A Leon County circuit court judge on Thursday took little time to order the dissolution of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, dismantling the final piece of the organization that is under fire for misusing millions in state and federal money.
Circuit Court Judge Ron Flury agreed to the request by Attorney General Ashley Moody to put the accounts, property and assets of the nonprofit coalition under the control of Mark Healy, a bankruptcy expert in the Jacksonville-based firm of Michael Moecker and Associates.
Last week, Moody’s office sued former CEO Tiffany Carr and the coalition board members after evidence mounted that the coalition spent more than $7.5 million over three years to compensate Carr.
Moody also filed an emergency motion asking the court to appoint a receiver who would assume authority over the coalition and its assets. Moody told reporters that likely includes Carr’s four homes, most notably a $2 million estate in North Carolina.
Also on Thursday, after Carr was a no-show before a House committee, the full House voted to have her “show cause” why she should not be held in contempt for failing to appear.
The order gives Carr until March 17 to show why she should not be fined or jailed for ignoring 12 attempts by the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee to try to subpoena her to appear for a deposition and submit to questions.
In Carr’s defense
For the first time since documents emerged on Feb. 13 showing the coalition and some members of its board of directors schemed to pad Carr’s paid time off and allow her to cash it in, her attorney spoke up in her defense during the hearing before the court.
Chris Kise, a Tallahassee-based attorney for the Foley & Lardner law firm, urged the court to reject Moody’s request to take over the coalition and foundation assets.
“There’s a lot of hyperbole. There’s a lot of speculation. There’s a lot of media-fueled frenzy,’’ said Kise, who represents Carr and the FCADV foundation, of which Carr is the only remaining board member.
“But when you drill down to the complaint, what you see is a citation to news articles, a lot of unsubstantiated claims, all of which may be proven,’’ he said, but it’s “not enough of a record to support the appointment of a receiver.”
Kise filed a response to the attorney general that also argued the allegations are “rife with obvious contradictions and defects, rendering most of the assertions simply unsubstantiated claims to be adjudicated.”
“The record is devoid of any facts relative to waste, fraud or abuse regarding the foundation or its assets,’’ the response argued.
Flury agreed to wait to decide whether to put the FCADV foundation under receivership until a hearing later this month. But he approved the request to dissolve the coalition after the coalition’s board of directors had met on Saturday and voted not to oppose the appointment of a receiver for the coalition.
“The appointment of a receiver is an important step in the ongoing efforts to get to the bottom of the gross misappropriation of public funds by FCADV and its former CEO Tiffany Carr,’’ Moody said in a statement. She noted that the hopes the investigation will preserve forensic evidence, “while ensuring Florida’s 42 domestic violence shelters statewide receive the funding they need to help domestic violence victims and their children heal.”
In addition to Moody’s lawsuit, the Department of Children and Families also sued Carr and the board members alleging fraudulent concealment, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and civil conspiracy.
And this week, federal prosecutors served the coalition with a subpoena, adding the prospect of criminal charges to the government actions mounting against Carr and the agency’s board of directors.
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After the hearing before the court, a process server presented the House’s show-cause order to Kise, who took it but said he wasn’t technically accepting it.
Blaine Winship, assistant attorney general, told the House committee Thursday he served Carr by certified mail, asking her to appear for questioning and with documents.
The motion seeks “the clawing back of all of the excess compensation that was taken out of the coalition by defendant, Tiffany Carr,’’ he said.
Winship also said that while the foundation was “bringing money in that was supposed to be for the benefit of the coalition…we saw no mention in there of any donations that have been received by the foundation actually paid over to the coalition, which surprised me.”
Carr remains as CEO of the foundation and, Winship said, and appears to be the only person left as all other board members are believed to have resigned. Winship said he believes the foundation has assets of about $1.5 million and its “only mission is to support the coalition.”
The House committee also heard from Meg Baldwin, CEO of Refuge House, the domestic violence center in Leon County, who said she wanted to give legislators some idea of how the $7.5 million Carr acquired could have been used to serve victims.
She said with $6 million, they could have provided 18,097 individual victims services “by our program or others across the state” including:
▪ Fielding 12,027 hotline calls from victims and family members;
▪ Providing safe shelter for 1,080 domestic violence survivors and their children for stays between 45 and 60 days;
▪ Outreach counseling services for 1,527 victims for 6-8 weeks;
▪ And assisting 3,843 in court services, such as injunctions.
She also said that her organization fielded 787 calls to its hotline from people seeking housing assistance “that we couldn’t give them.”
Several members of the committee were outraged.
“So while Tiffany Carr was taking money to buy some fancy house in North Carolina, you had almost 800 women who needed help who couldn’t get it,’’ said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay.
Said Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, the committee chair: “Please forgive me if I struggle to put into words how upsetting the information is that you’ve just given in your testimony.’’ Then he asked what kind of pressure Baldwin’s shelter had been under to cut costs.
“I am aware that at the same time that Miss Carr was personally enriching her fortune to the tune of $7.5 million, she was also putting pressure on the shelters to cut and contain cost,’’ he said.
Baldwin answered that the culture of the coalition, “as it relates to the details of our fiscal matters, was quite harsh.”
The committee will meet again March 18, when lawmakers return for a final vote on the state budget.