Golden Gate Estates man demands restitution from violent offender

Published: September 30, 2021 5:24 PM EDT
Updated: September 30, 2021 6:28 PM EDT

Florida criminals might spend time behind bars, but they’re not always paying for the crimes they commit.

We examined why the State of Florida is picking up the tab for some violent offenders

Dennes Pinero Garcia was found guilty of felony battery and ordered to pay nearly $15,000 in restitution. But just days after the trial, his victim learned the State of Florida offered to pick up Garcia’s tab.

That happens more often than you might think.

“There was no fight,” Steven Todd explained. “I was brutally beaten to the ground.”

Steven Todd is the victim of a felony battery in Golden Gate Estates. He doesn’t want taxpayers to front the money for his restitution in lieu of his attacker. Credit: WINK News.

The battery started when Todd noticed two aggressive dogs outside his property on 12th Ave NE in Golden Gate Estates. He says they almost attacked his cat, but when he confronted the owner, a man who worked for his neighbor entered Todd’s backyard and beat him up.

“He sucker punches me,” Todd said. “As I go down, he hits me eight or 10 more times, broken nose, ruptured ear drum.”

Garcia was a nine-time convicted felon when he was arrested for assaulting Todd, and it’s created a large pile of bills.

“They took chest X-rays. They took head X-rays,” Todd said. “I got $15,000 dollars of medical bills and the emergency room.”

Todd found a bit of peace when a Collier County judge found Garcia guilty of felony battery in early September and ordered him to pay Todd’s bills.

But Todd was further stunned when, just days after the trial, he was contacted by the state attorney’s office.

The state victim’s fund is trying to pay Todd’s hospital bills instead of Garcia.

“I don’t want the good people of Florida and Collier County to have to pay this cowardly thug’s bills,” Todd said. “He needs to pay every penny of it.”

The state victim’s fund is paid for by taxpayer dollars. It’s set up to compensate innocent victims of violent or costly crimes.

Danny Garza, a criminal attorney at Wilbur Smith LLC who is not involved in this case, says it’s not uncommon for the state to pay for bills that a defendant can’t handle.

“There are a certain amount of victims who, if knowing they may not be getting any restitution from a defendant, they may apply for a victim fund,” Garza explained.

Todd says he never signed up for the fund; although, it’s unclear if someone with his legal team did.

Victims of crime aren’t required to accept the state’s funds. They can decline and demand restitution.

For Todd, it’s a no-brainer.

“They sent me papers that I was supposed to sign,” Todd said. “I have not signed them. I will not sign them. I’ll go live in a tent in the woods before I give them a penny of my money.”

But victims do run the risk of never seeing that money, or having to wait years to get paid back.

A defendant cannot be punished for the inability to pay restitution, no matter what crime they commit.

“There is always a risk of not receiving any restitution,” Garza said. “But that’s up to the individual to decide if they want to forego the money from the victim’s fund and solely rely on restitution.”

Todd plans to wait.

Garcia will be in jail for nine more months followed by two years of probation.

“I’ve already forgiven him for what he’s done,” Todd said.

But that doesn’t change how he feels about the burden on taxpayers.

“I don’t want to see the good people in Florida pay for this person’s bills,” Todd said. “He’s got 10 felonies now. These are his bills.”

We reached out to Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office for more information on the victim’s fund, but our interview request was declined.

It’s unclear whether Garcia can pay this restitution. We’ve also reached out to his attorney and await a response.

If you’ve been the victim of a crime, you could be eligible for help.

MORE: Florida Attorney General – Crime Victims’ Services