Fired Chamber executive arrested for ‘interfering’ with deputies

Thirteen months ago, John Corapi was fired from his job as the county Chamber of Commerce’s business retention manager, after the organization’s president investigated allegations that he disrupted a School Board meeting and encouraged others in a social-media post to intimidate board members at their homes.

Now, Corapi has thrust himself into the ongoing custody battle between Meghan Walsh – whose father, John, is a longtime Vero Beach resident best known as a crime-fighting TV personality – and the Florida Department of Children and Family Services (DCF).

Corapi, in fact, was arrested earlier this month for allegedly obstructing sheriff’s deputies as they carried out a court order to remove from Walsh’s care her 5-day-old daughter and place the baby in DCF custody.

He was charged with “interfering with custody,” a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, and spent 18 hours in jail before being released on $2,500 bond.

Corapi, 53, an Indian River County resident for nearly 40 years, did not respond to phone, text and social-media messages left by Vero Beach 32963, so how and why he became involved in the Walsh case remained unknown as this week began. Before working for the chamber, Corapi was involved with several Vero-area charitable organizations.

Court records showed that Corapi had not yet hired an attorney, but he co-hosts a Facebook video podcast he has used to solicit contributions from followers to cover his legal expenses.

“I didn’t harm anybody; I didn’t put anybody in harm’s way,” Corapi said during a rambling, 70-minute monologue on his TGI NOW Podcast, where he announced he plans to fight the charge. “All I did was document an account, something that was happening here in our backyard.”

The Sheriff’s Office took a different view, alleging that Corapi did far more than merely use his cell-phone camera to live-stream the incident on the podcast’s Facebook page.

According to the warrant affidavit used to arrest him, Corapi interfered “through his words and actions” with deputies’ efforts to assist DCF representatives in taking custody of the baby – even after being shown the order signed by Circuit Judge Robert Meadows.

The affidavit states that Corapi was “continuously argumentative,” challenging the legality of the court order and accusing Sheriff’s Lt. Anthony Civita and the other deputies of “behaving criminally” because they wouldn’t question the judge’s decision.

Corapi, it appeared, was unfamiliar with the Florida law that allows judges to order the removal of newborns from parents who have unresolved dependency cases in which DCF has taken custody of their other children, especially if the parents are deemed incapable of safely caring for the babies or haven’t substantially complied with court-ordered case plans.

The affidavit states DCF determined those conditions applied to Walsh after she gave birth to a daughter during the last week of May. The 39-year-old mother’s three other children already were in the custody of the state agency, which has temporarily placed them with her parents and is seeking to terminate her parental rights in that case.

DCF removed the three children from Walsh’s custody in April 2021, the affidavit states, because she was neglecting them and subjecting them to mental and emotional abuse through her substance abuse and untreated mental health issues.

The affidavit also states that Walsh suspected DCF would seek to remove her newborn daughter – because she hadn’t complied with a court-ordered case plan – and “had an at-home birth to avoid having her child taken.”

DCF received allegations of neglect on June 2, the affidavit states, and sent case workers, accompanied by deputies, to the Vero Beach-area home where Walsh was staying in hopes she would speak to them and turn over the baby.

The homeowner, Carolyn Kleinpeter, refused to allow the DCF representatives to enter the house, however, and Walsh spoke to them only through a front window. The next morning, DCF obtained a court order to remove the baby from the mother’s custody, then returned to the home.

Again, Kleinpeter refused to allow the DCF team or deputies to enter.

Audio from a second video recorded by Walsh, who appeared to be in a different room while Kleinpeter and Corapi spoke with the deputies through the front window, captured Corapi arguing with them.

He could be heard asking deputies why they needed to force their way into a home to take a child and telling them they should use their own “discernment” to determine whether the judge has a right to order the removal of a 5-day-old baby from its mother.

As the verbal exchange continues, Corapi unsuccessfully attempted to convince the deputies to abandon their efforts and allow Walsh to surrender the baby at a later time.

“All I’m doing is questioning you guys, using my own discernment to figure out why this is so important to come and get this child – in an emergency – as if this child is in danger,” Corapi said, adding, “I know you guys have a job to do, but sometimes your job has to side with the citizens of the community, too.”

Nearly 30 minutes into the standoff, Walsh finally came to the window with the baby in her arms. The video shows her to be emotional, occasionally crying and speaking erratically.

Not only was the report DCF received “fraudulent,” she said, but, “They have stolen my other three children. Everyone knows that.”

She blamed her “court-appointed attorney,” who she said had “done nothing,” and accused the Sheriff’s Office and DCF of “aiding and abetting” her father in using his fame and stature in the community to kidnap her children.

All the while, Civita continued to speak to her in a soft-but-firm, professional and at times compassionate voice, calmly explaining why the court order must be enforced and how he wanted to resolve the matter peacefully.

Civita even warned that interfering with the custody transfer was a crime and told her, “I don’t want to see you go to jail.”

Corapi, meanwhile, could be heard intervening repeatedly from behind the camera on his phone, asking questions and offering unsolicited commentary that appeared to impede Civita’s progress in persuading Walsh to cooperate.

Eventually, Civita convinced Kleinpeter to open the door, which she did, telling Walsh, “They’re going to come in, anyway.”

Corapi tried one last time to convince Civita to allow Walsh to keep her baby for at least another day, but the lieutenant cut him off, saying, “I’ve explained it to you already.

You’re not involved in this.”

Nearly an hour after the saga began, Corapi’s video shows Walsh finally relenting and allowing DCF workers to take the baby out of the house. Moments after their departure, however, a deputy informed Walsh and Corapi the Sheriff’s Office was conducting a criminal investigation.

A week later, warrants were issued for the arrests of Corapi and Kleinpeter, who also was charged with the third-degree felony because she refused to allow the deputies and DCF workers to enter her home, despite the court order.

In the days since her baby was removed by DCF, Walsh in online interviews raised the possibility that she, too, will be arrested on the same charge.

Her father, John Walsh, received national notoriety as host of the long-running “America’s Most Wanted” TV show after his 6-year-old son Adam’s abduction and murder.

Corapi’s arrest came two months after he served as moderator for a school board candidates forum sponsored by the local We The People and Moms For Liberty groups, both of which embraced his fierce, vocal and sometimes-hostile opposition to masking students during the COVID-19 pandemic – the cause that led to his firing.

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