CLEARWATER — A former city Parks and Recreation employee is under arrest after police said he pocketed more than $148,000 in cash payments from vendors over the past five years. Robert Carpenter, 58, was charged Friday with one count of scheming to defraud, a first degree felony.
Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar said questions about the department’s cash management system arose in March when an employee was reviewing profit reports and noticed zero revenue recorded for an event that should have drawn income.
Dunbar said he questioned Carpenter, then a recreation supervisor, on March 28 and scheduled a meeting for the following morning. Carpenter resigned before the meeting could take place.
Clearwater Police took over the investigation, and the city hired a forensic auditor on May 9 to review the department’s books.
Ed Bates, owner of Kinney’s Kitchen concessionaire, told police he has been paying $26,000 per year in cash directly to Carpenter since 2014 in exchange for vendor rights at the Eddie C. Moore Complex, according to the arrest warrant.
Parks and Recreation accounting staff told police they confronted Carpenter in March after being unable to find concession payments for the Moore Complex. Staff told police Carpenter said he had been taking payments from Bates and applying them to the Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex account to make the facility’s "finances appear better than they were," according to the warrant.
The forensic auditor found no record of Bates’ payments in any account.
Members of the amateur soccer league LaLiga Mexicana also told police they had an agreement to pay Carpenter $5,500 per season to use the city’s soccer fields. Police said members paid Carpenter $54,000 in cash since 2013 and were never given receipts.
The forensic auditor told police the city had no documentation of payments by the LaLiga since 2013, when Carpenter’s predecessor retired.
A Parks and Recreation employee also told police that in February he noticed $1,200 missing from a bag holding cash ticket sales from a tournament. The employee confronted Carpenter, who said he had borrowed $880 "because he needed the money" and never repaid it, according to the arrest warrant.
Another employee said Carpenter told him he had borrowed $2,210 in men’s basketball league payments, which were being stored in a safe, "for a medical emergency."
According to personnel records, Carpenter has worked for the city almost continually since 1983, except for five years in the 1990s when he lived out of state. Recent evaluations note his dedication to the city and involvement in organizing national and international sports tournaments for the department.
Dunbar said he was unable to comment on how missing cash payments had gone undetected for so long, because he had turned the nvestigation over to the police department and was still reviewing the findings.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.