TALLAHASSEE — Long before Russian operatives tried to tamper with Florida voting systems, a different online scam attacked the personal email account of First Lady Ann Scott and stole $350,000 of her money.
It happened twice, in 2012 and 2014, and both incidents had connections to Miami-Dade and Broward County. The investigations involved Google, the Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security and an IP address in Nigeria, where so many suspicious emails originate.
Neither case was publicized at the time. The Times/Herald learned of both cases recently.
In the first case, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirms that scammers used a phony email address to trick Mrs. Scott's accountant into stealing some of the First Lady's money. The scheme involved two wire transfers worth more than $349,000 to bank accounts in Miami and Australia.
One transfer for $260,022 was to a Wells Fargo bank branch in Miami for "materials" for Daza Globa Enterprises & Export, with a listed address of 600 North Ocean Drive, Miami.
A South Florida man, Anthony Daza, said he answered a Craigslist ad for a job at an import-export business placed by a man who said he would send Daza money with instructions to wire bank transfers and "take his cut."
"Mr. Daza explained that he started to think that something was not completely legitimate with this system," FDLE agents wrote.
The other transfer, for $89,320, went to Westpac Banking Corp. in Victoria, Australia, to an account listed in the names of AG & AJ Galagher.
Here's how the theft worked: Scammers created a phony Gmail account by simply adding a third "n" to Ann in Ann Scott's email address. The sender then emailed Mrs. Scott's accountant, Cathy Gellatly, at Hollow Brook Wealth Management in New York City.
"Ann Scott also advised that Mrs. Gellatly sent the two wire transfers, thinking the request came from Ann Scott," FDLE's report said.
While FDLE was investigating, the agency was contacted by the managing director of Merrill Lynch's San Francisco office, where Mrs. Scott had accounts, saying that an attempt had been made to extract money. The email text asked for the balances in her accounts.
Hollow Brook's chief executive officer, Alan Bazaar, is the trustee who manages Gov. Rick Scott's blind trust, and who was a business associate of Scott's at Richard L. Scott Investments before he became governor in 2010. Gellatly, an accountant at Hollow Brook, also worked at Scott's investment firm and is a long-time friend of the Scott family.
An examination of Mrs. Scott's laptop computer revealed that the email account included two filters that blocked the First Lady from receiving messages from Bazaar and Caroline German, also a Hollow Brook staff member.
When FDLE asked Mrs. Scott why the filters were on her computer, the report said: "The First Lady advised that she did not assign the email filters and that they should not be there due to the fact that she speaks to both individuals on a frequent basis." The email filters were deleted.
The report raises new questions about the extent of contact between Mrs. Scott, her husband and Bazaar, the trustee.
Gov. Scott and spokesmen for his U.S. Senate campaign have said repeatedly that Bazaar, as trustee of Scott's trust, makes independent decisions about Scott's holdings to avoid conflicts of interest.
Politico reported in August that Mrs. Scott made a six-figure personal loan to Gellatly last year. The transaction appeared on the financial disclosure statement the Scotts filed with the U.S. Senate as part of his candidacy.
Gov. Scott, the former chief executive of Columbia/HCA Hospital Corp., listed assets in July worth at least $255 million.
The wire transfer scam against Mrs. Scott was attempted a second time in 2014 when her Gmail account was compromised for a second time, FDLE said. Wire transfers totaling $397,330 were requested. At one point, the Scotts' daughter, Allison, opened a version of the spoofed email.
In the second incident, Gellatly didn't transfer any money.
The investigative trail took FDLE agents to the Orlando city clerk's office, a SunTrust branch in Hollywood, Florida, and a business in Stuart.
Documents obtained by the Times/Herald show that FDLE investigated each case for more than a year. The agency said it recovered Mrs. Scott's money in both cases, but nobody was charged with a crime in either incident.
"In both cases, agents were not able to identify suspects based on the information developed," said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. "The agents believe the crimes were committed by individuals outside the U.S., using techniques to conceal their identities."
"The First Lady was the victim of sophisticated email phishing scams involving her personal finances that was in no way related to the state business of Florida," said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the Scotts. "Once these scams were discovered, FDLE was notified and properly investigated."
The governor's office said FDLE was the appropriate agency to investigate the incidents because it has expertise in Internet fraud cases, and by law is required to provide security to the First Family at all times.
The 2012 investigation was headed by Special Agent Travis Eisenhauer. The second case was headed by Agent Jason Wells.
Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] and follow @stevebousquet.