A Leon County Circuit Court judge Thursday granted a request by the state that the court-appointed receiver will take control of all money, accounts, property and assets held by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation, which was created with the sole purpose of supporting the embattled Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The coalition came under fire this year for paying former chief executive officer
Tiffany Carr more than $7.5 million over three years as domestic violence victims across the state were denied services. Documents show that Carr was allowed to cash in more than $5 million of paid time off at the agency that is primarily funded with state and federal taxpayer dollars.
The order, signed by Judge Ronald Flury, allows Jacksonville lawyer Mark Healy, the appointed receiver, to access $500,000 of the foundation’s $1.5 million in assets to support victims’ services throughout the state.
The remaining dollars will be used to operate the foundation and pay claims made by the Department of Children of Families, which once oversaw the contract with the coalition as well as claims made by the domestic violence shelters that are members of the coalition.
Earlier this year the Legislature swiftly passed a bill that ended the coalition’s role as the sole source for allocating money to the state’s local domestic violence shelters and puts Department of Children and Families in charge. The bill went into effect immediately.
Lots of legal action
The request for a receivership came in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Ashley Moody, who sued the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, its board of directors and three current and former executives, alleging they conspired to defraud the state to pad the compensation package of Carr, and demanding that millions in taxpayer money be repaid.
Moody asked the court to recover as much of the money as possible used on executive compensation and collect evidence for use in future investigations, saying her goal was “to preserve assets and claw back any funds that were misappropriated,”
The legal action came as Carr and the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation were under investigation by the Florida House of Representatives, the governor’s chief inspector general and Moody over revelations that the coalition allowed Carr to pad her paid time off and cash it in.
The new receivership “allows for financial stability of the Coalition and puts the Foundation to its intended use,” James Timko, a lawyer representing Healy said at the hearing, which was held over Zoom video call.
At some point, a claims process is expected to be set up where creditors can submit claims directly to the state, Timko said.
Funneling domestic violence funds
According to court documents, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation has contracts to administer about $21.5 million on behalf of its 42 member domestic violence shelters statewide.
Blaine Winship, a lawyer representing Moody’s office, said while the order doesn’t “give us everything we want,” the compromises are fair.
Winship said appointing a receiver is just one phase of the litigation, and that the final phase will end in the state’s “clawing back” what it sees as excess compensation to Carr.
Christopher Kise, an attorney representing Carr and the foundation did not dispute the order, and added that “someone has to operate the foundation, and it has to move forward.”
He said Carr has no interest in in the foundation’s assets or in supporting the coalition’s operations.
He said his clients agree that giving the court discretion over the funds maximizes the amount of money remaining for the shelters.
The money is and was for the shelters,” he said. “The coalition was always the conduit.”
Since 2003, the coalition has managed about $52 million annually as the single state clearinghouse for 42 domestic violence centers that received funding, training and advocacy from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation.
Carr’s financial and medical claims
During that time, evidence shows, a small group of members of the board, appointed by Carr, operated as the compensation committee and allowed Carr to pad her compensation while claiming she had a brain tumor but produced no evidence of a medical condition.
Gov. Ron DeSantis also filed a lawsuit in the Second Judicial Circuit, accusing Carr, the coalition and the board of breach of its contract with the Department of Children and Families, “breach of implied duty of good faith,” and breach of fiduciary duty. In addition, Carr is being sued for fraudulent concealment, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and civil conspiracy.
Department of Children and Families asked for more than $30,000 in damages, and any other relief the court decides for each of the 42 allegations.
“The coalition’s deliberate abuse of state dollars, inexcusable lack of transparency and calculated breach of public trust is untenable,’’ DeSantis said in a statement. “We will continue with our efforts to ensure those involved are held accountable for their actions, while also ensuring that survivors are being provided with proper care and support.”
In late March, the court agreed to extend the time period for responding to the case until May 1. A hearing date has not yet been set.