FDLE conducts interviews into alleged Hendry sheriff cover up

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LABELLE, Fla. – State investigators are conducting interviews in Hendry County this week related to accusations of Sheriff Steve Whidden and Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Nelson covering up the hit-and-run of a teenager.

A “governor’s assignment” has also been issued, where if Whidden and Nelson face criminal charges, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office would prosecute the case to avoid any conflict of interest with local prosecutors.

A WINK News investigation previously unveiled accusations of Whidden covering up the investigation of a Sept. 11, 2015 hit-and-run of a 15-year-old girl on Nobles Road in LaBelle.

Richard Carlton Smith, 58, of LaBelle, was suspected of hitting the girl and contacted Whidden while he was pulled over by a Hendry County deputy investigating the incident.

The incident and subsequent traffic stop happened before Smith reported to federal prison to serve 41 months for fraud.

Whidden described Smith as an acquaintance who he saw at a few restaurants, adding that he didnā€™t know Smith was about to go to prison at the time of the phone call.

But in an Aug. 10 deposition, the investigating deputy, Vernon Speak, said Whidden told him Smith was “a good guy” in “a bad position” and that “there’s no reason to go after this case.”

Whidden, in an interview with WINK News, said the case was forwarded to the state attorney’s office.

But state prosecutors said they were notified by the teenager’s attorney, Steve Ramunni.

The case was then forwarded to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Office of Executive Investigations.

Whidden, Nelson & Smith did not immediately return a request for comment regarding this week’s developments.

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