BROOKSVILLE — Richard Klimas has what seems like a good deal with the Hernando County Fair Association.
As fairgrounds manager, he earns $2,850 per month for mowing the property, plus an additional hourly wage as a day laborer. Two of his businesses, the Brooksville Pulling Association and Klimas Flooring, also have won lucrative contracts with the association.
All together, Klimas and his companies accumulated $390,564 of the fair association's money between 2009 and 2013.
That figure appeared in a recently completed investigation by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office into allegations that fair board members had misappropriated funds and altered an accountant's report without authorization.
The three-and-a-half month investigation conducted by Detective Irene Gray found no criminal wrongdoing. Her report did, however, echo the complaints of several previous critics of the fair, noting missing invoices and bank statements, and sloppy bookkeeping practices.
"It verified what a lot of people thought," said Ty Mullis, a former board member who filed the complaint that triggered the investigation.
In addition to conducting interviews with four current executive board members, Richard Klimas and former fair president Sandra Nicholson, Gray examined bank statements, canceled checks and invoices.
Klimas, a former fair volunteer and husband of fair association treasurer Shari Klimas, said he began earning money for his time and labor in early 2010 when he took over the job of completing a new arena. Before that he had earned approximately $17,000 for contract work through Klimas Flooring.
According to the report, Klimas, who described himself as a "jack-of-all-trades," was the lowest bidder on every major job at the fairgrounds and was hired to oversee such projects as finishing the arena, upgrading a restroom and kitchen, and building a culvert system linking the main fairgrounds to a new parking lot.
Although he is not a licensed contractor, Klimas did the work using the license of another contractor.
Klimas told Gray that he was able to underbid jobs because, though he sometimes pays workers, he was often able to use materials or labor that had been donated or provided by the association.
Aside from his mowing contract, Klimas earns $15 per hour as a contract worker responsible for paying his own taxes.
Klimas defended his earnings from the fair by saying that perhaps his familiarity with the grounds gives him an advantage over potential competitors. However, he added that some of the job bids are unrealistically high.
"I can't help it if they can't make the price right," Klimas said. "If I had to give up the work I wouldn't mind, as long as the job gets done right and the board is happy. It's their show."
Yet, some former board members have said that the association's executive board created a "rubber stamp" endorsement of Klimas when it came to approving contracts.
Nicholson, who was fair president from 2009 to 2013 and still volunteers with the association, defended the arrangement, telling Gray that the fair benefitted because Klimas did the work cheaper and added it was well worth what the fair board paid.
Critics of the board have long questioned its bookkeeping practices. In her report, Gray noted that a computer thumb drive obtained from the association lacked information from a Capital City checking account for the final two months of 2010. She also noted that some invoices were missing.
Mullis, who served on the association's board from August 2011 to August 2012, said that reviewing the association's financial information was often frustrating. He believes that the Sheriff's Office investigation revealed how little emphasis the executive board put on such matters.
"There was never much attention to detail when it came to the books," Mullis said Tuesday. "I think their priorities have always lied elsewhere."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]