TAMPA BAY - A Tampa clergyman was arrested for allegations of falsifying community service and probation records for women in exchange for what police call, "groping hugs".
I-Team investigator Michael George first broke the story and has exclusive video of the arrest and the undercover operation that led up to it.
After receiving a tip in June that Bishop Chuck Leigh, 64, was falsifying court probation paperwork for defendants ordered to perform community service hours, Tampa Police organized an undercover operation inside the small, Apostolic Catholic Church on N. Nebraska.
Police told the I-Team that people ordered to probation came to Bishop Leigh for community service work. But instead of performing community service, Bishop Leigh signed off on court paperwork in exchange for hugs from women.
The I-Team had exclusive access to a Tampa police briefing on Wednesday as Tampa Police prepped for their undercover mission and sent an officer inside the church. The plan was to send in a female undercover officer who had been posing as someone who needed to fulfill community service. She would be wearing a hidden camera while officers outside watched and listened in.
The officer entered the church on Wednesday afternoon. I-Team investigator Michael George was permitted to observe the operation from outside, and saw Bishop Leigh ask the female undercover officer for several hugs that lasted several seconds each. Immediately after the hugs, Leigh filled out paperwork showing she had completed 50 hours of community service.
The undercover officer gave a signal for her fellow officers to move in. When the found the door to the small church was locked, they used a ram to break the door in and arrested the clergyman.
As he was being led to a squad car, Bishop Leigh told Michael George, "I'm totally surprised. I don't know what the problem is."
On June 19, an undercover Tampa Police officer also posed as a defendant serving probation on grand theft charge. Leigh falsified the officer's probation documents giving her credit for 17 community service hours in exchange for 4 hugs.
Leigh has been arrested and charged with six counts of falsifying official documents.
Tampa Police are looking into whether additional charges are warranted, including fraud and abuse of power.
The future of the small, Apostolic Catholic Church (which is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church), is unclear. Church member Pete Stapleton was stunned to hear about the allegation, and said the Bishop is known as a man of God who is always willing to help the less fortunate. Investigator Michael George asked Stapleton how important Bishop Leigh is to the church.
"He is the church, when it boils down to it," Stapleton said.
The I-Team has discovered that Leigh has a prior arrest history.
In 1976, Tampa Police arrested Leigh on a charge of strong arm sexual battery. Investigators said he allegedly picked up a woman in his car, then sexually assaulted her inside a home. The charge was later dropped.
In 1978, Leigh was arrested by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office for armed robbery. Those charges were also eventually dropped.