FORT LAUDERDALE — A prominent member of the city of Fort Lauderdale’s Economic Development Advisory Board remains wanted in Knoxville, Tennessee on an outstanding, felony arrest warrant for allegedly burglarizing his ex-wife’s home in 1987, a South Florida Times investigation has found.
Ralph L. Riehl, 64, a local tourism advocate, community activist and frequent critic of Fort Lauderdale police, declined to discuss the warrant or the alleged incident.
“I have no comment on that,” Riehl said politely when a newspaper reporter contacted him about the arrest warrant and alleged burglary.
Fort Lauderdale police say they had no knowledge of the warrant until a reporter began asking them about it. Riehl will not be arrested here because Tennessee officials will not pay the costs associated with extraditing him.
“I spoke to Mr. Riehl this morning. He acknowledged that it is him, and that if he was aware of it [the outstanding arrest warrant], he would have taken care of it,” Fort Lauderdale Police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa said during a Monday, March 29 interview.
“Unless we receive further direction from Tennessee to take action, our involvement in this matter is closed, and we are not going to take him into custody,” Sousa said.
Riehl, of Fort Lauderdale, is president of the South Florida Tourism Council, an organization that promotes Fort Lauderdale beach-area businesses and attractions. He is also a police watchdog of sorts who is active in community issues and business initiatives.
Fort Lauderdale officials have not disclosed what, if any, impact the warrant and the alleged burglary could have on his continued service with the economic development board. Fort Lauderdale does not require background checks on those who serve on civic boards.
Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Romney Rogers appointed Riehl to the board.
“As I understand it, @ 24 years ago Mr. Riehl's X-Wife made what Mr. Reihl [sic] says was a false report after his Divorce in Tenn.,” Rogers explained in a Tuesday, March 30 email, in response to questions about the warrant.
Knox County Sheriff’s Department officials initially said they were not aware of an outstanding arrest warrant for Riehl. But after a reporter provided them with additional information, they were able to locate the warrant.
“The Captain over the [Knox County Sheriff’s Department] Warrants Division says we cannot release the warrant because it is outstanding and has not been served,” said Martha Dooley, spokeswoman for the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, in a March 24 email.
“He [The Captain] also said because it is 23 years old it will probably be canceled sometime next week, so we will not be extraditing Riehl,” Dooley said.
According to anonymous sources in the Knox County Sheriff’s Department and internal sheriff’s department documents obtained by the South Florida Times, Riehl is wanted for the alleged 1987 burglary of the home of his ex-wife, Grace Riehl.
The home is on the outskirts of Knoxville. The warrant calls for Riehl to post a $5,000 bond.
“On or about June 26, 1987, in Knox County, at 312 Clover Fork Drive, the defendant [Ralph L. Riehl] did break and enter the residence of Grace Riehl and did take and carry away an Oster brand hair dryer valued at $13.00, thirty photos valued at $30.00 and a Legos [sic] brand toy set valued at $40.00,” arrest warrant number 05688H states.
“Defendant was found in the house on this date.”
The alleged victim, Grace Riehl, could not be reached for comment about the department’s decision not to pursue the case. According to Sousa, Ralph Riehl said he had not spoken with his ex-wife since 1986, which is a year before the alleged burglary.
“He said he has retained an attorney in Tennessee to handle it,” Sousa said.
Ralph Riehl has questioned numerous Fort Lauderdale Police Department operations, particularly the department’s controversial off-duty detail program, in which officers are paid an extra fee for providing police protection at private events. The cost is paid by the individual or group that receives the protection.
Ralph Riehl has also filed several complaints against individual officers, including Officer Donald L. Hammond, who he alleged delivered a threat, warning Riehl that other officers would do harm to him because of his activism against and complaints about the department.
That Nov. 19, 2009 complaint led to a three-month undercover investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), in which Riehl actively participated.
During the course of that investigation, Riehl wore a wire and a video surveillance camera on Dec. 10, 2009 to secretly record nearly two hours of conversation he had with Hammond about the alleged threats. He also carried a special cell phone that agents provide to him for the mission.
“Our investigation revealed that no viable or credible evidence was uncovered which would support the allegations that a threat was made against the complainant Mr. Riehl, by the officer,” wrote Amos Rojas, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of FDLE’s Miami Regional Operations Center in a Feb. 4 letter.
“We are closing our investigation as unable to prove or disprove the allegations,” Rojas wrote.
Hammond was not available for an interview with a reporter, Sousa said.
According to a copy of the undercover surveillance video obtained by the newspaper, Hammond praised convicted Ponzi scheme lawyer Scott Rothstein, jokingly referred to a female supervisor as mister, and was critical of several of his bosses. He also expressed displeasure with his union president and vice president, but never revealed any threats.
For the undercover operation, FDLE agents provided Riehl a miniature video camera and a specially equipped cell phone, which also served as a listening device. The device was placed in Riehl’s pocket.
The audio was poor, and the phone rang repeatedly, drowning out portions of the taped conversation.
Riehl took several breaks to call the agents for additional instructions before returning to Hammond to continue the conversation.
“I won’t make any more complaints and everybody backs off,” Riehl proffered.
Hammond rejected that offer and later said, “No, you’re OK. They are just angry that’s all.”
Following published reports about the mission, Hammond finalized his previously scheduled retirement plans.
“Officer Donald Hammond has turned in his equipment and went to the pension office signing his retirement papers, which go into effect April 16,” Jack Lokiensky, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union that represents Hammond, said in a Wednesday, March 31 email.
Like Fort Lauderdale police, FDLE officials said they were unaware that the activist had any outstanding warrants, but they have not said whether they looked into his background before conducting the probe about the alleged threats.