Tuesday, June 19, 2007
BY BRENDAN FARRINGTON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TALLAHASSEE -- The clemency board heard a story involving diamonds, corrupt law enforcement agents and Israeli security before granting a full pardon Thursday to a man who said he was not a criminal, just someone who made a mistake trying to recoup money lost in a scam.
The board, led by Gov. Charlie Crist, also heard testimony from former Gov. Claude Kirk in defense of Michael Peros, who owns a Pinellas Park electronic surveillance company and said he was set up by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents 17 years ago.
Peros' story goes like this: In 1989 he and his wife earned more than $4 million on a product he invented and sold to Sharper Image. They sought to invest $150,000 in diamonds only to find they had been ripped off.
"After realizing we had been conned out of our money by an FDLE agent by the name of Nik Vissokovsky, we decided to set up a sting operation because we were in dire straits to pay our taxes," Peros said.
Vissokovsky was not an agent, but rather an informant, according to FDLE. Vissokovsky told investigators he had loaned Peros $55,000, and Peros explained that he had used the loan and diamonds to purchase 30 kilograms of cocaine that was later stolen.
Vissokovsky later arranged to buy diamonds from Peros for $90,000 in a meeting FDLE monitored. But Peros said Thursday he was the one that was set up, though he acknowledged that his sting operation was a "total, total mistake."
"The FDLE agent ran off with the diamonds. A day later they fabricated evidence against me, they threw me in jail," Peros told Crist.
Not so, said the FDLE.
"Mr. Peros' claims that FDLE agents were involved in fabricating evidence or stealing diamonds are completely false. Mr. Peros was defrauded by members of his own criminal network as he engaged in cocaine trafficking," said department spokeswoman Heather Smith.
Peros was before the board because he wanted to restore his right to carry a gun.
"I'd like to get my rights back because I'm going into very hostile areas of the Middle East and I need that protection," Peros said.
Kirk, a Republican governor who served from 1967 to 1971, testified in Peros' support.
"The entire government of Israel has given this man all their confidence and trust," Kirk said.
Without question, Crist granted the pardon with no objection from the other clemency board members -- Attorney General Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.