Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno may wish he never met Deanna Williams. She clearly would prefer the same.
Two months into a short-lived relationship, Williams said she got pregnant by Marceno. Then he demanded she get an abortion.
She didn’t, and the dispute quickly turned her life upside down.
“He blamed me for getting pregnant and said it was all my fault,” Williams said.
For months, Marceno demanded through a court case that she prove the paternity of the child. She said she ultimately delivered the baby stillborn.
In the meantime, financial issues forced her to leave her home of 11 years, as both her father and uncle died.
Combine that with the loss of her pregnancy, and Williams feels shattered: “Those things shake you.”
Marceno’s fortunes are far better: He was appointed to be Sheriff last year when his boss Mike Scott retired early. He’s now running for election to a full term, and has out-raised his only opponent roughly 7-to-1.
Marceno did not respond to calls made over the last month about Williams and her characterization of the relationship.
But a growing number of political insiders in Lee County quietly question if Marceno adequately addressed his personal issues. Some wonder if any explanation will suffice.
Connecting At The Office
At this point, Williams feels frustrated she ever became romantically involved with the soon-to-be Lee County Sheriff. But she’s also angry Marceno ever approached her in the first place.
Williams had been involved in a lengthy civil suit alleging a sexual assault by New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana. The matter was ultimately settled out of court, but Williams has been involved in legal struggles with various attorneys ever since.
She went to the Sheriff’s Office to file a report on an attorney she accused of grand theft for wrongly taking $200,000.
Williams met Marceno in person while asking the Economic Crimes unit to investigate a dispute.
Critics of Williams say that case itself, stemming from an accusation against a professional athlete, shows her character.
But Williams has never alleged anything nonconsensual occurred in her relationship with Marceno. She does feel it was inappropriate for Marceno to approach a victim of a crime.
Staff inside the Sheriff’s Office have confirmed that the relationship apparently began while she wanted an attorney investigated.
“Marceno told me he was on a break with a girlfriend,” said Terri Valentine Taylor, until recently an executive assistant to the Sheriff.
“Then he met this girl, met her in the office. She was unhappy with the detective and the Sheriff met her in the hall.”
That lines up closely with Williams’ account. She had been frustrated an Economic Crimes investigator showed a reluctance in looking at accusations an attorney swindled Williams of money.
“I yelled at him,” Williams recalled, but she also recalled a higher command officer, who she later realized was Marceno, intervening.
A couple days later, Marceno reached out to her on Facebook, but not about the case. He started asking about her line of work and personal life.
Williams didn’t immediately make the connection to the officer she’d met at the Sheriff’s Office. She told him she was involved in real estate. Marceno said so was he, part-time, but he also worked in law enforcement.
“I said, I hope not in the Economic Crimes unit,” she recalls.
He responded by sharing a News-Press story about his role as Undersheriff headlined “Carmine Marceno emerges as face of the Lee County Sheriff Office.”
Conversations continued, and eventually moved from the computer to the phone.
Williams said it felt an odd connection. The sheriff is shorter than her and she normally dates taller men.
“I didn’t find him attractive,” she said. “But I was thankful if he was going to helpful.” And Marceno promised to get to the bottom of things with her report.
Then Marceno became flirty, she said. Eventually she started to trust him personally. Soon, the two became entangled romantically. And then, in a short time, Williams became pregnant.
That’s when things things took a turn for the worse. The relationship was still fairly new, only about two months in, when Williams learned she was pregnant.
She was dealing with her father’s health problems at the time when she found out, and ended up texting Marceno about the matter from out of state.
A string of text messages, whose authenticity was later verified in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation, showed the tense interaction.
“I’m dealing with some unexpected difficult stuff. We need to talk soon,” she wrote.
The two eventually spoke, and the texts take up afterward.
“You can be amazingly oblivious,” Williams wrote.
“I am in the battle of my life,” Marceno responded.
The conversation happened while Marceno was under consideration for an appointment to Sheriff following the retirement of Sheriff Mike Scott.
“I have been beyond slammed to the point of not feeling well and trying to sleep a little before the next pounding. I have waited my entire life for this opportunity. I am hurt that you say that.”
But as the subject turned to the pregnancy, it was clearly Marceno had an end in mind Williams would not consider.
“That was a really scary conversation,” she wrote. “I understand that you’re in shock. I’m in a world of hurt. You can’t even imagine. I’m praying. Please don’t accuse me of being selfish. I’ve been considerate of you far more than most women would have.”
They discuss blood types, medical histories, Williams’ adult child from another relationship. Then the topic turns to outcomes.
“I told you how I felt and I absolutely do not want a child at the point in my life and career,” Marceno wrote. “This is completely unfair to everyone.”
He demands at one point Williams stop texting him on a work phone.
“I’m doing my best to communicate discretely,” Willaims responds. “You’re being cold and harsh. I’ve been very considerate of your feelings.”
At various point, he pushed the abortion option harder.
Many of the texts were eventually included in an FDLE investigation:
“I BEG you to please not have this child,” he wrote. “Beg is an understatement. A child deserves two parents.”
“Especially not at this stage in my life.”
“Please do not ruin my life… I beg you please.”
“It’s not right for us to have a child.”
“I didn’t want one with my wife years ago and certainly not at this time in my life.”
“The best option is not to have it.”
“I’m not trying to talk you into having an abortion but trying to say why I believe not having the child is best.”
Williams spoke to the FDLE about the matter and said she felt Marceno’s statements had been physically threatening. The FDLE found no evidence of that. Investigators said Marceno never committed any crime.
Of course, abortion is a legal course of action for ending a pregnancy.
But many in Lee County were startled by the revealed communications, believing Marceno, in fact never urged an abortion. The text messages undercut that belief.
A number of political activists and elected officials said privately the communications proved startling.
Even many who have been ardently pro-life say the biggest issue wasn’t about whether Marceno believed in abortion. The Republican Party is a big tent, and even in conservative Lee County, many local officials are pro-choice.
But this went further, neither respecting Williams right to choose, nor defending the life of Marceno’s own unborn child.
“He’s not pro-choice. He’s pro-abortion,” said Chris Crowley, Lee County Republican Party state committeeman and one of a few political leaders who would go on record to critique the sheriff.
Ultimately, the relationship between Williams and Marceno drew to a rapid close. Williams eventually filed a paternity suit against Marceno seeking child support and sole custody.
Marceno fought the suit. Many around the sheriff have since insinuated the baby was not his, if there was a pregnancy at all.
Williams provided Florida Politics with medical records dating to when she first confirmed the pregnancy.
Since the end of the pregnancy, Williams’ case remains open, but she doubts there is any way to force Marceno to provide DNA and to settle paternity questions now. There’s a motion to dismiss filed in the case.
Many have questioned her credibility. She finds that laughable.
But she no longer lives in Florida and said the entire dispute has only exacerbated her legal fights with her old attorneys.
“When I went to Sheriff’s Office, I expected justice,” she said. “What I did not expect was Sheriff Marceno to coerce me into a sexual relationship.”
She sees reasons for the public to lose its trust in the Sheriff, who faces his first election next year.
“I don’t want to engage with Carmine,” she said. “I am publicly connected to him and that’s an embarrassment to me. I do think he should be held accountable.”