Florida Weekly Roundup: Big Paydays, Big Charges
TALLAHASSEE — The former president and former chief financial officer of a nonprofit group that helped oversee efforts to combat domestic violence were charged with felonies this week and accused of bilking the state out of more than $3.7 million — money that was meant to benefit victims.
Authorities announced fraud, grand theft and official misconduct charges against Tiffany Carr, who served as president and CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence for more than 20 years, and Patricia Duarte, the nonprofit’s former CFO.
The charges marked the culmination of state probes launched after The Miami Herald reported on compensation paid to leaders of the coalition. They also came after Carr two years ago agreed to pay $2.1 million as part of a settlement of civil lawsuits centered on the state’s attempt to claw back “exorbitant” compensation.
Carr’s charges stem from reports that she received compensation of at least $7.5 million over a three-year period. That included more than $3.7 million in paid time off, according to court documents in lawsuits that led up to the 2021 settlement, which also called for the coalition and its foundation to be dismantled.
Lawmakers in 2020 stripped from state law the coalition’s relationship with the Department of Children and Families, which canceled its contract with the organization.
A news release Thursday from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Carr and Duarte “conducted a scheme to fraudulently award themselves personal time off” using money provided through grants intended to help fund domestic-violence shelters throughout the state.
FDLE investigators and Department of Children and Families workers examined “years of documentation” over the past two years, according to the news release,
The investigation showed that Carr and Duarte “submitted false quarterly reports, billed the state for vacant positions and charged for services never provided,” with Carr receiving more than $3.4 million in “excessive bonus and leave payouts” and Duarte receiving $291,000, the release said.
“These officials were entrusted to run an organization to assist those seeking a safe haven from abuse. Instead of ensuring state funds went to help those in need, they schemed together to steal more than $3.7 million for grossly inflated salaries and vacations. We previously took civil action to rid the organization’s bad management, and now we are filing criminal charges against these former officials,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a prepared statement.
HELMING THE HOUSE
The next speaker of the Florida House was formally designated this week, while delivering a message of limited government.
“Members, we are in danger of becoming a conveyor belt — passing along every bill, funding every project without ever stopping, thinking and questioning, is this the appropriate use of our power?” Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, said to House members gathered Monday for his designation ceremony. “Government cannot be all things to all people.”
Perez will succeed Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, after the 2024 elections and lead the House during the 2025 and 2026 sessions. He was first elected in a 2017 special election and serves as chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Perez, an attorney, told reporters after the ceremony that his South Florida constituents have one priority: addressing the state’s property-insurance problems. He said changes made by the Legislature are “chipping away” at the problem, but he noted the cost of his homeowners’ insurance has increased 120 percent.
“Do I believe we’re done with property insurance?” he said. “No, not a chance.”
The son of Cuban immigrants who came to America in 1969, Perez also included numerous references during the ceremony to his heritage and how that has helped shape him.
“I came to understand how much Fidel Castro had taken from the people of Cuba, and that took root in my mind as a different kind of fear — a fear about how power can be abused and eventually turned into the poor ideology of socialism,” Perez said.
MEASURING IDALIA’S DESTRUCTION
A preliminary report released Thursday by the University of Florida estimated up to $370.9 million in agricultural losses from Hurricane Idalia, which barreled through rural areas of North Florida in late August.
And losses could increase as damage to infrastructure and such things as timber are factored in.
Christa Court, director of the Economic Impact Analysis Program at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, pointed to a role the report could play amid recovery efforts from the Category 3 hurricane.
“We know that there’s a lot of decisions that are being made now, or in the near future at local levels, state levels,” Court said. “There’s a lot of discussions going on at federal levels and we want to make our information available to them as fast as possible so that they can make informed decisions.”
Idalia made landfall Aug. 30 in the Keaton Beach area of Taylor County before moving through parts of North Florida into Georgia. While powerful, Idalia had a relatively narrow path that crossed mostly sparsely populated areas that include many dairy and poultry farms and row crops.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “After the (2022) election, someone mentioned to me our supermajority and they said, ‘Danny, we can make people do anything we want. And that might be true. But just because we have the power to do a thing, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should, and just because we think we are right, it doesn’t mean we are justified.” — Incoming House Speaker Daniel Perez, R-Miami
STORY OF THE WEEK: Authorities charged the former longtime president of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a former chief financial officer of the agency with fraud, grand theft and official misconduct, accusing the women of bilking the state out of more than $3.7 million from money earmarked for domestic violence shelters.
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