STUART, Fla. — A former Martin County deputy has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for making dozens of bogus drug arrests.
Steven O'Leary told a judge Thursday that he regretted his actions, but some of his many victims say they are not satisfied with the sentence.
With credit for time served, he will be released in about 10 1/2 years.
O'Leary accepted a plea deal earlier this year that capped his maximum sentence at 17 years with a no-contest plea. He was charged with 50 counts ranging from official misconduct, making false statements on arrest reports, tampering with evidence and false imprisonment.
"It just destroyed me. Nobody really believed me at first," said Samuel Palmieri, who was arrested by O'Leary in 2018 on false drug charges.
"This man is a cruel bully who intentionally tried to destroy people's lives," said another victim, James Sutton. "Waking up in jail with three felonies you didn't commit, looking at a five-year sentence, is not a good day."
Investigators said during O'Leary’s 11 months with the agency, he made upwards of 89 drug-related arrests. Investigators said in at least two dozen cases, substances O'Leary claimed to find in victims' vehicles that he submitted into evidence as illegal drugs turned out to be things like detergent, mints, powder from a broken figurine or legal headache medicine.
"It wasn't just one case. It wasn't just two cases," said assistant state attorney Nita Denton. "It was 89 cases."
"He said, 'Don't worry about it, just a little bit of cocaine,'" recalled Palmieri.
He told a judge the arrest cost him tens of thousands of dollars to get out of jail, get his car out of impound, pay legal fees and go to therapy.
"I still have my mug shot out there," said Palmieri. "I did not have a [criminal] record."
O'Leary's former boss, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, also spoke at the sentencing.
"Steven O'Leary is completely and 100% an outlier within the Martin County Sheriff's Office," said Snyder. "I have never seen anything so egregious in my entire career."
O'Leary told a judge he was battling with drug addiction at the time. Palmieri said he does not accept that as an excuse.
"I think it's ridiculous he wants to lean on the fact that he's a drug addict, because there are a lot of people who do drugs and they don't act like that," said Palmieri.
Snyder said changes have been made at the agency following O'Leary's actions. Supervisors now look at evidence from deputies before it is sealed and submitted. They also have tools that can test for an illegal substance on the scene.
Additionally, Snyder said, deputies are now more frequently confiscating what they believe to be an illegal substance and sending it off to be tested at a crime lab before making an arrest.
"We just have to now trust that all we could do to make it somewhat right has been done," said Snyder.