Authorities say a Cocoa monitoring company delayed seven hours in relaying to authorities an alert from 70-year-old Loomes Wheeler Jr.'s GPS gear on the morning he fled his Osceola County home.
But a newly released recording of a May court hearing shows Wheeler would have likely been behind bars — if the company, Court Resources, hadn't persuaded his judge that its monitoring service could keep tabs on him.
Circuit Judge Mark Blechman had granted Wheeler bail on condition of GPS monitoring through Osceola County's pretrial release program after his arrest on a slew of sexual-battery and molestation charges in April.
But the county program rejected Wheeler — because of the newly imposed restrictions preventing defendants with such charges from being placed on GPS in Osceola — and the judge reversed course.
"I'm willing to let him out on GPS, and without GPS I'm not willing to let him out," Blechman said May 2. He revoked the bail conditions he had granted Wheeler, but told Wheeler's defense attorney he could explore alternatives.
"If you can persuade me of competence, I'll be open to it," Blechman told defense lawyer John Notari.
The next day, the case was back in court. Court Resources Director David Saporito testified that his company would receive immediate alerts should Wheeler violate the judge's rules.
"It hits our iPhones... instantly to tell us, strap tamper," Saporito said. "If it was in the middle of the night, we would just call the local police department, and in the morning send a letter to the state attorneys."
However, though Wheeler's GPS gear sent an alert about 1:50 a.m. Labor Day, Court Resources didn't alert Osceola deputies until about 9 a.m., the Sheriff's Office says.
By the time deputies arrived at Wheeler's house, he was gone. His two GPS monitors were found abandoned nearby, the Sheriff's Office confirmed.
Records show Court Resources sent an email to the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office and Blechman after alerting the Sheriff's Office that day.
During the May hearing, prosecutor Shannon O'Brien expressed reservations, noting that Court Resources wasn't among the GPS providers approved by Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr.
Given the strife that electronic monitoring had recently caused in Orange County, "I don't necessarily love being the guinea pig case," she said.
Blechman, however, was impressed by Saporito's testimony that his company was monitoring about 70 defendants in Brevard County, including two in murder cases.
"To me that shows credibility," the judge said. "It shows that you're going to want your business to continue, and if you were to be sloppy, as they appear to have been in Orange County, then you'd be cutting your nose to spite your face."
The hearing came amid scandals in Orange's county-run home-confinement and privately operated GPS programs.
In September 2012, authorities say Orange defendant Bessman Okafor killed a witness in his case while on home confinement. The Orlando Sentinel later disclosed that Okafor had numerous potential curfew violations that had gone unreported.
And on Easter, Wilfred Gregory, a defendant on a separate privately run GPS program, was accused of shooting another man at a park in Apopka, before ditching his monitor.
The company that provided Gregory's monitor, Court Programs of Central Florida, delayed in alerting authorities that the device had been found, investigators said.
The owner of Horse World Riding Stables, Wheeler was arrested in April after a 9-year-old girl told a child-protection investigator that he had sexually abused her at least 100 times, the Sheriff's Office said.
Later that month, he was rearrested after a 20-year-old woman came forward and told Osceola County deputies that Wheeler had also touched her inappropriately, starting when she was about 6 years old.
Wheeler remains at large. Anyone with information is asked to call the Osceola County Sheriff's Office at 407-348-2222 or Crimeline at 800-423- 8477.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5171Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun