For about seven years Collier County sheriff’s Deputy David E. Rich, a motorcycle enthusiast, maintained a Web site chronicling his and his wife’s experiences at outdoor motorcycle events.
The Web site, which he said was meant only to be viewed by friends but had more than 50,000 hits, contained an online message board and photos of people having a good time at the events.
But in December, Rich, 38, was fired after an internal investigation revealed the Web site not only contained photos of people having innocent fun, but also of nude women and women performing oral sex. Also, during a separate investigation stemming from a failed polygraph test, Rich admitted to having witnessed online pornography involving minors, authorities said.
Rich, who is now employed with the private investigation firm Ortino Investigations, described the Web site as a “hobby-type fun thing,” and said the photos of women engaging in oral sex were posted inadvertently or were overlooked, a Sheriff’s Office report shows. And he said in an appeal that polygraph tests are extremely subjective and claimed the examiners who administered the test had a conflict of interest.
The investigation into Rich’s Web site began in July when the Sheriff’s Office received an e-mail from someone identified only as “Deputy Dan” who directed authorities to Rich’s site.
“Is this the type of person who you employ?” the letter writer asked.
When investigators opened the site they saw a photograph of a Florida motorcycle license plate licensed to Rich. The site also had a link to a page containing a collection of thousands of photographs, the investigation revealed.
Several of the photographs depicted nudity and oral sex. Others showed Rich with women in various stages of dress, from exposing their breasts to nude, the report said.
“I will volunteer and say that there’s, looking at that, there’s some pictures I did not realize that were not that, that really should not have been on this site,” Rich told investigators.
Rich told investigators that he placed warnings on the site to indicate the images were only appropriate for adults, designed the site to trigger parental software and used software to prevent search engines from pointing to his site, authorities said.
When investigators asked if he thought the site was appropriate for a member of the Sheriff’s Office, Rich replied, “Wouldn’t it be under the First Amendment protection?”
He told investigators he had the site for seven years.
“I think it’s OK,” he said.
Rich told investigators he loved his job, was proud of working at the Sheriff’s Office, and intended to work there for 25 years, the investigation revealed.
“I’m willing to work with whatever needs to be done to make it acceptable,” Rich said of the Web site.
While the investigation into the Web site was under way, a separate investigation was being conducted into Rich’s inability to pass a polygraph examination question regarding viewing underage pornographic material on the Internet.
In March 2005, Rich, who worked in the jail, took a polygraph examination as part of a request to move to road patrol. The examiner, Cpl. Scott Walters, asked Rich if he had ever viewed or been in possession of any types of child pornography since his hire date on August 19, 2003.
“Not intentionally,” Rich said.
Rich told investigators that he would go online looking for movies and clips he could watch with his wife.
“There’s a lot of things I’ll download, just doesn’t do anything for me, so I trash it, you know. Put it in the delete file and erase,” Rich said during an interview.
At one point Rich told investigators that he clicked on a video called “My Teenie Wife,” that may have indicated it contained images of a 15-year-old, according to the investigation.
“I was downloading ‘My Teen Wife.’ I think I trashed it. I think I trashed the whole thing,” Rich said during his first examination.
When the examiner asked if he actually opened the video, Rich said he didn’t remember.
“I tend to think no. I have no memory of the content,” Rich said. “I remember seeing one clip of a girl and a boy, I should say male and female. ... If the title said 15, it would have been a curiosity thing.”
Rich also told investigators he viewed an online movie called “My Girlfriend and I,” featuring two “high school”-age girls engaged in a pillow fight and kissing each other, and a video titled “Teen Prostitute Video,” where the girls appeared to be at least 18, the investigation revealed.
When asked again if he’d ever seen any pornography depicting people under 18, Rich said. “I’m sure I have. I’ll say yes.”
Determining if someone is over 18 is sometimes hard to do, Rich told investigators.
“I don’t know how old someone is because 18 years old and 17 years old is a fine line,” he said. “However, it is a legal line.”
Rich said he never intentionally sought out underage pornography, the report indicates.
“I wouldn’t want to leave an impression on someone else further down the line of people who are going to read this, to think that I’m out there searching out, physically searching, typing in the terms ‘15-year- old woman’ or ‘young wife,’ or any of those things,” Rich said.
“I’m searching with something else and that’s coming up. And like I’m trying to say apparently is that I finally said, ‘Fine, let’s see what it is,’” he said. “For me to physically take the mouse, or the touch pad on the computer, move the cursor up and click on it is obviously an intent for me to see exactly what it was after it had been brought there by other means that I was not trying to do.”
Rich failed a second polygraph with Walters and then went to Fort Lauderdale for a third polygraph with a company called Deception Control Inc. The examiner in Fort Lauderdale, Lou Criscella, said that Rich displayed “significant reactions indicative of deception,” the internal investigation said.
On December 26, Rich, who earned $49,169 a year at the jail, had his appointment withdrawn based on the totality of the two investigations, for “immoral, unlawful or improper conduct,” the Sheriff’s Office reported.
Rich was not arrested or charged with a crime.
“I will say that if the case is released to the media, and the sheriff does not have some sort of hard, concrete evidence, then there will be some suits filed against the department — his department,” Rich said in the report.
Rich appealed the decision on Jan. 9. In his appeal, Rich argued that Criscella was not an “independent examiner” because he and the first examiner, Walters, used to work together. His appeal was denied on March 23, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
In an e-mail to the Daily News on Wednesday, Rich said he did not want to be interviewed because he feared being misquoted or having his statements taken out of context. In the e-mail Rich stated the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t accept his offer to have the agency inspect his computer, waited until after his termination to inspect his agency-issued laptop, and failed to interview any of his co-workers, friends or his wife.
“Also consider that I was, and still am, the webmaster for the Collier Deputies FOP,” Rich wrote in his e-mail. “It was well known that I was involved in attempting to unionize the CCSO, and had just been elected to the Executive Board of the Collier Deputies Lodge of the FOP.”
During the interview Rich told investigators that he had brain surgery as a child and had significant memory problems.
“I have medical evidence that I should not have been polygraphed,” Rich wrote in the e-mail. “I have a statement from a longtime polygrapher that my polygraph results could not be relied on, and also from Cpl. Scott Walter, CCSO polygrapher, that doubts the findings of my polygraphs. These are all in my file.”
Rich started working with Ortino Investigations around the time of his appeal, said Victor Ortino, who owns and manages the firm. Ortino recently announced his intention to run for Collier County sheriff in 2008.
Ortino said Rich is a “good guy” who denied viewing child pornography.
“I am confident that he is not a child molester and does not view child pornography,” Ortino said.
If the Sheriff’s Office was really concerned about Rich’s behavior, the investigation would have been resolved in a much shorter period of time, Ortino said.
“If you have a person who did something illegal, you’re going to jump on that right away,” Ortino said. “Within 30 days you’re going to have that resolved.”