, attorney Don Waggoner said stepped up for the defendants, outraged at the way the sting was set up.

"They set it up in this particular area knowing there's mostly homeless people, mostly people that don't have jobs, poor people that are out there," he said. "And they set it up in a manner that it would be very attractive to these people."

Defendant James Custode said he hopes the ruling sends a message about the county's homeless population. 

"It's people that are good-hearted people that had a bad stroke of luck and are trying to pick things up," said Custode.

The Osceola County Sheriff's Office released the following statement after the fuling:

"While investigating and combating crime, we use various methods to accomplish this effort.  We will continue to conduct operations that address criminal activity, especially in areas where we have seen an increase in certain types of crimes. 

"While we do not necessarily agree with Judge (Jon) Morgan’s ruling, we respect his opinion and will take his findings into consideration in order to enhance the way in which we conduct future operations. 

"The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work to make our community a safer place, not by targeting a particular group or groups other than those who violate the law."