After an internal investigation, the Winter Park Police Department discovered that former officer Sgt. Frank Cowart had been stashing evidence at his own home and also stole $101 in cash from a 2011 death investigation scene.
According to the final 35-page investigative report, completed on March 14 by Lt. Kevin Roesner, Cowart was found to have violated department policy in regard to the mishandling of evidence, and the stolen cash has him facing the charge of grand theft — a third-degree felony.
The saga began back Dec. 7, 2015, when Cowart’s wife approached the department — alleging her husband had stolen money from a home at which a death investigation took place in 2011. However, because of a lack of evidence, the investigation was put on hold, the report concluded.
It was another two years before Cowart’s wife sent Roesner an email with images showing property she believed belonged to the police department. Cowart’s wife discovered the evidence while cleaning out the garage.
“These photos included equipment that appeared to be agency issued items; official agency reports, printed copies of driver license information from the Florida Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID), and a metal box with evidence tags from the Winter Park Police Department case #2012-3600,” Roesner wrote in the report. “Lieutenant Pam Marcum and I drove out and met (redacted) at her home on (redacted) at approximately 6 p.m., and I took possession of all the items (redacted) identified as finding in her garage.”
From there, Roesner turned over the evidence to Chief Michael Deal, who directed Lt. John Montgomery to conduct a formal internal investigation into the possible violations, the report stated.
A month later, on March 13, Cowart’s wife sent three more emails, each containing photos that showed mail addressed to Luis Zaragoza at 124 Oak Grove Road in Winter Park, a black wallet and a Florida ID, to Luis Zaragoza.
“I immediately recognized that name and address from an unattended death Frank Cowart had investigated while he was a detective with the Criminal Investigations Division,” Roesner wrote. “This was one of the death investigations I had researched based on (redacted)’s 2015 allegation that Sgt. Cowart stole money from a residence.”
Roesner discovered there were digital photos of the wallet and ID, but there were no actual reports showing the wallet or contents had ever been submitted to evidence.
That day, Roesner and Evidence Custodian/Crime Scene Technician Ed Bigley drove to the home and took possession of the additional property. Cowart had stashed paperwork from 46 separate cases that spanned between 2004 and 2012, the report states. Some of the evidence found was sensitive in nature. Montgomery found Florida DAVID driver’s license information belonging to 49 different individuals as well.
The report also stated Cowart violated an operating procedure regarding criminal intelligence/dissemination by releasing juvenile offender information to a non-law enforcement entity without legitimate purpose. Cowart also broke another operating procedure by releasing agency reports to the public without redacting sensitive information.
Deal contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to ask for a criminal investigation of Cowart. Eight months later, on Nov. 3, 2017, OCSO arrested Cowart and charged him with grand theft.
Cowart resigned in March. In his resignation letter, Cowart states that he was stepping down because of the growing legal costs relating to the charges — for which he claimed to be innocent — as well as the costs of his ongoing custody battle with his estranged wife.
With the investigation finished, Cowart now awaits his trial and possible future punishment.