Firefighter accused of trying to buy stolen ATVs


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A North River Fire District firefighter didn't get a bargain when he met with a man who said he had three ATVs for sale. He got arrested.

Firefighter Jon David Leonard had reason to think he could expect a good deal, according to a Manatee County Sheriff's Office report -- he knew the ATVs had been stolen.

Leonard, on duty and wearing his uniform, met with the "seller," a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy, at the fire station in Ellenton on Tuesday night. But instead of paying $2,500 for three ATVs and a trailer worth more than $10,000, Leonard was arrested and charged with grand theft.

Leonard, 34, resigned from his firefighting job that day, according to a statement from the North River Fire District. He had been a full-time firefighter for the department since 1999.

Chief Michael Johnson said in the statement that he would not comment until after the Sheriff's Office finishes its investigation.

According to sheriff's reports:

Franklin Pearson, 36, of Palmetto brokered the deal and was also charged with grand theft.

"Pearson's basically the middle man," sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said.

Pearson arrived at the station with the undercover detective and an unidentified informant. There, Pearson helped negotiate the sale of the ATVs for $2,500.

Leonard agreed to the price and handed Pearson 25 $100 bills.

That's when detectives put the two men in handcuffs.

Bristow said Pearson was a broker for ATV thieves who were stealing vehicles out of Hillsborough County and trying to sell them in Manatee County.

The two sheriff's departments teamed up for the bust, he said.

Both Pearson and Leonard were released from jail on $7,500 bail.

The sheriff's office recovered three stolen ATVs from Pearson and one from Leonard after they were arrested, Bristow said.

He said the two departments are still investigating and encourage anyone who might have purchased an ATV from Pearson to call the Sheriff's Office at 741-3755, Ext. 128.