TAMPA (WFLA) – A Citrus county man who built a neighborhood haunted house is the one who got spooked after he tried to pay off the city’s fire chief to ignore his unsafe and unlawful haunted house.
Citrus County Sheriff’s Office authorities booked 24-year-old Paul John Catucci on Oct. 20 under a charge of bribing a public servant, according to court and arrest records obtained by WFLA.
Catucci’s lawyer advised him not to speak with 8 On Your Side, but he did show us what was left of the backyard haunted house. When neighbors called the city — the fire chief came out to give it a thorough safety check
“A number of vehicles were in the right of way parking, sort of encompassing the neighborhood during the operation of this haunted house,” City manager Eric Williams told 8 On Your Side.
Williams said the violations were horrifying to city and the chief ordered the attraction to shut down.
“There was a significant number of fire, life safety type issues and violations as well as unpermitted structures and things that drew a real concern,” Williams said.
According to the sheriff’s deputies who were there — Catucci wanted to continue his operation. Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast told 8 On Your Side that’s when the investigation became criminal.
“What he was trying to do is he was trying to throw money at the feet of the fire chief, initially, to make this problem go away. And the fire chief was not having anything to do with that, and then he attempted to bribe our deputies,” Prendergast said.
Catucci claims he was merely joking, but the sheriff isn’t laughing.
“Bribery is not a joke. It’s not a laughing matter. You don’t throw five thousand dollars on the ground as a mistake,” Prendergast said.
Catucci is now facing a felony bribery charge.