TAMPA — Lawyers for the woman at the center of a criminal investigation involving two former Tampa police detectives is asking a court to order the department to turn over documents about her relationship with law enforcement.
In the meantime, the department is reviewing its handling of confidential informants, according to a police spokeswoman.
Rita Girven is facing charges she and LaJoyce Houston, a former police sergeant, committed food stamp fraud when authorities say Girven was in jail and Houston used Girven's food stamp card to buy groceries. Houston was arrested last October and fired from her job.
Girven is also being investigated for stolen identity tax refund fraud, according to a federal affidavit filed in connection with an investigation into Houston's husband, Eric. Eric Houston, a former homicide detective, was fired in April in connection with the ongoing federal investigation, although he has not been charged with any crime.
The affidavit, along with documents released in connection with LaJoyce Houston's state fraud case, paint Girven as a longstanding informant with close ties to numerous police department officials.
Girven's lawyer, Ralph Fernandez, wants information about just how that relationship worked.
On Friday, he filed a motion seeking records, including all documents generated in connection with her work with the department as an informant or a cooperating defendant.
“This is one of the most prolific informants in TPD history,” said Fernandez, who estimated Girven has helped police with between 50 and 100 investigations. He said he could not give specifics but said some of her information helped solve high profile cases.
Fernandez said he suspects the documents he is seeking will help prove the department violated its policies and procedures, and possibly state law, in its handling of Girven.
“It's very clear that there was a failure to comply with the rules and regulations that govern relationships with individuals that are cooperating,” Fernandez said.
Tampa Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said she can't discuss whether a specific person worked as a confidential informant.
But, she said, “Rita Girven provided useful information to Tampa Police officers that helped send dozens of criminals to prison. Despite that, Tampa Police officers arrested Girven 37 times on 84 charges over the years; helping officers solve crimes did not exempt her from following the law. When she broke the law, she was arrested.”
“Confidential informants are typically paid in cash,” McElroy added. “They are a necessary evil in law enforcement. Sometimes the only way an officer can build a solid case against some of Tampa's most dangerous felons is with the help of a confidential informant.”
Still, McElroy said, “The administrative handling of confidential informants is one of the areas under review by the chief's new Bureau of Professional Standards. (Chief Jane Castor) “created it to conduct mini audits of the department, and our confidential informant program is part of that review process.”
McElroy said once the criminal investigation into Girven is complete, the department will conduct an internal review of the cases in which Girven provided information to officers.
When Fernandez was asked for examples of improprieties on the part of the police in their dealings with Girven, he said informants can either receive payments or lenience in their own criminal cases, but not both. But Fernandez stopped short of saying that's what happened with Girven, saying he's restricted on what he's allowed to disclose.