ORANGE PARK, Fla. - A park ranger in Clay County was arrested this week after deputies said he had been accepting payments from people who were court ordered to perform community service hours at Camp Echockotee in Orange Park, where he worked.
According to the Clay County Sheriff's Office, 50-year-old Michael Eble, an employee of Boy Scouts of America, would tell those performing community service how much money it would take for him to sign off verifying they had performed their hours, though they hadn't.
Those people would then pay Eble the agreed amount in cash, and he would sign off on their paperwork, deputies said.
Detectives said they interviewed about 52 people who were on probation and performing community service at the camp, and they said five admitted to paying Eble a bribe, three bought him lunch, and one helped him move.
"It's my professional opinion there is probably a larger number that actually paid him, but for fear of violating their probation, they are not going to be completely honest about it," said Lt. David Barnes, of Sheriff's Office.
Detectives said Eble would ask for $8 to $10 for each hour he would forge. They said they only know of about $800 he pocketed, but they believe this may have been going on for years and involved many more people.
"In my opinion, yes, he had free reign to do what he wanted to at the camp, and I believe he had been getting away with it for a while, so he became bold in it," Barnes said.
Investigators said they were notified by the director of support services for Boy Scouts of America, who said he was told by Eble's ex-girlfriend who witnessed him accepting payments.
Eble was arrested Tuesday at Boy Scouts headquarters in Orange Park. He is charged with commercial bribe receiving and was released from the Clay County jail on $20,003 bond.
The Boy Scouts fully cooperated in the investigation and issued the following statement:
"We are deeply disappointed to learn of this isolated incident at Camp Echockotee by a Boy Scout employee -- the Camp's Ranger/caretaker," said Jack Sears, executive director and CEO of the North Florida Council, Boy Scouts of America. "The actions of this employee do not represent the principles of Scouting, will not be tolerated; and accordingly, Mr. Eble's employment and membership in Scouting has been terminated."
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