CASHIERS, NORTH CAROLINA — The view from Tiffany Carr’s home in the Blue Ridge Mountains on Sunday offered a crystal clear panorama of six mountain tops and rolling hillsides and, at 4,000 feet in elevation, seemed a world away from the Florida Capitol where she has been the focus of investigation and outrage.
Here is where friends say Carr, the former CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has been living with her husband, John Patrick Howard Jr., as state investigators have demanded answers about the extent to which state and federal taxpayer funds were used to give her millions in inflated paid time off and other benefits.
The evidence that has emerged shows that Carr used her tight control over the nation’s largest domestic violence coalition to obtain a compensation package of $7.5 million over three years. Records show, during that time, she was also actively engaged in buying real estate — three homes in two states, valued at more than $3 million, bringing her to a total of four homes.
The most recent purchase, a $2 million home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is in a secluded planned community with a golf course, and an outdoor fireplace overlooking the town of Cashiers, and Whiteside, Chimney Top and Rock mountains. The entrance to the multi-million dollar estate community is gated and most of its residents appeared to be still away for the winter.
Carr’s 6,665-square-foot home, on 2.5 acres, is fortified by a second security gate and chain-link fence one mile up the mountain from the entrance to the subdivision. She bought it Aug. 16, 2018, three months after the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence board, which she appointed, awarded her a compensation package that allowed her to cash in the equivalent of nearly a year’s salary — $450,000 —in paid time off. Her W-2 wages that year were $4.5 million, Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence records show.
On Sunday, the residents of the Courthouse Terrace home refused to answer the bell.
Carr resigned in November 2019, telling center directors in an email she has been “dealing with significant health issues that I thought I would be able to overcome” but “after the most recent health diagnosis has me shifting my focus from fighting for survivors to fighting for my life.”
Out of reach in North Carolina?
Lawyers with the Florida House want to question Carr about the decisions that led to her inflated compensation package. They say they can’t subpoena her because she is out of state, but the Times/Herald found her mountain home Sunday with two vehicles in the drive and a Florida State University flag waving in the breeze.
Carr’s lawyer, Chris Kise, also has not responded to requests for comment.
The property record is the clearest indication of how Carr used the proceeds. In 2014, Carr and her husband purchased a farmhouse home in the Wildwood Forest community outside of Highlands. Zillow, the real estate website, now values it at $459,000.
That same year the board awarded Carr “180 days” of paid time off that she could convert to cash, on top of 2,080 hours of paid time off as a “health-related provision.” The board also gave her a bonus of $80,000, and her reported IRS wages from the coalition were $413,085.
Two years later, in 2016, Carr and her husband purchased another home in her hometown of Port St. Joe for $370,000. The home rose in value to $457,500. It was damaged in Hurricane Michael and is now under reconstruction.
The partially rebuilt home sits on a little more than half an acre with an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico. This is the home Carr and her husband declare as their homestead, which qualifies it for Florida’s $50,000 homestead exemption.
Carr grew up in Port St. Joe, as part of the prominent Costin family. In 2016, Carr rode in a black stretch limo as a featured guest in Port St. Joe’s hometown parade and hosted a Purple Rain-themed Port St. Joe High School class reunion at “a beachfront condo,” according to a public Facebook invitation.
Carr’s cousin, Lynn Costin Marshall, lives directly behind the property in a three-bedroom home sold to her by one of their other cousins, Linda Costin.
Marshall told a reporter Sunday she thought the Herald’s reporting on Carr wasn’t fair but declined to speak further.
Lots of real estate businesses
Carr and her family members operated a number of real estate businesses, with names like Blue Waters Coastal Properties and Papa John Mountain Properties, according to state records.
Since 2002 Carr, her husband and her cousins had seven property management ventures in total, which were registered in Tallahassee and Port St. Joe.
As of now, just one — Cousins Coastal Properties — has an active business license, which Carr runs with her cousin, Sherry Costin.
Carr and her husband own a fourth home, a 2,500-square-foot, one-story home in Killearn Estates in Tallahassee. They purchased it for $232,000 in 2004, and it now has a market value of $260,870.
Legislators and legal experts are suggesting that Carr may have been engaged in fraud or a cover-up, and they want the money back.
Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican and member of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee that has been doing the interrogation, noted that for six years, three different board directors are all alleged to have made the same mistake by awarding Carr paid time off in hours while it was taken in days.
“Somebody is not telling the truth,” he said, adding that one former board chair even suggested documents had been forged.
Fine said he is not bothered by how many homes Carr owns but is outraged that she may have exploited taxpayers.
“I don’t care how she spent the money. Did she have a wealthy significant other? Does she come from a wealthy family? There could be other sources of funds. I don’t care if she gave the money to Robin Hood. We need to get it back.”
Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who first asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to probe the agency after he was elected in 2018, agreed.
“It’s not bad to own multiple properties, many people do in this country,’’ she said. “The evidence presented to us now definitely demonstrates foul play, which is why she should come forward and explain to us why these decisions were made. Why were these grant funds used for her salary and compensation? If she is not willing to do that, it will continue to raise eyebrows.”
Rebuffing requests for information
For months, since the Miami Herald first reported Carr’s compensation package at $761,000 in July 2018, she has refused to answer questions about the source of the funds.
When the Department of Children and Families demanded documents, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence complied with some of the requests, and argued the agency had no authority to obtain the others.
As Carr told friends and colleagues she had nothing to hide, they urged her to disclose the documents and get beyond the crisis. Carr fought harder, writing talking points, dictating what information would be released and continuing to stonewall auditors.
In testimony before the House ethics committee, board members who authorized Carr’s compensation package testified under oath that they did not realize the paid time off Carr they were awarding the long-time CEO was being offered in days, not hours, resulting in nearly $4 million in compensation.
Carr’s top two deputies also testified that while they realized it was an excessive amount of money going to the chief executive, they asked no questions.
“It’s not over yet,’’ said Eskamani, who said she wants to hear from Carr.
“It’s very hurtful from the lens of everyday people to learn about this story as they are struggling to make ends meet,’’ she said. “Here you have a nonprofit, created to help domestic violence victims survive and live a wholehearted life, and you have this executive who used her power and authority to benefit herself and, to some degree, her friends.”
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at email@example.com and @MaryEllenKlas. Samantha J. Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @SamanthaJGross