Former TPD informant gets 12 years for tax fraud

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Rita Girven's life has been described as a tangled web of lies, crimes, and deception.  But it all came to an abrupt end Friday when federal judge Elizabeth Kovachevich sentenced her to 12 years in prison for wire fraud conspiracy and identity theft.

Girven wiped away tears as the judge dressed her down, calling her a "loser and failure as a mother" adding, "if you walked out of here without a punishment, you will continue to commit crimes because you think that's OK."

Girven's attorney said her life of crime began at the young age of 12.

"She never had a chance, and she never knew she never had a chance," Ralph Fernandez explained to the judge.

Fernandez said 31 of her closest relatives were either in prison or had multiple arrests.

Girven's street smarts and life of crime paid off when she became a confidential informant  for the Tampa Police Department.  She bragged in a jailhouse call how she could call in favors from a list of Tampa cops.

"They would give me money, they would pay a bill, they'll help me pay rent, they'll do whatever they could to keep me from getting in trouble," said Girven.

But it was her cozy relationship with two Tampa cops that turned criminal, say federal prosecutors.  Tampa police detective Eric Houston and his wife, Sgt. LaJoyce Houston, became so close to Girven they even adopted her youngest daughter.

Both Houstons were fired from TPD after they became the focus of tax fraud investigation involving Girven.

Last month, Eric and LaJoyce Houston were indicted on federal charges that include conspiracy to commit tax fraud. Investigators say Girven would single out elderly drivers and grab their license plate information. She would provide the information to the Houstons, who would look them up in the police database. Federal prosecutors say the information would be used to file fraudulent tax refunds.

Before handing down her sentence,  Judge Kovachevich asked Girven why she kept committing crimes throughout the years?

"I did it to provide for my family," Girven explained.

But the judge scoffed at that, accusing Girven of never taking full responsibility for her crimes.

"You don't respect the justice system, the court system, not even your children. If you did, you would be a mother to them.  You're a failure," said Judge Kovachevich.

Girven was immediately taken into custody. She took off her earrings and handed them to her lawyers, then turned to her family in the gallery and mouthed goodbye. Her family cried out," We love you."

Outside the courthouse, Fernandez, who was asking for 10 years in prison, was relieved with the sentence.

Still holding her earrings, he called them symbolic. "You can kind of associate that with the end of a life of misconduct. Hopefully next time she's wearing them, she doesn't have this heavy burden upon her and her family."