Fort Myers city manager quiet on decision to investigate corruption


FORT MYERS

Fort Myers City Manager Marty Lawing could make a decision as early as Friday about whether to have an independent investigation into allegations of corruption made against a since-departed police official.

WINK News asked Lawing but he has not responded with his decision.

Regardless, an investigation is likely as at least four city councilmembers favor an investigation to see if former Major William Newhouse ordered a lieutenant to keep hidden the cost of renovating the former News-Press building.

City Council could choose to do it with a vote. Their next scheduled city council meeting is Nov. 15.

The cost of renovating the building, at the corner of Fowler Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, has jumped from about $36 million to between $60 to $80 million.

Former Fort Myers police Inspector General Donald Oswald resigned a week ago after the investigation into Newhouse was unfounded. Oswald said then that the internal affairs investigation was handled by a subordinate, which made it a sham.

Newhouse, meanwhile, retired on Thursday.

Oswald told WINK News a new investigation could yield different results.

Oswald said he has additional information he can provide to an independent investigator, but he didn’t disclose what it was.

“The lieutenant who conducted this investigation asked very open-ended questions and allowed people to just speak and talk,” Oswald said. “That’s not the way you conduct an interrogation or an investigation to seek the truth.”

In his resignation letter and in interviews with WINK News, Oswald went after Fort Myers police Chief Derrick Diggs.

Oswald accused Diggs of wanting to bury the complaint about Newhouse.

Oswald told WINK News his inspector general job was not as advertised.

“From the start, I was told the position of Inspector General would be one thing, and it was never what it was sold to me to be. What was my job description,” Oswald said.

Oswald said he was told he would be in charge of internal affairs and he was supposed to be a public information officer, but that never happened.

“Quite frankly, for the first four months, I sat around twiddling my thumbs trying to figure out what I wish to do,” Oswald said.

Oswald was hired in late 2019.

It was a recommendation from the Freeh report, an audit of the police department released in 2017 that found a lack of resources, favoritism and alleged corruption at the department.

Oswald said it crossed his mind once or twice that the position of inspector general was not really wanted at the department.

“That thought absolutely crossed my mind that the chief was obligated to do so because of the Freeh report,” Oswald said.

FGCU Forensic studies professor David Thomas said he fell out of his chair when he heard Newhouse retired.

He said he also feels bad for the officers in the department because they are likely feeling the effects of the accusations and resignations.

“If I was there, and I was working, and I was I was running calls to service, I would be concerned about the organization and the fabric of the organization, the reputation of the organization, I would be concerned and wondering, ultimately, when it came down to it, who would have my back,” said Thomas, who is a former police officer.

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said he wants an independent investigation for the city’s sake, and for Oswald and Diggs.

“I’ve seen some comments from the public on, you know, he needs to be fired,” Anderson said referring to Diggs. “But no, he needs a fair and impartial investigation before anything like that could even be considered.”

 

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