A former Islamorada Coast Guard commander who had faced life in prison in a Marathon murder-for-hire plot will likely serve 10 years in federal prison as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors hammered out Monday in Miami.
Federal prosecutors agreed to drop two cocaine charges and one gun-related charge in exchange for a guilty plea on the murder-for-hire charge against retired Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Zecca, according to court documents.
The murder-for-hire charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.
Sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez was tentatively scheduled for March 25 at the federal courthouse in Key West, 301 Simonton St.
Zecca agreed to give authorities a "full, accurate and complete" picture of all the circumstances surrounding the case as part of the plea agreement, according to court records.
In January, a federal grand jury issued a four-count indictment against Zecca that included charges of murder-for-hire, conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, and transfer of a firearm to a convicted felon.
The two cocaine-related charges carry maximum sentences of life in prison, whereas the murder-for-hire and firearm counts each carry maximum penalties of 10 years' prison.
Federal prosecutors allege that Zecca, a former manager at Marathon Marina and Boatyard, attempted to pay an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration informant $20,000, or a kilogram of cocaine, to shoot and kill Marathon Realtor Bruce Schmitt with a 9 mm Beretta handgun over the Christmas holidays.
The alleged murder-for-hire scheme came to light during the DEA's undercover cocaine investigation into Zecca, 52, who originally pleaded not guilty on Jan. 14 to murder-for-hire and cocaine charges.
The Citizen filed an extensive Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Jan. 7 for the complete personnel file for Zecca, but received a letter dated May 28 that none of the 118-page file would be released due to privacy concerns.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. David R. Callahan, commander of the Coast Guard Personnel Service Center, wrote The Citizen: "Release of the 118 pages found to be responsive to this request would present a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
Callahan wrote that The Citizen would need a statement from Zecca approving the release due to DHS regulations, a requirement that's been impossible to meet because of Zecca's detainment in Miami and the refusal of his attorney, William Aaron, to respond to media inquiries.
The lack of comment from both sides in the case has fueled speculation over the past year as to a possible motive in the alleged crime. It's unknown if others were involved in a larger conspiracy.
Zecca reportedly told the DEA informant that he first "needed to meet with others and move money between accounts" before paying for the alleged hit, according to court records.
There have been no other arrests in the case.
Zecca retired in 2006 as a chief warrant officer in Islamorada -- the station's commanding officer -- after serving 27 years in the Coast Guard.
In May, he was transferred from the Monroe County Detention Center on Stock Island to the Federal Detention Center in Miami.