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Subpoenas issued in salary scandal at Florida domestic violence agency

News that the agency’s former CEO had been paid more than $7.5 million over three years as shelters struggled to provide housing and basic supplies to victims has rocked the domestic violence community.

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida House late Monday issued subpoenas to 13 current and former associates of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the state-funded organization under fire for paying its former CEO more than $7.5 million over three years.

House Speaker José Oliva ordered the employees and board directors to appear before the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee on Monday, Feb. 24, for a day of questioning under oath.

The House is investigating a massive compensation package given to Tiffany Carr, former CEO of the agency. Documents turned over to the House last week and obtained by the Times/Herald show she was allowed to accumulate and cash-in more than $5 million of paid time off while also receiving her salary, automobile allowance, and travel to and from her home in North Carolina.

Related: How a Florida nonprofit paid $7.5M to its CEO: The Tiffany Carr Story

The agency is nearly 99% funded by state and federal money, and although the Florida Department of Children and Families operates as the main oversight body for FCADV, records show that members of the board of directors, who were appointed by Carr, served as the compensation committee.

Unhappy with what he called an “abuse of state dollars,” Gov. Ron DeSantis last week assigned his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, to launch an investigation into the “exorbitant compensation payouts” to the nonprofit agency Carr led for more than half of its 40-year history.

Miguel has already scheduled interviews with witnesses this week and, on Wednesday, the House is expected to move quickly on legislation to end the special relationship FCADV has in state statute.

The House will vote on HB 1087, sponsored by Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, a Miami Republican, to repeal the law that requires the Department of Children and Families to contract with FCADV to manage all state and federal domestic violence funds.

A House analysis contends that the present contract between DCF and FCADV does not place any limitation on executive salaries and DCF does not have leverage to seek anything more than what is currently in its contract.

Under the bill, FCADV would have to compete with other organizations to handle the funds and would be no longer protected by statute as the sole source contract to monitor, evaluate, and fund the state’s domestic violence centers.

The revelations — prompted by Times/Herald reporting over 18 months — led DCF to order an audit in 2018. But after FCADV, a private, nonprofit organization, refused to turn over its complete records to state officials, the House last month launched its investigation.

The news that Carr had been paid so generously as shelters struggled to provide housing and basic supplies to victims of domestic abuse rocked the domestic violence community. The coalition is comprised of 42 emergency shelters that serve women, children and men who are victims of domestic abuse.

On Sunday, 26 shelter leaders from across the state sent a letter to DeSantis saying they were “shocked and gravely concerned” about the compensation paid to Carr.“ They commended the governor for launching an inspector general’s investigation and criticized the coalition’s refusal to turn over documents to the House and state investigators.

They called the coalition’s behavior “an apparent flagrant sacrifice of the welfare of domestic-violence survivors to personal greed” and demanded that the members of the board resign.

In an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, three Tampa Bay-area shelter CEOs said the revelations were “unconscionable and shocking.”

“While this creates chaos for us and the other ethically run and transparent centers working in the trenches to keep survivors safe and help them eventually thrive, we pledge to you that we and our senior leadership and our boards of directors will work hard to ensure we continue to serve thousands of survivors in our area,” wrote Lariana Forsythe of CASA in St. Petersburg, Kelly Sinn of Sunrise in Pasco County and Mindy Murphy of The Spring in Hillsborough County.

The House action is a rare exercise of its subpoena power and has only been used one other time in recent history — last year, when the House was investigating a $2.8 million contract for Visit Florida, the state’s marketing agency.

The following board members, officials and center managers, were subpoenaed to appear before the House committee:

Theresa Beachy, FCADV treasurer from Gainesville.

Angela Diaz-Vidaillet, FCADV vice president from Miami.

Shandra Fernandez-Kvam of Tampa.

Melody Keeth, FCADV chairman from Palm Bay.

Laurel Lynch, FCADV director from Bradenton.

Penny Morrill, FCADV director from Dade City.

Sherrie Schwab, FCADV director from Bartow.

Kelly Sinn, CEO of Sunrise in Dade City.

Sandra Barnett, chief operating officer of FCADV in Tallahassee.

Tiffany Carr, former CEO of FCADV in Tallahassee.

Patricia Duarte, chief financial officer of FCADV in Tallahassee.

Donna Fagan, FCADV vice president from Lake City.

Lorna Taylor, former FCADV director from Tampa.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com

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