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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Maria Sachs says aide used her credit cards to rack up more than $100,000 in fraudulent charges

11

July

The year-end thank you note to State Sen. Maria Sachs from her former legislative aide read: "Thank you for everything you do for me. I hope this leads us to victory.'' Matthew Damsky then attached a fortune from his Christmas fortune cookie.

Six months later, Damsky 28, was accusing Sachs, a 68-year-old Democrat from Delray Beach, of sexually harassing him by dressing in front of him in the office. And she was fighting back by making public what she had previously kept low key: charges that he had fraudulently racked up an estimated $100,000 on her and her family's credit cards without her knowledge and falsifying Senate expense reports. 

The reasons for the bitter and now public feud are unclear but, according to documents filed by by the state Senate and Attorney General with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Damsky's father told Sachs his son had a gambling problem. 

In an affidavit released by Sachs on Monday, Damsky of Boca Raton admitted in January that he purchased nearly $40,000 in Delta airlines tickets, including seven valued at more than $5,500 each, using Sachs' credit card and without her permission. He also made 14 charges worth more than $4,200 at Walgreens between August and October of 2015.  Download Affidavit

Sachs said in a response to the complaint that she had been close to Damsky, whom she had hired as a district legislative aide in 2013 after his part-time stint at a Boca Raton law firm, but when she discovered the fraudulent transactions in January 2016, she notified his family. 

Sachs "told them that [Damsky] needed help,'' according to a position statement filed by Senate General Counsel George Levesque with the EEOC. She said she also asked his family to help him repay the money.

Damsky's father "sent a check for part of the amount due and advised Senator Sachs that [Damsky] had a gambling problem," the statement said. Download Position Statement With Exhibits

Sachs then confronted Damsky and "he confirmed that he had acted without my authority or knowledge to impose charges on my personal credit cards,'' she said in a statement. She then offered him a resignation letter and he was released from state employment on Feb. 5.  Download Resignation offer

Damsky "engaged in a protracted pattern of abusing his position and our trust to fraudulently obtain compensation and purchases of products and services,'' Sachs said. 

According to Sachs' statement, the depth of Damsky's fraud was enormous. She that after his resignation, her staff found American Express Platinum, Discover and Costco cards in her name that she was not aware of, as well as a PayPal account. They found credit cards in her children's names and numerous fraudulent documents:  a pay stub showing Damsky was employed in Ontario and earning $10,850 per month and a residential lease for a home in Quebec. She discovered he rented an apartment in Tallahassee to a legislative intern and another staff member but never paid the landlord, forcing them to get evicted. 

She said she notified state and federal law enforcement authorities and, only after she insisted on seeking restitution, did Damsky file the complaint. Damsky thank you

Sachs' statement followed a report by GossipExtra columnist Jose Lambiet last week, which also ran in the Miami Herald, that said Damsky had filed  a complaint with the EEOC accusing Sachs of routinely undressing fully in front of him in her office.

"I unequivocally deny the ludicrous and scurrilous groundless accusations in this filing,'' Sachs said Monday. "This transparent and cynical tactic will not delay, deny or dilute my intent to seek the fullest measure of justice on behalf of Floridians and my family."

The GossipExtra "exclusive" report failed to mention that Damsky had been asked to resign by Sachs in January after he admitted to making the charges.

According to Sachs' affidavit provided to the Herald/Times by the Senate, Sachs acknowledged that she did "on occasion change clothing in my office, but never did in front of Mr Damsky."

Damsky also accused Sachs of asking him to walk her dog, do her grocery shopping, maintain her relatives' homes and travel cross country to assist Sach's mother and children and draft legal pleadings. Sachs, a lawyer, denied each of the allegations, adding that her dog, "Roxanne, lives on five acres and has never been walked on a leash."

She acknowledged in an affidavit that Damsky had become close to Sach's 91-year-old mother and did accompany her to California when her mother moved there. However, Sachs said she did not require Damsky to do this and, in fact, she was concerned "he was taking advantage of her." After Damsky resigned from the Senate, another staff member found three checks from Sachs mother in his desk, she said.

On May 13, Senate President Andy Gardiner notified Damsky that he had been paid two travel advances worth $5,168 but never submitted any reimbursement requests for them, requiring him to reimburse the Senate.  Download Damsky, Matthew-Actions

Download Damsky, Matthew-Application

Sachs is not seeking re-election to another term. 

Here is Sachs' statement:

“Early in 2016, I first learned that a member of my staff in the Florida Senate, Matthew Damsky, had engaged in a protracted pattern of abusing his position and our trust to fraudulently obtain compensation and purchases of products and services. When he was confronted about these misdeeds, he confirmed that he had acted without my authority or knowledge to impose charges on my personal credit cards.

"My greatest concern is the thousands of dollars of unwarranted compensation of Florida taxpayers’ funds that this individual received through his duplicitous actions. He betrayed his professional responsibilities to taxpayers and the proper administration of our office. For my family, we are still calculating the depth of deception that resulted in a loss of at least $100,000 in charges that he racked up on credit cards in my name and the names of my family members, without our knowledge or approval.

“As soon as we learned of these apparent criminal acts, I immediately notified the General Counsel of the Florida Senate and we have actively cooperated in investigations and queries undertaken by the Senate, the office of the Attorney General of Florida, FDLE and federal investigators.

“I have repeatedly rejected any and every effort or offer by this individual, or on his behalf, that would allow him to avoid accountability or deprive the taxpayers of Florida full restitution for their loss.  He must be held accountable. Only after my refusal to enable him to avoid accountability and restitution did he file an EEOC complaint, in the spring. I unequivocally deny the ludicrous and scurrilous groundless accusations in this filing. This transparent and cynical tactic will not delay, deny or dilute my intent to seek the fullest measure of justice on behalf of Floridians and my family.

“This individual betrayed the trust placed in him as a steward of a public office and its funds. This is intolerable, it is unacceptable, and it will not go unpunished.

“During these past six months, we have patiently cooperated with all appropriate authorities and have respected and abided by the processes underway. But I am compelled to speak out today and to respond based on this malicious effort to tarnish my name and reputation with falsehoods.

“As a former prosecutor and as someone who has served in elected office for 10 years, I consider public service a great privilege and a solemn public trust. I will continue to zealously protect that trust in all that I do.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 12, 2016 1:26am]

    

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