Ex-Port Richey mayor's conspiracy conviction overturned in Florida appeals court

An appeals court Friday overturned a former Port Richey mayor’s conviction on a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The scandal surrounding former Mayor Dale Massad started unfolding in February 2019. Pasco County deputies went to arrest Massad and search his home, accusing him of operating on people in his garage without a medical license. 

About a month after Terrence Rowe took over as acting mayor, he too was arrested and accused of conspiring with Massad – while he was in jail – to obstruct justice. After a jailhouse phone call from Massad, Rowe requested from the city a copy of the personnel file of police officer Donald Howard.

Howard had been involved in the initial investigation and arrest of Massad – a former physician – over practicing medicine without a license. Howard alerted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, with Massad ultimately charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice falsely under the color of law.

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A jury found Massad guilty, but the appeals court said there was no evidence that Massad and Rowe agreed to use the personnel file, which is a public record, "for the purpose of intimidation or retaliation" against Howard. "Mr. Rowe requesting and obtaining these files can hardly be said to be illegal, nor considered ‘acting falsely under color of law,’" said the 11-page ruling, written by Judge Andrea Teves Smith and joined by Judges Darryl Casanueva and Edward LaRose. "While it is certainly conceivable that Mr. Rowe could have used these documents in an attempt to intimidate or retaliate against Officer Howard, there was no evidence of such an attempt, nor was it the topic of any discussion between Mr. Massad and Mr. Rowe."

Photo: Dale Massad booking image from Florida DOC

Booking image of Dale Massad (Provided by the Florida Department of Corrections)

Back in February 2019, Massad didn't answer the door when law enforcement officers arrived to serve a warrant. That's when a SWAT team blasted through and Massad shot at them. In an interview from jail, Massad said he acted in self-defense because his home had been broken into in the past, and he thought it was an intruder at his door, not five sheriff’s deputies. 

FROM 2019: Sheriff: Port Richey mayor shot at deputies serving warrant for illegal medical practice

Massad was accused of conspiring with then-acting Mayor Terrence Rowe in 2019 while Massad was in jail after being arrested in 2019 on charges that he practiced medicine without a license and fired a gun at police as they tried to serve a search warrant at his home, according to Friday’s ruling by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

In March 2021, he was sentenced to three years in state prison with time served. At that point, Massad was already sitting in jail for two years.

The plea deal meant the attempted murder charges against Massad were tossed for the lesser of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. He was released from state prison before Christmas in December 2021.

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According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Massad is residing in Lighthouse Point, located in Fort Lauderdale. His 10-year probation started following his release last year. 

As for Rowe, he agreed to a plea deal in December 2020 to have the obstruction charge dropped. He was sentenced to two years probation and 50 hours of community service. A judge ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation and to pay court costs.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report