- Deputy Chief of Fruitland Park police resigned and second officer fired in scandal over links to KKK
- FPPD officer James Elkins, 33, revealed as KKK recruiter and resigned in 2009. He is said to be informant who named the other two
- Ex-wife of fired officer, George Hunnewell, 41, claims the couple were working ‘undercover’ to reveal a THIRD cop
- Former police Chief Mark Isom, 51, denies undercover operation
- Scandal has been met by claims and counter-claims, wild alibis and broken relationships
- Now ex-wife of Elkins, the cop who inducted Hunnewells describes their desire to join as ‘genuine’
- Current chief of police said he hoped they joined out of ‘peer pressure’
Ann Hunnewell doesn’t say whether she felt anxious or scared. But the air must have buzzed with a solemn sort of thrill as she took her place alongside her police officer husband, George.
There were six or so other ‘guests’. They were shown into a room where a pillowcase was placed over their heads.
Ann, 41, was led into the living room and told to kneel next to her husband. There was a reading, their pillowcases were removed and the ceremony was complete.
Outside, neighbors called in dogs and children across their long front yards as the Florida sunshine faded.
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Shock: Fruitland Park police officer James Elkins resigned in 2009 after being outed as a KKK Kleagle – or recruiter – when this picture emerged of him in KKK hood with his uniform, badge and gun. Elkins informed on another cop, George Hunnewell, and his wife who he claimed were with him at a induction ritual that year
None could have imagined that behind the closed blinds of one neat single storey home in this small community, the Ku Klux Klan was inducting eight new members – or that three present that night in 2009 worked for Fruitland Park Police Department, Florida.
Today, five years on, the events of that night are at the heart of a scandal that has so far seen two FPPD officers quit and one fired for alleged KKK links.
It is a story of broken relationships, wild alibis, claim, counter-claim and corruption and it has left this small, rural town of barely 4,000 riven and reeling.
In the past ten days officer George Hunnewell, 41, has been fired and Deputy Chief David Borst, 49, has resigned over suspected links to the KKK.
In 2009, FPPD officer James Elkins, 33, at whose house that induction ceremony took place, quit when his membership of the Klan and role as KKK Kleagle – or recruiter – was made public by ex-wife Pamela, 28.
– James Elkins’s ex-wife Pam
Now it has emerged that Elkins is the FBI informant who named Hunnewell and Borst in the Federal Investigation into the White Supremacist hate group that has led to these latest shocking developments.
In a further bizarre twist in the Federal Department of Law Enforcement’s report seen by MailOnline, Ann Hunnewell, then working as a secretary at FPPD, claims that she and her now ex-husband, George were working undercover, infiltrating the Klan on the orders of previous FPPD Police Chief, Mark Isom.
The report states, ‘Ann Hunnewell said in 2008 through 2009, she and her ex-husband successfully infiltrated the United Northern and Southern Knights (UNSK) chapter of the KKK in an undercover capacity.
‘She explained that Mark Isom (then police chief at Fruitland Park) received allegations that James Elkins, a FPPD officer, was suspected of being a KKK member. Chief Isom assigned George and Ann Hunnewell to follow up with the matter.’
Today, speaking to MailOnline, Chief Terry Isaacs, 56, has dismissed this alibi having interviewed former Chief Isom under oath.
He said, ‘Chief Isom took the alibi that was presented and denied it ever occurred.’
There is no paperwork to support Ann Hunnewell’s claim nor did she and her ex-husband keep any evidence as part of their ‘undercover’ mission.
George Hunnewell, left, was dismissed and Deputy Chief David Borst, right, resigned amid allegations that they’re both members of a local branch of the KKK. But the case has been riven with claims and counter claims. Hunnewell’s wife, who was said to be part of the hate group too, said that they were ‘undercover’
What goes on behind closed doors: There is no paperwork to support Ann Hunnewell’s claim nor did she and her ex-husband keep any evidence as part of their ‘undercover’ mission. Elkins pictured with Klan leader
And Chief Isaacs pointed out: ‘An operation like that…it would be highly unusual. If people go undercover like that it’s usually at the state level or federal level. These small agencies don’t have to manpower and there’s no indication that there’s anything in our city that was big enough to infiltrate.
‘To put a civilian in there just doesn’t even make sense, also my city’s only three square miles, the second you step over our boundaries you’re out of your jurisdiction.’
Elkins’ former marital home is outside Fruitland Park city limits.
Today the key characters in this dark narrative are scattered where once they were close friends, colleagues and near neighbors.
Ann and George Hunnewell are divorced and George is set to remarry. What friendship they had with the Elkins ended with James and Pamela’s divorce back in 2009.
James now lives in Apopka, an hour southeast of the town. His former wife, now Pamela Ellingsworth lives in a small town 30 minutes southwest.
It is clear that she has tried to move on with her life in every way. After all, her marriage fell apart in the wake of her husband’s increasing fervor and support of a cause of which she did not approve and on which she ultimately blew the whistle.
She has no desire to relive that period of her life but commented briefly and for the first time to MailOnline about it and Ann Hunnewell’s claims. She said, ‘They weren’t undercover. At least I don’t believe or think they were.
‘It seemed like a real desire to join, to me. I don’t know how much they shared Jim’s beliefs but it seemed like a real friendship.’
She added: ‘Maybe we weren’t as good friends as I thought we were. I haven’t spoken to my ex husband for five years and when we split, you know how friends takes sides, we lost touch.’
Ann claimed that she and George befriended the Elkins in a calculated fashion – exercising with them, dining with them and eventually allowing James Elkins to recruit them into the Klan.
According to Pam: ‘I didn’t approve of the situation and I tried to keep separate as much as possible.’
At that time, she explained, her husband had been in a car accident and was home full time while she worked full time. That, she believes is when his intense involvement truly took off and the distance between them became insurmountable.
Similarly Elkins, Hunnewell and Borst – men who once served side by side in a police department of only 13 full-time officers – are now pitted against each other and the City in this scandal and their differing versions of it.
Denial: Former Fruitland Park police chief Mark Isom has vehemently denied that he ordered Hunnewell and his wife to go undercover to root out a third cop belonging to the KKK
Shocking: It is a story of broken relationships, wild alibis, claim, counter-claim and corruption and it has left this small, rural town of barely 4,000 riven and reeling
Elkins made a faint attempt to deny his affiliation with the KKK when police were first tipped off about it in 2009.
He claimed that somebody else had used a PO Box in Sumter County linked to him and given as a contact address on KKK recruitment fliers.
But a picture of him, wearing his police uniform along with his KKK hood and standing with his gun tucked into his belt, could hardly be denied. Nor could membership records showing his joining in 2006.
Still, when he resigned in 2009 he made no reference to his KKK links but stated instead that a car crash in 2007, which saw him on paid leave and ultimately reduced to a reserve officer left him unfit to work.
Similarly George Hunnewell has made no public attempt to deny his membership – which is documented – though neither he nor Ann paid any due. And he has not commented on his ex-wife’s account of their ‘undercover’ mission.
– Charles Denton, leader of local KKK
David Borst alone has vehemently denied Elkins’s allegation of his membership. And he has found an unlikely supporter in Charles Denton, 63, a retired Florida electrician who uses the alias Cole Thornton as Imperial Wizard of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the KKK.
Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel earlier this week, Denton said of Borst, ‘He didn’t belong [to the KKK] and I just think he’s getting the shaft for something he didn’t have any part of and that’s wrong. I will stand up for anybody that’s falsely accused.’
Mr Denton added that while he didn’t know Borst he knew Elkins and ‘wouldn’t believe a thing he said.’
Intriguingly Borst has claimed that he played a role in Elkins’s resignation in 2009. He took the call revealing Elkins’s Klan membership and passed the tip on to then chief Mark Isom. He was following up on that tip when the photograph of Elkins wearing his police and Klan uniform surfaced.
Could he be paying the price for playing a part in the end of Elkins’s police career?
Speaking to MailOnline Chief Isaacs admitted, ‘The report does say on David it’s not conclusive. What I mean is they couldn’t find anyone to support the source of information.’
Chief Isaacs has been chief of FPPD for three years, arriving just after Elkins’s departure and the scandal that surrounded that.
He said: ‘Borst was a senior officer here and he was the assistant chief and I kept him where he was. He helped me. We don’t socialize everyday but every day I’m within ten feet of him and we discussed every aspect of this department day in and day out.’
He continued: ‘I separated the two cases because under Borst there was no supporting documents.’
As an officer Borst was allowed to read the investigators’ report against him. According to Chief Isaacs he met with the FDLE officers on Wednesday 9 July and called Borst into his office on Thursday 10 July.
He recalled: ‘I presented him with the information and he became very upset and emotional, so did I. It’s a tough thing.
Unmasked: Elkins (above), Hunnewell and Borst – men who once served side by side in a police department of only 13 full-time officers – are now pitted against each other and the City in this scandal
‘Genuine’: Elkins’ (pictured left with Klan leader) ex-wife, Pam Ellingsworth, left, who reported her husband in the first place, told MailOnline that Hunnewell and his wife, Ann, right, showed a ‘real desire to join’ the KKK
‘He said “This is a lie”. But I raised my hand to stop him because when you’re talking to someone you have to protect their rights if there’s going to be an investigation.’
But there was to be no investigation because Borst chose to resign, according to Chief Isaacs, rather than put his family through the stress of such a process.
Borst is now bringing a lawsuit against the City. He declined to comment when approached at his modest home in Fruitland Park, this week staying behind the screen door. His wife, a pretty, homely, dark-haired woman said only: ‘So much of what is being said isn’t true. It’s very upsetting.’
The couple has a large Rottweiler and a chain fence surrounds their property, overhung by trees filled with the lazy loops of hanging lichen. But rumor and slur are more difficult things to guard against and the strain on Mrs Borst’s face is clear.
Her husband has been in law enforcement for 26 years; now his career is over, perhaps permanently, essentially on the strength of the word of a man whom he had slighted.
Ann Hunnewell said she had no knowledge of Borst being involved and Pam Ellingsworth only believed that Borst was aware of others’ membership and did nothing. Being a member of the KKK is not a crime however unpalatable their beliefs may be to many.
Hunnewell’s departure from the force is, according to Chief Isaacs, far less troubling. He explained: ‘It was different with George because the report says there are two sources and it then gives the detail of his swearing in ceremony.’
– Current chief Terry Isaacs
Moreover in the past two years Hunnewell had accrued a thick personnel file of reprimands, ‘letters of counseling’ and repeated, small problems – tardiness, not completing work, leaving without permission, bringing family problems to work with him.
In 2013 he was demoted from first supervisory officer back to corporal and he had been suspended previously.
Chief Isaacs’s initial decision to suspend Hunnewell pending investigation changed overnight, he said, on re-reading the file and meeting with the City Managers and Attorneys who informed him they would no longer prosecute any arrests made by Hunnewell.
Three earlier cases have already been dismissed due to the lack of faith that any testimony from the officer would be credible in court.
Chief Isaacs said: ‘If a police officer can’t go to court you’re wasting your money. He’s totally useless as a police officer.’
Hunnewell too has informed the City of his intention to bring a lawsuit and the lack of investigation before his firing may well mean he has a valid claim.
Today it is clear that Chief Isaacs would like this to be the final chapter in the sorry saga of FPPD and the KKK.
He insisted: ‘I took over three years ago. We have 13 officers and 5 reserve officers. Ten of the original 13 are now gone.’
His attempt to suggest a thorough routing is clear. He says he plans to add to the diversity training already instituted, even referencing the FBI’s training post 9/11 to recognize subversive groups.
He said: ‘Maybe I need to bring in specialized training to ensure people understand subversive groups and how to deal with them and how to recognize them and how to not associate with them.’
Clean-up: Chief Isaacs, under his predecessor the department had fallen into ‘lackadaisical manners,’ and he hoped that any affiliation with the KKK had been a result of ‘peer pressure’ rather than serious political belief
According to Chief Isaacs, under his predecessor the department had fallen into ‘lackadaisical manners,’ and he hoped that any affiliation with the KKK had been a result of ‘peer pressure’ rather than serious political belief.
It is an odd and unsatisfying notion, this attempt to brush away membership of a white supremacist hate group at the heart of this small town police force as some sort of high school attempt to be ‘cool.’
Chief Isaacs also asserted that when the Federal agents presented him with their report he was ‘shocked’. He said: ‘I’ve been in Florida law enforcement for 42 years and I didn’t even know these groups were still around.
‘When they told me about this, well in the words of my 8-year-old granddaughter, “Really…?”‘
Such wide-eyed innocence might be acceptable from an eight-year-old child but race hate violence in this part of Florida has a long, bleak and well-publicized history – most famously the Groveland Four, a case in this very county in 1948 which saw four young black men accused of raping a white woman.
One was killed by a KKK posse, two of the surviving three were shot in custody by Sheriff Willis McCall who claimed they had tried to escape, the third was sentence to death, commuted to life and later paroled in 1968.
And even if that history had gone forgotten, Chief Isaacs inherited a force, in a town where 90 percent of the population is white, fresh off the back of a scandal about exactly this, KKK membership.
His predecessor’s investigation following Elkins’s resignation appears, by his own admission in sworn interview with Chief Isaacs, to have consisted of asking each officer if they were involved and believing them when they said, “No”.
Despite the latest revelations ex Chief Isom remains a Facebook friend with Hunnewell.
His own departure from the force was part of a plea bargain to avoid charges when it emerged that he had fraudulently bought worthless diplomas online to boost his salary – the ‘advanced’ degrees added $800 a months to his pay.
He paid back the money claimed but on his departure a series of questions were raised as more than $2000 of police funds was missing along with evidence such as marijuana and a couple of game stations (later found in used by the neighboring Fire service).
Given all this, can the town have faith that today their police force truly has been cleaned up, and that ties between the cops and the KKK have finally now been severed?
According to Chief Isaacs: ‘It’s like a disease, every once in a while you see on the news that a disease pops up you thought went away 20 years ago and the reason it pops up is that society let its guard down and starting doing things and allowing it to resurface.
‘Shafted’: Charles Denton, 63, a retired Florida electrician who uses the alias Cole Thornton as Imperial Wizard of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the KKK said Borst ‘didn’t belong [to the KKK] and I just think he’s getting the shaft for something he didn’t have any part of and that’s wrong’
‘Well maybe that’s what happened here. Maybe we let our guard down and our officers need to understand it was wrong and it is wrong and that we should not have any participation with it or association with it. It’s still out there.’
But surely more troubling for the residents of Fruitland Park is the fact that, if this scandal has shown anything at all it is not that the KKK is ‘out there’ it’s that it is much, much closer to home.