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Coach probe not disclosed to school officials

BRADENTON -- Rumor turned into reality last week for Manatee County School Distrcit Superintendent Tim McGonegal.

The school district leader heard one of his area coaches was being investigated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

On Dec. 20, Frankie Sanders, Manatee County High School’s assistant baseball coach, was arrested on six charges of selling and two counts of trafficking a controlled substance. Authorities said Sanders turned over $20,000 in cash, 60 grams of cocaine, 92 grams of oxycodone tablets and 2 grams of Xanax. The narcotics bring a street value of $16,000, authorities said.

The arrest, which took place after a year-long investigation, has raised questions on whether law enforcement officers should inform top administrators when criminal investigations involve school employees or students.

McGonegal and Sheriff Brad Steube say no.

“I really trust the sheriff and his office,” McGonegal said. “(Notifying school officials is) kind of a double-edged sword for the sheriff.”

Steube agreed. He compared an investigation at a school to one about illegal activities at a house in a neighborhood. He said deputies don’t go from home-to-home to let residents know of pending investigations.

“We don’t know who has ties to that house,” he said. “What we do has to be kept from anyone. The more people that know about an investigation -- all of a sudden you don’t have an investigation.”

Steube said he understands the questions surrounding this particular case since Sanders was around high schoolers.

“No where in our investigation was there any evidence of selling on school grounds,” Steube said.

Officers were given a tip to investigate Sanders, Steube said. Each case is different. If they had heard Sanders was selling drugs on a school campus, officers would have responded differently, he said. Steube said there is no firm policy to inform school officials when criminal investigations include students or employees.

McGonegal said he believes investigators would have “pulled the plug whether it was a year ago or last week” if students were in danger.

Sanders was in Manatee County jail on bonds totaling $555,000. He has pleaded not guilty.

Richard Reinhart, Sanders’ attorney, has filed paperwork in court requesting that Sanders’ bond be lowered. He said Sanders is not able to post bond at its current amount.

“The defendant (Sanders) is a long-time resident of the Manatee/Sarasota County area. The defendant grew up here and attended school here. The defendant is married and has several children. The family resides in Bradenton,” Reinhart said in a letter to get the bond reduced.

“The defendant has strong ties to the area and is not a flight risk,” Reinhart said in the two-page request.

McGonegal suspended Sanders with pay the same day charges were brought against the assistant baseball coach. McGonegal said he will ask school board members to suspend Sanders without pay at the Jan. 10 meeting.

The school district and area law enforcement do, however, have an agreement under which law enforcement and jail booking officers will inform the district of any arrests of students on felony charges or violent crimes.

The policy began in mid-2009 after Lakewood Ranch High quarterback Tim Brooks was charged in the shooting death of 19-year-old William White Jr. on July 13, 2008, and it stemmed from a Bradenton Herald investigation that revealed Brooks remained on the football team after he had been arrested on a prior felony weapons charge.

Brooks was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.