Joseph Arena of Margate, Florida was arrested last week for allegedly using city-issued purchasing cards to buy expensive tools which he sold for cash. Arena, 57, is a former Fort Lauderdale public works supervisor.
He turned himself in on June 1 and faces several charges, including grand theft, giving false information, dealing in stolen property, official misconduct, and falsifying official documents. He allegedly stole items valued between $20,000 and $100,000. The exact amount he purportedly stole was not disclosed.
Arena’s bond was set at $69,000 by Judge Deborah Carpenter-Toye during a bond hearing on Friday afternoon. He is required to provide proof to the state attorney’s office that the funds he uses for his bond are from legitimate sources. If he is able to post bail and is released before trial, he must wear an GPS ankle monitor and surrender his passport. He also cannot possess a gun should he be released pending trial.
According to the arrest report, Arena was the head of collection and distribution in the Fort Lauderdale Public Works Department, where he supervised workers as well as the operation and maintenance of the city’s water, storm water, and waste water infrastructure. He was a city employee for almost 20 years before he retired in November last year.
Arena’s arrest came after a lengthy public corruption investigation by the agency’s economic crimes unit. Investigators reportedly found discrepancies with his city-issued charge card while he was still a city employee. The exact nature of those discrepancies has not been disclosed.
After his arrest, Arena allegedly confirmed that he used his city purchasing cards and those belonging to his staff to buy expensive tools that he pawned for cash. Detective Kenneth Giles told news sources that police are investigating two unnamed associates of the former public works supervisor who are not city employees.
Under Florida law, grand theft occurs when the defendant unlawfully obtains or attempts to obtain someone else’s property with the intent of depriving the victim of their right to the property. The stolen property has to be valued at $300 or more.
A grand theft charge involving the theft of items valued between $20,000 to $99,999 is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in state prison or 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine per count.
There are many defenses for contesting grand theft charges. Common ones include lack of intent; the defendant acted out of necessity; the belief that the defendant had the consent of the victim; the defendant obtained the property for a lawful purpose; and mistake of fact, where a defendant takes something under the assumption that they own it.
Hiring an attorney is essential for grand theft cases. A good attorney can make a big difference in the outcome of a grand theft case because of all the available defenses. Even if there are no viable defenses, an attorney can help a defendant represent their case in the best possible light and help them avoid prison time and a permanent felony record.