Make us your home page

Gulfcoast Legal Services director retires after critical federal audit

Lawyer John Dubrule, a 36-year veteran of Gulfcoast, became executive director of the organization in 2014.

Lawyer John Dubrule, a 36-year veteran of Gulfcoast, became executive director of the organization in 2014.

The executive director of Gulfcoast Legal Services has retired in the wake of a critical federal audit report that said the agency failed to properly document how it spent $753,158 in federal grants.

Lawyer John Dubrule had headed the nonprofit organization, which provides low-income Tampa Bay residents with free legal help in housing, immigration and other civil matters. His departure is the latest dustup for an agency roiled by staff turnover, budget cuts and allegations of sloppy record- and timekeeping.

Lawyer William Weller, chair of Gulfcoast's board of directors, said Friday that the organization has improved its procedures in response to the federal report.

"Gulfcoast for years has done so much good, and many times those who did good didn't write it down properly or keep their time properly," Weller said. "There was a longtime culture of 'let's just help this person and deal with the record-keeping later.' "

Although Gulfcoast has returned a "small amount" of grant money, Weller said it probably will not have to return the bulk of the funds "because they were used for their intended purpose."

In its report, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice rapped Gulfcoast for failing to conduct a required audit of how it spent money from two grants it received to help victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.

"While we found no evidence of fraudulent reporting involving grant funds," the report said, "in our judgment Gulfcoast's records provide no assurance that grant funds are being paid only for grant-related activities."

Among other problems, the report said, Gulfcoast did not require its staff members to track their time. It also submitted "inaccurate financial reports" to the Justice Department offices that awarded the grants, and was slow to respond to the inspector general's "repeated requests" for information.

In his response to the report, Dubrule blamed Gulfcoast's failure to comply with grant requirements on "significant turnover," the temporary outsourcing of bookkeeping and financial reporting, and accounting software that "was not as robust as needed for efficient grant reporting."

"While we cannot undo past transgressions," he wrote, "we have put protocols in place to prevent future issues." Gulfcoast also conducted the required audit.

A 36-year veteran of Gulfcoast, Dubrule became executive director after the board fired Kathleen Mullin, a trial lawyer and TV legal analyst, in 2014 after less than a year on the job. Although Mullin had taken steps to improve Gulfcoast's record-keeping and make it easier for clients to talk to a lawyer, she alienated some staffers and angered Gulfcoast board members by assuring them — incorrectly, as it turned out — that the staff wouldn't vote to form a union.

Like some other Florida legal aid organizations, Gulfcoast used to get much of its funding from the Florida Bar Foundation and interest earned on lawyers' trust accounts. When interest rates plunged, so did the foundation's contribution, making Gulfcoast and the others more dependent on federal grants, private grants and donations.

Gulfcoast, whose budget this year is about $2.3 million, has offices in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton and Sarasota. All will remain open, Weller said.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Gulfcoast Legal Services director retires after critical federal audit 09/30/16 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2016 8:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Toxic' times: How repeal of Florida's tax on services reverberates, 30 years later

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Long before Hurricane Irma attacked Florida, the state faced a troubled fiscal future that the storm will only make worse.

    Robertson says the tax debate is now “toxic.”
  2. Fewer Tampa Bay homeowners are underwater on their mortgages

    Real Estate

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages continues to drop. In the second quarter of this year, 10.2 percent of borrowers had negative equity compared to nearly 15 percent in the same period a year ago, CoreLogic reported Thursday. Nationally, 5.4 percent of all mortgaged homes were …

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages  continues to drop. [Times file photo]
  3. 'What Happened'? Clinton memoir sold 300,000 copies in first week


    Despite being met with decidedly mixed reviews, What Happened, Hillary Clinton's new memoir about the 2016 presidential campaign, sold a whopping 300,000 copies in its first week.

    The new memoir by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sold 300,000 copies in its first week.
  4. After Irma topples tree, home sale may be gone with the wind

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — To house hunters searching online, the home for sale in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood couldn't have looked more appealing — fully renovated and shaded by the leafy canopy of a magnificent ficus benjamini tree.

    Hurricane Irma's winds recently blew over a large ficus tree, left, in the yard of a home at 3601Alabama Ave NE, right, in Shore Acres which is owned by Brett Schroder who is trying to sell the house.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Unemployment claims double in Florida after Hurricane Irma


    The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 23,000 last week to 259,000 as the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey began to fade.

    Homes destroyed by Hurricane Irma on Big Pine Key last week. Hurricane Irma continued to have an impact on the job market in Florida, where unemployment claims more than doubled from the previous week.
[The New York Times file photo]