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Tampa corruption investigation remains active after notorious city insider’s plea deal

Police mugshot of John Ring, aka Gio Fucarino (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office)

UPDATE: Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s spokesman, Adam Smith, contacted the Florida Trident shortly after this story was published to say that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now actively investigating the John Ring-related corruption case in lieu of the Tampa Police Department investigation.

Last year, Hillsborough prosecutors made an explosive allegation in an otherwise routine motion: Tampa police had uncovered “potential evidence suggesting public corruption within the City of Tampa.”

It was a vague assertion that came in the midst of contentious city elections, sparking speculation about what it meant.

A year later, the mystery remains. What is clear is that a criminal investigation by the Tampa Police Criminal Intelligence Unit arising from that case is still underway. 

Ring with Mayor Castor (Courtesy: Creative Loafing)

The Florida Trident confirmed the existence of the investigation through public records requests in the case involving John Ring, an Ybor City businessman who went by the alias of “Gio Fucarino.” In recent years, Ring/Fucarino diligently worked his way into Tampa civic and political circles, where he became closely associated with Mayor Jane Castor and was elected to the board of the Italian Club. He had become cozy with police brass as well, even sharing the passcode to enter his office with three members of the Tampa Police Department.

But his criminal past soon came back to haunt him. What few people who interacted with him at public events knew was that Ring was convicted in 2010 for soliciting sex with a 17-year-old girl and spent three years in prison. He had registered regularly as required of sex offenders but  failed to disclose his cell phone, Instagram and email address as required.

Although felonies, such charges are considered technical violations. But after receiving a tip about his hidden identity, police spent two days surveilling Ring and sent a half-dozen officers to arrest him at his office next to the Italian Club on March 17, 2023. He was taken to jail in handcuffs in the back of a police car, igniting a firestorm of local media attention.

In August, the case was settled with a plea deal: prosecutors dropped two charges and Ring pleaded guilty to a single count of failing to report his email and Instagram account. He was sentenced to three years probation.

When a criminal case is closed, all evidence gathered by police and prosecutors become public record. The existence of an ongoing criminal investigation emerged through public records requests from the Trident in Ring’s closed case. In this case, the evidence from his seized phone and computer are not public because they are part of an ongoing criminal investigation, police said.

The computer and phone records are exempt from disclosure because they are part of an active criminal investigation by the police department’s Criminal Intelligence Bureau, which handled Ring’s investigation.

The case against Ring began with a tip from Michael Victor, a retired Tampa police officer who has been the driver for three mayors, including Jane Castor. The tip was forwarded by the mayor’s chief of staff to the Criminal Intelligence Bureau. 

In an April 10 memo reviewed by the Florida Trident, Campagnano wrote that the “tip also alleged that Ring may be involved with the illegal sex trade and with human trafficking.”

Before he was arrested, police saw a young woman enter and leave Ring’s Ybor City office, taking an Uber to and from her Clearwater home. Two detectives later interviewed the woman at her home. The questions focused on whether Ring had hired her to have sex with him or other men. She insisted that was not the case.

No other charges have been filed.

The motion to seal the evidence, written by police Det. Shaun McNiff, was granted by a judge. It remains exempt as part of the ongoing investigation.

Ring and his attorney declined comment.

About the author: Tom Scherberger is a freelance writer in Tampa with more than 30 years of journalism experience, including 20 years at the Tampa Bay Times as a reporter, editorial writer and editor.