Winter Park officer accused of stealing from scene of death investigation arrested

Report: Officer's wife reported stolen items


WINTER PARK, Fla. – A Winter Park officer accused of stealing from the scene of a death investigation was arrested Friday, the police department said.

Authorities said Sgt. Franklin Cowart, a 15-year veteran of the department, has been on administrative leave since March, when his wife told department officials that he admitted to stealing from the scene of a 2011 investigation into the death of Luis Zaragoza.

Police said Cowart's wife first emailed department officials in December 2015, saying he stole money from the scene of the investigation, but detectives were unable to find supporting evidence for the allegations.

Cowart's wife, who was living separately from Sgt. Cowart, as they were in the process of getting a divorce, again contacted police in February of this year about property he left in her home while moving out, according to a report.

His wife told police that some of the property included law enforcement equipment and evidence relating to investigations, the report said.

A month later, Cowart's wife sent pictures of a wallet with a debit card, a Florida driver's license with the address that matched the home where Zaragoza's 2011 death was investigated and other items that belonged to Zaragoza, police said. 

Winter Park Police Chief Michael Deal asked Orange County deputies March 15 to conduct a separate investigation into the allegations, according to the report.

Authorities said all documents and photos regarding the investigation into Zaragoza's death were reviewed, beginning with the initial report from the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office.

Detectives said a photograph, which was taken May 12, 2011, by an investigator with the Medical Examiner's Office before the investigation was turned over to Winter Park police later that day, showed the wallet, a receipt, a debit and an insurance card, Zaragoza's license and $101.

Once the investigation was turned over to Winter Park police, Sgt. Cowart submitted documents and photographs, which were all reviewed in the March investigation, the report said.

Investigators said Cowart mentioned the victim's wallet and some of the belongings inside it in a report he filled out, but none of the documents mentioned money. Photographs taken by Cowart also showed the wallet with some of the contents inside, but not the money, authorities said.

Cowart did not mention what was done with the wallet or contents inside it in his report, investigators said.

The photographs from the scene of the investigation were compared with the ones sent by Cowart's wife, leading authorities to believe it was the same wallet Cowart left at her home, according to the report.

Cowart was booked into the Orange County Jail on grand theft charges, Winter Park police said.

Police said Cowart will remain on administrative leave until an administrative investigation conducted by the department is completed.

This is a developing story. Stay with News 6 and ClickOrlando.com for updates.

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