Another award-winning law enforcement officer was stripped of his badge Tuesday after accepting a plea deal to avoid going to trial for perjury.
Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Stuart Sussman – the department’s 2014 Deputy of the Year – was probably shellshocked the perjury charges were brought against him in the first place considering how often it happens in law enforcement.
But the Palm Beach Gardens Public Corruption Unit lived up to its namesake in pursuing a case against the 37-year-old deputy, who lied on the witness stand in order to not return more than $10,000 in civil forfeiture money.
It started on January 5, 2015 when Sussman and other deputies arrested three men in a “suspicious Chevrolet Malibu with tinted windows parked outside” a Home Depot, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Arrested were Lavar Roberts, 35, owner of the car; Robert Socher, 25, sitting in the front seat; and Colby Hislop, 24, sitting in the backseat.
Deputies found nine crack cocaine rocks in a front-seat sunglass holder, so they confiscated the car, along with $10,184 found in Roberts’ pocket.
However, even though Hislop admitted to Sussman that the cocaine belonged to him, the award-winning deputy decided he wanted to keep the $10,184 that was found in Roberts’ pocket, testifying in a forfeiture hearing the following month that Hislop never claimed ownership of the cocaine.
But Roberts’ attorney came forward with a video from inside Sussman’s patrol car where he is telling Roberts that he does not believe Hislop’s claim that he owned the crack, proving that Hislop did, indeed, tell him he owned it.
Hislop also signed a sworn statement that he owned the crack cocaine, which shows more credibility and honesty on his part.
But Sussman had his eyes on the ten grand, so he stuck with his lie in the hopes to connect Roberts with the cocaine, which would have made it easier to prove the money were proceeds from drug sales.
When the state attorney’s office dropped charges against Roberts in May 2015, Sussman called the prosecutor, leaving a voice mail, inquiring why they were dropped, obviously distraught that he would have to return the money.
That was when investigators from the public corruptions unit called him back on a recorded line where Sussman first insisted that Hislop never claimed the cocaine belonged to him, but then eventually admitted that the truth during the same call.
Two months later, he was charged with felony perjury in an official proceeding, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Sussman’s attorney filed a motion to keep the recording from being entered as evidence, figuring his client could use that reliable uniformed charm that has fooled so many jurors over the years.
But the judge denied the motion, so Sussman figured it would be impossible to beat a perjury charge when he goes from saying one thing in the recorded call to saying the complete opposite.
Prosecutors offered him a deal where he would plead guilty to misdemeanor falsifying reports and give up his badge, which he accepted, rather than take his chances with a jury trial.
Sussman was also sentenced to one day in jail, which he received credit for time served from his initial arrest. And he will be able to keep his pension from having spent 12 years as a deputy.
But his greed for the $10,000 cost the Florida deputy his career.
“The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office lost one of its best deputies today,” said defense attorney Robert C. Buschel.
And that doesn’t say much for the rest of them.