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State attorney subpoenas Safety Harbor audit in JoAnne Ryan case

SAFETY HARBOR — Former finance director JoAnne Ryan has admitted stealing between $70,000 and $80,000 from taxpayers.

But the investigation into her criminal activities is far from over.

On Wednesday, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office served Mayor Andy Steingold with a subpoena seeking an audit referred to in a previous St. Petersburg Times story claiming to show more than $215,000 missing in the last year Ryan headed up the finance department.

And Thursday, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett continued to lock verbal horns with Steingold in the aftermath of Ryan's plea deal last week.

Ryan pleaded guilty to second-degree grand theft, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. But prosecutors gave her a deal where she will serve no more than two years — and perhaps no prison time at all.

Bartlett is furious that Stein­gold is attacking his office for doing a less-than-aggressive inquiry into the case.

"All the way through this we have communicated with the city manager,'' he said Thursday. "And the mayor is acting like we are dropping the ball.

"Because of their failure to exercise proper oversight of their financial affairs for the last few years this situation occurred. We're coming in with brooms and dustpans to clean it up.''

Steingold responded:

"I would like to remind Mr. Bartlett that this is about the 18,000 residents of Safety Harbor who are victims and have a right to expect that the State Attorney's Office will prosecute the criminal who stole from them to the fullest extent of the law.''

The subpoena came in the wake of a Sunday story in which Bartlett defended his office's handling of the case, saying that he couldn't substantiate the $215,000 figure and hadn't even seen the audit.

The city's annual audit is typically completed in June. But City Manager Matt Spoor has said it doesn't contain any evidence the state attorney doesn't already have.

Spoor is on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.

It's unclear what the subpoena may lead to. Bartlett said it's up to State Attorney Bernie McCabe whether any additional charges will be filed against Ryan.

She and her husband, Tim, own a $290,500 house in Safety Harbor.

She was dismissed from her job last summer after Spoor discovered she had been using the city's American Express card to make personal charges since 2007. Most were in connection with a basketball team on which her daughters played. But some were to Kohl's, Lane Bryant, Bealls, Target, JCPenney, Publix and Rack Room Shoes.

Not long before the charges came to light, Ryan wrote Spoor a memo asking to withdraw $14,500 from her retirement account, a note that gave insight into her lifestyle.

She described how one of her children attended a $40,000-a-year university in Washington, D.C., and although the adult daughter was on scholarship, her summer expenses were not paid and "you can imagine the cost of 12 credits and housing in the Washington D.C. area,'' Ryan wrote.

She also pointed out that her son who attended the University of Florida was embarking on an internship and was being supported by his parents.

But there were additional expenses that had nothing to do with her children's education.

"This year, we expended funds for a new vehicle and a 25th anniversary trip so these additional dollars would be much appreciated,'' she wrote.

She was fired about six weeks later.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

State attorney subpoenas Safety Harbor audit in JoAnne Ryan case 05/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 8:10pm]
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