Friday, July 20, 2018
Business

Gulfcoast Legal Services director retires after critical federal audit

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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Comments
Open office plans are as bad as you thought

Open office plans are as bad as you thought

A cubicle-free workplace without private offices is supposed to force employees to collaborate. To have them talk more face-to-face. To get them off instant messenger and spontaneously brainstroming about new ideas.But a recent study by two researche...
Published: 07/21/18
Officials speak out against demolition plans for historic Jordan Park section

Officials speak out against demolition plans for historic Jordan Park section

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County School board chair Rene Flowers was fired up Friday. She talked about growing up in Jordan Park, the city’s first public housing project and a sentimental and historic marker of St. Petersburg’s African-American commu...
Published: 07/20/18
Florida is still paying SunPass contractor, even after officials said they would stop

Florida is still paying SunPass contractor, even after officials said they would stop

Florida has not stopped paying the SunPass contractor responsible for the tolling system’s outage, even after transportation officials said the state would suspend all payments.In a letter on Monday, FDOT secretary Mike Dew said the state would not p...
Published: 07/20/18
Florida among the top 3 states with the most income inequality

Florida among the top 3 states with the most income inequality

Florida is one of three states in the nation with the biggest income gap between the very rich and everyone else.In 2015, a family in the top 1 percent nationally had an average income of more than $1.3 million — or 26.3 times as much as the $50,107 ...
Published: 07/20/18
Tampa International Airport ranked in top 10 for defense against cyber threats

Tampa International Airport ranked in top 10 for defense against cyber threats

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport was ranked this week as the 10th safest U.S. airport to go online without being hacked, but the ranking is not only about the place, but also about how savvy its travelers are.The data security firm Coronet ranked ...
Published: 07/20/18
When suicide threats come calling: ‘I try to make a connection.’

When suicide threats come calling: ‘I try to make a connection.’

TAMPA — At first glance, it’s a typical office with more than a dozen cubicles under florescent lights. The operators wear headsets and stare into computer screens, some tinkering with handheld toys, others browsing Facebook or chatting with colleagu...
Published: 07/20/18

State record of $321 million in unclaimed property back to residents and businesses

More than $321 million was returned to Florida residents and businesses from the state’s unclaimed property in the past fiscal year.Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis took office in July 2017 and said this year’s total broke last year’s rec...
Published: 07/20/18
Trump ready to hit all Chinese imports with tariffs

Trump ready to hit all Chinese imports with tariffs

Associated PressPresident Donald Trump has indicated that he’s willing to hit every product imported from China with tariffs, sending U.S. markets sliding before the opening bell Friday. In a taped interview with the business channel CNBC, Trump said...
Published: 07/20/18
Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

TAMPA — Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and other countries are beginning to push up prices and depress demand in spots around the Tampa Bay area and Florida, business executives say."We’ve definitely seen that the tariffs have increased ...
Published: 07/20/18
Get this: Bank of the Ozarks is the country’s largest construction lender

Get this: Bank of the Ozarks is the country’s largest construction lender

This surprised me: Little ole Bank of the Ozarks is the country’s largest construction lender, loaning out more to the industry than financial heavyweight Wells Fargo and Bank of America.Those factoids were part of a lengthy profile of the bank pub...
Published: 07/20/18