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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Murder-for-hire investigation continues in Marathon

FBI agents questioned Marathon Mayor Mike Cinque about murder-for-hire suspect Dennis Zecca's ties to a proposed U.S. Customs facility and Councilman Dick Ramsay about the former Coast Guard commander's alleged drug dealings.

But Marathon City Manager Roger Hernstadt denied reports that FBI agents had interviewed city staff or requested documents from the city, he told The Citizen last week and again on Monday.

Cinque, Vice Mayor Richard Keating and councilmembers Dick Ramsay and Chris Bull all said they were unaware of any investigation into the city of Marathon by the FBI. Councilwoman Ginger Snead did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The FBI has not subpoenaed documents or requsted public records regarding the Zecca investigation, Hernstadt added. Neither has any other law enforcement agency, he said.

The FBI talked to Cinque after a city council meeting on Jan. 23, he said.

"They had some questions about Dennis Zecca's relationship with the city," Cinque said. "They talked about the port of entry. Everyone knows we want a port of entry [so boaters can clear Customs in Marathon instead of KeyWest]. I said, 'Of course, Dennis was one of many people involved.'"

Zecca's status as retired commander of Coast Guard Station Islamorada carried weight with Cinque who was looking for professional advice as to how such a port should be run, Cinque said, adding that many others were involved in the discussion.

Last year, Zecca, who was also the manager and a co-owner of Marathon Marina & Boatyard, was one of several prominent business people who supported a push by the city of Marathon and Monroe County to build a $1.15 million Customs and Border Protection facility at the Florida Keys Marathon Airport, an effort that ultimately proved successful.

Marathon Marina & Boatyard -- and other businesses such as Hawks Cay Resort and the Spottswood Co. -- offered to cut checks in order to get the project off the ground.

Zecca offered to write a check on behalf of the marina for $75,000, and also expressed interest in Marathon Marina being a marine point of entry for the customs facility at the airport.

But Monroe County Commissioner David Rice and Ramsay told The Citizen last month that those discussions were informal and that though Zecca was joined by others, none ultimately ever wrote checks to the county.

The port of entry facility is yet to be built as the county remains in planning discussions with Customs and Border Protection.

Ramsay, meanwhile, talked to FBI investigators at his home more than a month ago about Zecca's alleged drug dealing and the government's case against him, but any allegations against the city of Marathon did not arise, he said.

"The gist of the conversation was that this is all an ongoing investigation about Zecca's drug dealings and this murder-for-hire business," Ramsay said.

Ramsay added that the city of Marathon was not a topic of that conversation.

"To the best of my knowledge there is zero connection [between Zecca and the city of Marathon] and by 'best of my knowledge,' I mean I would bet on it."

Marathon City Attorney John Herin declined to comment for this story.

Bull and Keating had not been contacted by any investigators and both expressed growing concern about the mounting rumor mill surrounding the Zecca case.

"To my knowledge the FBI has not been here and I haven't seen them," Keating said. "I understand some other council members may have been contacted, but nothing came of it."

Bull added that he hasn't gotten any special requests from the FBI or anyone else about Zecca, but he was notified by Herin that other councilmembers had been interviewed.

Federal prosecutors allege the retired Coast Guard commander and Marathon Marina & Boatyard manager and co-owner offered to pay an undercover DEA informant $20,000 or a kilo of cocaine -- whichever the informant preferred -- to kill Marathon Realtor Bruce Schmitt with a 9 mm Beretta handgun.

Zecca, 51, pleaded not guilty on Jan. 14 to murder-for-hire, transfer of a firearm to a convicted felon, conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, and attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. He faces life in prison if convicted.

U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez tentatively scheduled Zecca's trial to begin in Key West on July 15 at the Sidney M. Aronovitz federal courthouse, 301 Simonton St. He remains jailed at Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island.

Zecca retired as a chief warrant officer in Islamorada in 2006 -- the station's commanding officer -- after serving 27 years in the Coast Guard.

Staff writer Timothy O'Hara contributed to this report.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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