Raid, Arson, Heists Rocked Community
NORTHWEST - While criminals in the northwest region of Hillsborough County made some headlines in 2007, efforts at crime prevention also were in the news, with a community policing patrol established in Westchase and a visit by Sheriff David Gee to Sickles High School to stress the importance of citizens helping deputies prevent crime. Here is a look at some of the more notable events on the crime front last year. Jewelry Heists More than $100,000 in jewelry was stolen on the night of Jan. 9 when thieves disabled a security system and used cutting tools to make a hole in the roof of Sergio's Jewelry, 4569 Gunn Highway. After dropping into the store, the burglars used acetylene torches to cut into three safes.No arrests have been made in the case, according to a sheriff's spokeswoman. Two weeks later, an even more daring daylight jewelry heist happened at a Sam's Club in Carrollwood, where thieves smashed open a display case and snatched a necklace with 82 carats of pear-shaped diamonds, valued at more than a quarter million dollars. A store surveillance camera captured images Jan. 23 of two men running from the store and fleeing in separate cars. Five people were arrested in the case, but the necklace has not been recovered, according to a sheriff's spokeswoman. The necklace was a one-of-a-kind piece that was showcased online and occasionally displayed at stores across the nation, a Sam's Club spokeswoman said. Community Patrol Launched Westchase got new eyes and ears watching out for daytime crime in March as resident volunteers in uniforms and patrol cars hit the streets. The program, initiated by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, was launched as a pilot project in Westchase and Apollo Beach, aimed at preventing property crimes. Volunteers underwent training sessions, then were provided uniforms and marked patrol cars. Also on the crime prevention front, in October Hillsborough's sheriff held a town hall meeting at Sickles High, showing off some of the department's gear and preaching the message that when citizens get involved, crimes can be prevented or solved. Islamic Center Set Afire Local, state and federal investigators sifted through the ashes of the Islamic Education Center of Florida in April and tried to allay fears that the arson was a hate crime. They couldn't say for sure, however. Most of the fire's damage was limited to one room. Fire officials said a flammable liquid was splashed through a broken window and down the outside of the building. Standoff Ends In Suicide With SWAT team members swarming outside, a 10-hour standoff at a gun store and shooting range ended April 13 when the gunman fatally shot himself. Jeffrey Lane Dudney, 43, took five people hostage at Shooting Sports, 7811 N. Dale Mabry Highway. The tense hostage situation ended when Dudney put the muzzle of a stolen handgun to his temple and fired. The hostages weren't injured. Later, Sheriff Gee said he came close to ordering law enforcement officers to use deadly force against Dudney. Armored Truck Robbery Turns Fatal After a man robbed a Brink's armored truck in Town 'N Country, he led law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase into Pasco County before fatally shooting himself. The robbery took place June 12 outside a bustling Wal-Mart on West Waters Avenue east of Hanley Road. Authorities identified the robber as Michael Wesley Simpson, 43, of Safety Harbor. Armed with a .40-caliber handgun, Simpson snatched a bag of money from a Brink's security guard who was carrying the bag to the armored truck. Simpson sped away, but a witness followed and called 911 on a cell phone. A chase ended at a Hudson gas station, where Simpson shot himself in the head. Man Gunned Down At Checkers A 35-year-old man was fatally shot July 25 behind a Checkers restaurant at North Dale Mabry Highway and Northdale Boulevard. Thomas Hall of Brooksville - a 51-year-old former Tampa police officer - was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. The sheriff's office has said the motive for the fatal shooting appeared to have been jealousy because the victim, Jason Mullis, was in a relationship with Hall's estranged wife, Debra. FBI Agents Raid WellCare About 200 agents from the FBI and other federal and state agencies descended on the headquarters of WellCare Health Plans the morning of Oct. 24, seizing laptops, files and boxes of documents as they searched the company's four-building campus on Henderson Road, where nearly 2,200 people work. None of the agencies involved in the raid would comment on the reason for the search of the company, one of the nation's largest health insurers for government programs. Agents from the FBI, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Florida attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit participated in the search. WellCare, which has blossomed into one of the Tampa Bay area's largest and most successful companies, provides health and drug coverage for a combined 2.3 million Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries nationwide.