Deputy’s wife breaks her silence, blows the whistle on corrupt sheriff

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Note from the editor: This is a perfect example of what Ocala Post has been reporting on for years. Not only the corruption within the CCSO, but also MCSO. MSCO, in particular, makes it extremely difficult to report the corruption because they go to extreme lengths to cover it up and oftentimes withhold vital information from the press. They choose what news agencies they release information to and what agencies can and cannot report the news. The public turns a blind eye to it because they cannot see behind the scenes. The public has been trained to believe that this level of corruption only happens in the movies. Well, guess again. This is not about Right or Left…it is about right and wrong.

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by Michelle Lahera, the wife of Deputy Andy Lahera

This is a very long read, but please read it all the way to the end to understand everything else we’ve been dealing with as far as the Sheriff’s Office is concerned – on top of the accident:

One year ago today, our lives changed forever. It was a normal morning as Andy and I were both hustling to get to work. Our morning routine was to kiss each other goodbye, wish each other a great day, and say we would see each other later. Well, that later never came.

Andy reminded me that he was going to be late because he was working at Lecanto High School’s graduation. I said OK, I’ll stay at school a little later and get my end-of-year gifts and party set up for the next day. Once I was done, I went home and waited for Andy.

At 9:05 pm, I received a message asking if Andy was ok. I said yes, he was working on the graduation. At the same time, I received a phone call asking the same, to which my answer was once again yes. But just in case, I texted Andy to make sure.

No answer. I called Andy. No answer. Now I started panicking. I called my son Nicholas and told him I think your dad was in an accident, not realizing at that moment how bad things really were.

Let me back up for a minute. A school official had said that he didn’t want the side gate opened, but a Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Captain was heard over the walkie talkie, and in front of several witnesses, saying that he didn’t want to be stuck there all night and that he wanted to hurry up and get home.

So Andy was placed there to direct traffic and the Captain never made it home early that night.

The Captain can happily go on with his life, take vacations with his family, enjoy holidays with his family, and spend time at home with his family, but our family is forever broken and will never be the same again because he was in such a rush to get home that night.

Unfortunately, Andy never got to come home.

As a result, now I’m never home because after my job at school each day I drive almost two hours one way to be by my husband’s side in a facility while he fights to try to relearn everything due to his traumatic brain injury.

Our boys are never home because, instead of coming home, they are forced to visit their dad in a facility. They spent last Father’s Day sitting in an ICU watching their father fight to just stay alive.

You have no idea how hard it is to watch the strongest man I have ever known try to just barely lift his arm. You have no idea how hard it is to sit next to him while he tries so hard to do tasks that we don’t even think about. You have no idea how many times a day I cry and how many times I ask God to just take me because I can’t stand to see Andy like this.

I live in a constant state of panic, fear, and anxiety. I have nothing left to lose anymore. They have taken everything from me. The worst thing you can say to me is: “I can’t even imagine,” because I can’t even imagine either, and I’m living this nightmare every single day.

So if you’re thinking, “WOW, hang on because it keeps getting better,” – on July 27, 2023, just two short months after Andy’s accident, I reached out to the Sheriff’s Office about filling out the open enrollment for insurance.

Andy carries the boys on his policy, along with life insurance for himself. Long story short, because it is a LOOOONG story, I walk into HR and notice more people than I expected, one especially a high-ranking member of the command staff.

So, I think it’s odd that this many people are there just for me to sign insurance paperwork, but I go in nonetheless.

We go through all of the policies Andy had, and I sign the paperwork. Then the high-ranking official says, “There’s something else we need to discuss.”

Now I’m thinking, “What more do we need to discuss?” and the official proceeded to tell me that if Andy can’t return to work within six months of his accident, which would be Nov. 10, 2023, the Sheriff’s Office would be “SEPARATING” from him.

It took me a minute to process what the official was saying and I’m sure they could see that by the look on my face. So then I say, “Are you telling me Andy will no longer be employed?”

The response was yes. It was literally as if someone took a knife and shoved it right through my heart. My husband, who has dedicated 15 loyal years to the Sheriff’s Office, who was literally still fighting for his life, due to no fault of his own, but simply because he was doing his job, and they tell me they will be “SEPARATING” from him?

Once I got back into my car, I called Nicholas, and just began sobbing! I was completely blindsided by them because I thought I was just going in to sign open enrollment paperwork to keep his health insurance and his life insurance.

This conversation also included the fact that Andy would no longer be getting paid from the Sheriff’s Office because Workman’s Compensation would be taking over and that it will only pay 66 percent of his income.

Because Andy had sick time and PTO, I could use those to supplement his insurance until they ran out, and then I would have to call the companies on my own to see if I could continue paying privately.

I know many of you have been told that the Sheriff is paying 100 percent of Andy’s payroll, but that is not true.

Well, that entire conversation obviously didn’t sit well with me, so I told everyone I knew, and anyone that would listen, what was happening to us, all while we were still trying to just make it through one day at a time.

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On Aug. 5, 2023, while Nicholas, a family friend/ advocate, and I, were sitting with Andy at his Long Term Acute Care Hospital (LTACH), I received a phone call from a high-ranking official, which I answered on speaker phone so that everyone, including any hospital staff that might be near, could hear.

The official began the phone call by asking if I was in town or out and about. I said that if I’m not at work, I’m with Andy.

As the official began speaking, I started taking notes and I’m glad I did. The official said they wanted to ask about rumors they were hearing.

I stopped her and asked if they weren’t separating from Andy, to which the official replied, we are.

So, I said, “Then they’re not rumors, but the exact words that came straight out of your mouth.”

They then said that they were hurt that I was telling people these things.

HURT?! They said several times that I should communicate with her and not vent to others.

The high-ranking official then proceeded to tell me that this is a business. To which I replied that my husband is NOT a business!

The official said I was being too emotional. REALLY! As you can imagine, at this point, I was getting extremely irritated and said, not very calmly, that they go home to their spouse at night and the Sheriff goes home to his wife, but I go to a hospital every night.

The high-ranking official then said, “We’ve been here since day one.”

I replied, “Well, I would hope so because he’s your employee and you put him in this situation.”

That is/was correct.

Back then, the official and the Sheriff would drive to Tampa together (to see Andy) every time they came down, every so often, spend about an hour or so, and then leave.

But once they realized that Andy wasn’t going to just come out of it like we were hoping, that is when they started becoming more distant from us.

I then brought up the fact that we had deputies with Andy since this happened, but as soon as I went back to work they pulled all deputies from sitting with him without even the common courtesy of giving me a heads-up.

After my first day back at work, I drove down to the LTACH, and a CCSO deputy was with him. He asked me if I knew that there would no longer be any deputies with him.

I said I had no idea that they pulled the deputies. I still don’t understand why they never told me and why they would do that when this was the most important time to have them there because I couldn’t be there.

At this point my friend took the phone from me and The high-ranking official said to her, “What does she want?”

My friend said she wants insurance for her husband and her boys and life insurance for her husband because we don’t know what’s to come.

NOW HERE’S THE BEST LINE OF THAT CONVERSATION: The high-ranking official said, “If we did this for him, we’d have to do it for everyone,” and then compared Andy’s injury to a broken ankle.

I screamed, “Then do it for everyone!”

The official said they had to see what the Sheriff wanted to do.

By the way, if you didn’t already know, the Sheriff writes his own policy, to include catastrophic injury, and can decide how he wants to take care of his deputies.

A few days later I received a call from a high-ranking official asking if I could come in and who would I be bringing with me.

On Sept. 5, my family friend/ advocate and I went to the Sheriff’s Office, and we had Nicholas on speakerphone. This time there were only three people who met with us.

Neither The high-ranking official nor Prendergast were there. They said that the Sheriff has agreed to extend our separation until August 2024 and we will revisit it at that time.

Well, August also happens to be the primary.

The last time Prendergast and I actually spoke on the phone was in November of 2023 when I was already in Georgia.

I made sure to text him with every single move we made so that he would know what was happening with his employee since he, the Sheriff, was no longer asking.

The last text I sent to him was when we were back in Florida and that we were limiting visitors at that time so Andy could get acclimated.

Other than that phone conversation in November, the last time Prendergast called me was in January of 2024.

Since I couldn’t answer because I was in therapy with Andy, I called him back and left a message. A few days later, he called back. Once again, I was in therapy with Andy and called him back afterward. I left a message stating that I can’t answer when I’m in therapy with Andy and to call me back anytime after 4 pm.

I have never heard from him since. He has cut all ties with us.

Everyone always talks about the police brotherhood. You know where I felt that? In Georgia, by strangers who immediately took us in as one of their own, and cared for us.

I was also hurt to learn that the Sheriff didn’t show up for the BBQ fundraiser that Leon McClellan and Joe Faherty hosted and then come to find out he encouraged his deputies not to support it.

Why? Why would you do that? Why create a divide that isn’t necessary during an already tragic time?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the Sheriff decides Andy’s fate will be in August.

I truly hope that none of you are ever in the situation that we are in. Every day is a struggle. And unless you have been through this yourself, you really can’t understand it.

I never could have imagined that our lives could be so shattered. We are the ones left here to pick up all the pieces.

I hope you now understand why I continuously ask that Andy not be forgotten, because it seems as though he already has been by the very people who caused this.

It’s as if he never existed. I don’t care if they don’t check in on me and the boys, but for God’s sake, check in on Andy!

I have lost all respect for so many people and am disgusted by how they are treating their employees.

I watched the May 14th County Commissioners meeting and heard the Sheriff fighting hard for more deputies, yet my husband lies in a hospital bed without any consideration.

Prendergast has absolutely no clue how Andy is doing. That’s absolutely heartbreaking to me.

He spoke about these amazing men and women who put their lives on the line every day for their community. Well, my husband did too, and yet he has forgotten him.

Will Andy only be remembered in the time of his passing? That’s not good enough for me!

You know, at first, I was extremely impressed with how involved the Sheriff was with us and I thought he genuinely cared, but as it seems to be with everything else, I’m sure there was an ulterior motive.

Let Andy’s story be a true testament to what’s really going on.

My husband has worked his ass off to become a deputy. When he didn’t think he could pass the physical fitness aspect of the academy, he pushed himself harder.

When he wanted to apply for the Sergeant’s position, he went back to school in his late 40s to earn his degree. When Parkland happened, he gave up his detective and hostage negotiation positions to become a school resource officer to keep the kids in our county safe.

All I am asking for is to give Andy the respect that he has rightfully earned and deserves.

I implore you to put yourselves in our shoes for even just a moment and imagine if this was your husband, father, or son before you speak or share your opinions with anyone.

We’re not interested in your “medical diagnosis.” We are navigating this the best we know how because we were never prepared for something like this.

We don’t need opinions, advice, or sympathy, we just need a lot of grace and prayers, please.

I will continue to sit by my husband’s side until God decides otherwise. Every night I tell him how sorry I am that this happened to him and how he didn’t deserve this.

When I die, I truly believe that it will be of a broken heart, but, until then, I will protect him until my very last breath.

All Andy was doing was what he was told to do that night, his job, and he was hurt IN THE LINE OF DUTY.

Thank you to those deputies who had checked in on us and those who continue to do so.

To our amazing community: We are so grateful for all of the support you have shown us over this unbearable year.

All I have ever wanted and will continue to ask for is to please pray for Andy.

Ocala Post, a Subsidiary of Jaguar Media Holdings, LLC, is working with the family to accept donations. These donations will go directly to the family to assist in their time of need.



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