On Monday afternoon the University of Florida police department filed sworn complaints against nine members of the Florida Gators football team. The complaints were over the student-athletes using stolen credit card information to purchase items from the University Bookstore. In total more than 62 felony complaints for more than $17,000 were sent in.
It’s important to note that the UPD does not and cannot formally charge anybody. That is not the role of law enforcement. Their job is to conduct an investigation and recommend charges based on their investigation, which they have completed and sent to the state attorney’s office.
What do these charges mean for the future of these football players? What is the process?
First: Detectives conduct an investigation.
The investigation into this issue began on August 15, 2017 when Associate Director David Looney and Electronic Technician Michael Chambers contacted UFPD officer Nakita McCarthy. According to the sworn complaints Looney told McCarthy that he had been alerted that two students were adding unusually high amounts of money to their UF Bookstore prepaid accounts (in excess of $1,500).
Looney and Chambers were alerted because of an unusual amount of “chargebacks.” A chargeback occurs when the cardholder whose card was used disputes a charge. Looney estimated the Bookstore usually deals with five “chargebacks” a year and that they had received several disputes on the accounts of Jordan Smith and a Sarita Francis. Interviews with Francis revealed that she was tied to Jordan Scarlett.
Tipped off by the two accounts, the Bookstore flagged seven other accounts, all Florida football players.
This led the University Police to begin its investigation into the matter. The investigation included interviews with victims, of which there are between 12-15 victims that had their credit card and information unlawfully stolen and used. It included going through video surveillance, investigating bank statements and connecting stolen credit cards information back to IP addresses that links back to the players that allegedly used the stolen credit card information.
Second: Investigation closed and sent to state attorney, sworn complaint/recommendation of charges
The investigation began on August 15 and concluded when the UFPD sent their investigation, sworn complaints and recommendation of charges to the State Attorney’s office.
Again, the UFPD is not responsible for nor do they have the jurisdiction to make or pursue charges. That is the job of the State Attorney, Bill Cervone, and his office.
Third: State attorney reviews the police reports and other evidence and makes a determination to file official charges (information).
The State Attorney confirmed to Gator Country that they received the investigation on the morning of Monday, September 25. The investigation, which took more than a month, is extensive. State Attorney Bill Cervone and his office will now parse through what was delivered to them. There will be information that they will need to vet or corroborate. They may need to conduct their own interviews and their own investigation.
When asked for a timeline, Cervone told Gator Country that this process could take “several weeks.” Cervone noted how long it took UFPD to conclude its investigation and the amount of information they uncovered. His office will not treat these cases hastily.
As far as the charges themselves, Cervone said that this was a “garden variety” credit card fraud case. That is not meant to downplay the allegations in this case, just to note that credit card fraud is a major issue in the state of Florida.
Cervone will go through the information, he and his office will conduct its own investigation, at which point they will make a final determination whether to pursue charges based on the evidence and information gathered.
There are two outcomes.
- The State Attorney’s office deems they do not have enough evidence or corroboration to pursue the charges and they don’t, which is unlikely in this case.
- The State Attorney’s office decides they have enough evidence at which point they file official charges (called “filing an information”)
Fourth: Once charges are filed that starts the court system
If an information is filed that is when the legal system begins.
An arraignment would be scheduled where the charges would be formally read to the defendants and they would enter a formal plea.
However, in most cases an attorney will file a written plea of not guilty, negating the need for an arraignment and the need for the defendant’s obligation to appear in court.
Fifth: The Court will set a “calendar call” or “status conference”
This is where lawyers will update the court whether or not they are ready to go to trial, whether they’ve reached a plea bargain or if they need a continuance.
The Rules of Florida Criminal Procedure also allows a defendant to waive their appearance at this hearing. That must be done in writing before the hearing and would be done by the defendant’s attorney.
Fifth: If lawyer/defendant wants Pre-trial diversion (PTD) the lawyer will begin negotiating with the State Attorney immediately.
There is a potential for pre-trial diversion for the nine players that are implicated in the UFPD investigation.
Pre-trial diversion is program which allows a person to complete certain criteria in a contact with the State Attorney’s office, such as community work hours, restitution , written apology, etc.… once those criteria and obligations are met by the defendant the state would drop the case. The legal term is “nol pros.”
- In Alachua county a defendant who has previously gone through PTD for a misdemeanor would not be excluded from going through PTD for a felony. For instance both Jordan Scarlett and Antonio Callaway have completed pre-trial diversion for previous misdemeanors, but in Alachua County, they would be allowed to enter that program for these felony charges.
The length of felony PTD is typically 12-18 months long and is very similar to being on probation. If a defendant fails to meet the criteria of their PTD charges would be reintroduced.