Prosecutors get extension in case against Hendry sheriff

Steve Whidden

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Prosecutors have an extra year to look into accusations Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden covered up a hit-and-run that injured a teenager.

Gov. Rick Scott gave the office of Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg an extension in the case that also implicates Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Nelson.

Scott assigned Aronberg’s office to the case because of a conflict of interest between Whidden and 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Stephen Russell, a former law partner.

Whidden is accused of covering up the investigation of a Sept. 11, 2015 hit-and-run of a 15-year-old girl on Nobles Road in LaBelle.

Richard Carlton Smith, 58, of LaBelle, was suspected of hitting the girl and contacted Whidden while he was pulled over by a Hendry County deputy investigating the incident.

The incident and subsequent traffic stop happened before Smith reported to federal prison to serve 41 months for fraud.

Whidden described Smith as an acquaintance whom he saw at a few restaurants, adding that he didn’t know Smith was about to go to prison at the time of the phone call.

But in an Aug. 10, 2016 deposition, the investigating deputy, Vernon Speak, said Whidden told him Smith was “a good guy” in “a bad position” and that “there’s no reason to go after this case.”