Police are perplexed after a career scam artist managed to pass herself off as a sign language interpreter and sign nonsense as officials announced the arrest of an alleged Tampa serial killer.
The November 28 press conference, where “interpreter” Derlyn Roberts, 53, signed mere inches from law enforcement and the mayor, sparked confusion–and outrage–among the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Speaking with the Tampa Bay Times, Rachelle Settambrino, who is deaf and teaches American Sign Language (ASL) at the University of South Florida, accused Roberts of signing the following as Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan explained the timeline and how many tips they received:
“Fifty-one hours ago, zero 12 22 [indecipherable] murder three minutes in 14 weeks ago in old [indecipherable] murder four five 55,000 plea 10 arrest murder bush [indecipherable] three age 24.”
The Tampa Police Department (TPD) said they never requested a sign language interpreter for the crucial press conference. Officials said they’re looking into who sent Roberts to the conference to “provide [her] services.”
“We did not request an interpreter for a news conference on the 28th,” TPD spokesperson Janelle McGregor told the Times.
To make matters worse, WFLA uncovered that Roberts has a 24-year history of arrests, ranging from aggravated battery, burglary, false imprisonment and grand theft to fraud, witness tampering, petit theft, and writing worthless checks.
Roberts’ most egregious act occurred in 2004, when she ran a private school in Tampa for students with special needs and disabilities. The local station reported that she was jailed in 2012 for five years after she misappropriated as much as $350,000 in scholarship money and used it to fund a lavish lifestyle.
At the time, police also accused Roberts of assuming social worker Angela Darien’s identity to keep raking in funds after the state stopped funding the school due to her criminal past. Darien had worked for the academy for a few weeks but quit after Roberts failed to pay her.
“They should just throw the key away on her,” Darien said of the 53-year-old.
“Five years is not enough for what she did to these children, what she did to the community, what she did to the parents and what she did to me. Five years is not enough.”
Darien suspects that Roberts pulled her latest stunt to prolong her life of fraud.
“It puts her back in the limelight to give her credibility to do whatever she needs to do,” she commented.
Stephen Hegarty, another TPD spokesperson, has since taken responsibility for the press conference snafu and apologized for doing a “disservice” to the public.
“As we were getting ready to start, I was told that a sign language interpreter was outside,” he told the Miami Herald. “My reaction was: ‘I didn’t call an interpreter, but great that someone did.’ It appeared that she was very well known in Tampa, but I just didn’t ask enough questions.”
“There was a lot going on but it was my responsibility, so shame on me.”
[Featured Image: Tampa Bay Police Department]