TALLAHASSEE — Concerned that the executive compensation scandal consuming the state-funded Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence may be harming victim services, two Florida members of Congress on Tuesday asked the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
“Since almost 99% of (the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence) funds come from state and federal dollars, we ask that you look into these allegations and ensure there is proper oversight of the federal funds,’’ wrote Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton in a letter to Michael E. Horowitz, inspector general of the Justice Department.
They commended the pending probes by the Florida House of Representatives and the governor’s inspector general into documents that show the agency’s board of directors approved paying its former CEO Tiffany Carr $7.5 million over three years, and they cited the Times/Herald reporting which first exposed her excessive compensation.
“We are deeply troubled by the allegations and the inadequate oversight that appears to have happened in regard to (the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence),’’ they wrote. “At the same time, we would caution that whatever actions are taken take into account the past misallocations of resources and the need for the work of these all-important shelters to go on.”
The Florida House on Monday issued subpoenas to 13 current and former employees and board members of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and DeSantis’ inspector general has begun interviewing witnesses. Documents turned over to the House last week and obtained by the Times/Herald show that Carr was allowed to accumulate and cash-in more than $5 million of paid time off over several years while also receiving her salary, automobile allowance, and travel to and from her home in North Carolina.
The agency is in charge of $47 million in state and federal funds this budget year, including $19.8 million from federal grants, and relies almost exclusively on taxpayer money for its funding.
Castor and Deutch also quoted a letter from the heads of 26 domestic violence centers in Florida in which they vowed to “remain steadfastly committed to ensuring that these vital services continue without interruption.”
The center directors called on the current board members of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to resign and, on Tuesday, the governor’s inspector general, Melinda Miguel, notified them that they would be invited to meet with state investigators “to discuss concerns, issues, and allegations regarding any potential misuse of public funds.”
Miguel’s note to the center directors said that her staff was prepared to conduct the meetings “individually and can be held at the centers in person.”
Carr has been at the helm of the non-profit coalition for more than half of its 43-year history, relying on her connections with politicians and lobbyists to create a unique arrangement that allows her agency to be the clearinghouse for the millions in direct grants to the 42 centers serving domestic violence victims in emergency shelters across the state. She also used her connections to appoint board members who supported her and shielded the board’s compensation decisions from scrutiny.
Legislators have responded by filing legislation to end the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s status as the sole-source contractor for the state and federal funds. On Wednesday, 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 the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to manage all domestic violence funds.
On Tuesday, Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence criticized the potential misuse of state and federal funds by the Florida coalition, calling Carr’s inflated salary and refusal to participate in the state audit “a betrayal.”
“We have heard from victims in Florida and thus understand the real and potential impacts,” the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence President and CEO Ruth Glenn wrote in a statement. “How can those victims and survivors trust that (the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence) is truly serving them, knowing about these allegations? Transparency and integrity are a vital part of public service, and we encourage all nonprofits to uphold this as a foundation to their work and operations.”
The national coalition clarified that despite the similar name, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence does not provide oversight to state coalitions in Florida or elsewhere.