A former police officer pleaded no contest Monday to charges of luring two women from a Lauderhill strip club to the rear of a tire shop in Tamarac, then coercing one of them into a sexual encounter.
Franklin Hartley’s plea came with no deal and no promise of leniency from Broward Circuit Judge Michael Usan. He faces up to 31 years in prison on charges of unlawful compensation and battery. Hartley, 43, is due back in court on Sept. 6, when his sentencing date will be set.
His co-defendant, former officer Thomas Merenda, is standing by his not-guilty plea and is still awaiting trial.
According to prosecutor Justin McCormack, Hartley followed the women from the Vegas Cabaret on North University Drive to a nearby Taco Bell in Tamarac early on May 24, 2012. The Taco Bell was closed, and Hartley activated his patrol lights and approached the women.
Accusing the driver of running red lights and threatening to arrest her, Hartley led them to the back of a tire shop at 7300 W. Commercial Blvd. On the way, McCormack said, Hartley contacted Merenda, who showed up at the same location.
“When Hartley had (the passenger) by his car, he started kissing her and touching her body and telling her that she could go to jail,” McCormack said. The woman performed oral sex on Hartley and they began having intercourse.
Merenda is accused of asking the driver to gratify him sexually by punching him in the genitals “because it turned him on,” McCormack said.
Hartley originally planned to enter his no contest plea in September 2021, but he backed out at the last minute and decided to join Merenda in taking his chances with a jury. His lawyer, Michael Gottlieb, said Hartley was acting on his advice then and now.
The victim was awarded $4.5 million in a federal civil case that was not contested.
Hartley and Merenda, 45, were scheduled to start picking a jury Monday, but Merenda’s trial needs to be rescheduled to prepare for him as the sole defendant, said his lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich.
“This case gets more nuts with every new development,” he said. “Pun intended.”
Rafael Olmeda can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4457.