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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Polk County judge, assistant accused of falsifying time sheets

TAMPA — A Polk County judge and her former judicial assistant were arrested Friday for submitting and approving false time sheets.

Circuit Court Judge Beth Harlan was charged with scheming to defraud and grand theft. Her former judicial assistant, Alisha Rupp, was charged with scheming to defraud, grand theft, perjury and filing a false police report.

The Polk County State Attorney’s Office arrest affidavit states that the investigation revealed that there was “a level of complicity between Alisha (Rupp) and Judge Harlan to commit a scheme to defraud and grand theft on the taxpayers of the State of Florida.”

Both were arrested Friday by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The arrests add another unusual chapter in the case involving Rupp, who alleged after she was fired in July by Polk County Chief Judge Bruce Smith for falsifying her timecard that the courthouse was a sexually toxic environment where she walked in on a judge and bailiff having sex and had been sexually harassed by a bailiff because of what she saw. The firing, she said in a termination complaint, was caused by the information she had.

But investigators on Friday said that Rupp had falsified her timecard and also lied about the sexual environment. In fact, she was the one who had sex with the bailiff, according to the arrest affidavit.

In her timecard, she put that she had worked a 40-hour week, but there were a number of examples in 2012 and 2013 where investigators had evidence and witnesses who confirmed she wasn’t at work.

Several times a judicial assistant floater was assigned to work several hours in a day for Rupp, although Rupp would put on her timecard that she worked a full eight-hour day, according to the arrest affidavit.

On April 22, 2013, for example, she was paid for an eight-hour work day. However, email records on the following day show that she spent part of the day with her husband getting a massage at Massage Envy in Lakeland. An email she sent to Massage Envy on April 23rd complained that her husband was treated poorly by the masseuse and ruined the relaxing afternoon that they had planned.

Rupp, 34, of Lakeland, said that she worked at home the times she wasn’t in the office, and it was approved by Harlan. Harlan told investigators that Rupp was efficient and could get the work done in 20 hours where it took others 40 hours, according to the arrest affidavit.

According to investigators, Rupp, who earned $31,276 a year, got paid for eight full days that she didn’t work, which totaled $1,042.56. She also got paid for seven days for working a full day when she worked a half day at best, totaling $456.12, according to the arrest affidavit. In total, she was unlawfully paid for $1,498.68.

In Sept. 2012, Rupp had to pay back the state $2,211.43 for accepting money for hours she didn’t work. From June 2011 to June 2012, Rupp took days off as paid administrative days when they should have been listed as leave without pay, according to the arrest affidavit. A court administrator caught the inaccuracy and reported it to the state.

Harlan, who was interviewed under oath, said she would ask Rupp every month if the timecard was correct and Harlan said it was, according to the arrest affidavit.

“Judge Harlan appears to have not only known, but approved of this blatant waste of tax payer dollars through her irresponsible supervision of Alisha Rupp,” according to the arrest affidavit.

Investigators also learned that Harlan and Rupp had known each other for years and had a very close friendship, which started 15 years ago when Rupp was 18 and began to work for Harlan in private practice. In 2006, Harlan named her a judicial assistant when Harlan was appointed as Circuit Court Judge, according to the arrest affidavit.

After she was fired in July, Rupp hired a Palm Harbor attorney and filed a termination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

She said the personal attack against her and the firing was caused because she walked in and found Judge Susan Flood and bailiff James “Bubba” Maxcy having sex on a table in Flood’s office. She said in her complaint that Flood asked her not to say anything. If Rupp did, Flood would have the chief judge fire her, Rupp alleged.

Rupp also alleged that Maxcy sexually harassed her after she had seen him with Judge Flood. Rupp told investigators that on May 30 she went to work and was confronted after hours by Maxcy, who rubbed his body against hers and pushed her against a wall. Rupp said he wanted to have sex with her. He added that he would speak to the chief judge about having her fired.

In interviews with investigators, Flood and Maxcy both denied Rupp witnessed them having sex.

Last month, investigators interviewed Rupp and she held on to her claim of Maxcy approaching her and sexually harassing her.

When she was interviewed again this month, however, Rupp admitted she lied to investigators and recanted her original story, according to the arrest affidavit.

She told investigators that she and Maxcy engaged in sexually implicit banter since 2012. They would sometimes meet in a hallway where there were no cameras at the courthouse, and they would hug and kiss, according to the arrest affidavit.

She said that Maxcy never assaulted her, and while the incident she described did occur, it was consensual. He put her against the wall, kissed her and rubbed her body, according to the arrest affidavit.

She also had sex one time with Maxcy on Judge Harlan’s office floor, the affidavit said.

Rupp and Maxcy communicated through social media, and she sent him topless photos of herself using her cell phone, according to the arrest affidavit.

She told investigators that she made the allegations to bolster her termination complaint. She also didn’t want her husband to know about her relationship and affair with Maxcy.

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Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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