TALLAHASSEE — The former head of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Tiffany Carr, was arrested Monday on criminal corruption charges accusing her of defrauding the state of $3.4 million, using government funds provided through grants to help fund domestic violence shelters across Florida.
The arrest came nearly a week after Patricia Duarte, 57, the former chief financial officer, turned herself in to Leon County authorities on the same charges. Duarte is accused of receiving $291,000 in excessive compensation as a result of the scheme.
In the probable cause affidavit for the two women, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement spells out a scheme in which they would create false positions on the books, credit the empty positions with high salaries, file false quarterly reports, and receive thousands of dollars in overpayments from the Florida Department of Children and Families. The state agency contracted with the defunct organization for services at Florida’s 42 domestic violence shelters.
Carr, 54, and Duarte would then obtain the funds by receiving large amounts of paid time off in conjunction with their annual performance reviews, as well as annual raises and bonuses, the affidavit said. Carr’s performance review was conducted by a hand-picked board of shelter operators whose organizations received funds from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Carr would conduct Duarte’s annual performance review.
Investigators found that between 2013 and 2020, Carr was awarded 2,382 days (about 6.5 years) of paid time off by the executive committee that when cashed out gave her a total of $3.4 million in excessive funds, the affidavit said. Duarte received 575 days of paid time off, which cashed out at $291,387.
Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Office of Executive Investigations interviewed the members of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Committee and each explained that “the committee provided Tiffany Carr with PTO awards during her annual evaluations because Carr advised them she had a brain tumor and would need large amounts of time off for treatment and potentially brain surgery which would require Carr to miss up to one year of work.”
They also said the documents they were provided appeared to indicate the funds from her compensation had come from private funds, not the Department of Children and Families.
The board members told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement “they never saw any documentation from Carr confirming her tumor diagnosis and that at the time there was no reason to doubt Carr’s claim.” One board member even volunteered to take Carr to her treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, but Carr declined the help.
“Most members also told OEI (Office of Executive Investigations) Inspectors that they felt like Carr manipulated them,” the probable cause affidavit said.
“They explained that in hindsight, they found that Carr would say negative things about people seeking to get on FCADV’s board of directors to spread distrust of that individual among existing board members.”
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Records obtained by the Times/Herald and reviewed by the Florida House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee showed that Carr, who resigned from the organization in November 2019 citing health problems, was paid $7.5 million over three years.
Investigating since 2021
The case has been under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement since 2021, after inspectors received information from the Florida Office of the Chief Inspector General, the Department of Children and Families and the Florida House of Representatives. It will be prosecuted by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Duarte and the coalition’s former chief operating officer Sandra Barnett were ordered to pay $60,000 in a settlement agreement reached with the the state in 2021. As part of that settlement, Carr was ordered to pay $2.1 million.
“These officials were entrusted to run an organization to assist those seeking a safe haven from abuse. Instead of ensuring state funds went to help those in need, they schemed together to steal more than $3.7 million for grossly inflated salaries and vacations,” Moody said in a statement on Sept. 21.
The investigations were announced after a series of stories by the Miami Herald and the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau over 18 months revealed how Carr used her tight control of the coalition to inflate her compensation, all while domestic violence victims across the state were denied services.
As the nation’s largest domestic violence coalition, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence served as the sole clearinghouse for about $52 million annually in state and federal domestic violence funds that flowed to local Florida agencies that provided shelter, support and care for victims of domestic violence. Carr, who was the organization’s longest-serving CEO, earned a reputation as a crusader against domestic violence and an advocate for victims.
Under her direction, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence had enormous political access, even securing special protected status in state statute, but as she was padding her salary, the 42 domestic violence centers across the state struggled to stay afloat financially.
After Carr resigned, she took a contract with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a paid consultant. Documents obtained by the Times/Herald revealed that the board of directors — all hand-selected by Carr — allowed her to accumulate exorbitant amounts of paid time off, which she cashed out in massive amounts over three years.
Scouring property records in Florida and North Carolina, the Times/Herald also revealed that Carr used the proceeds of her compensation to purchase three homes while selling another to one of the organization’s board members.
After the Herald first reported Carr’s lucrative salary in July 2018, the Department of Children and Families ordered an audit in 2019, but the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence refused to cooperate.
The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee of the Florida House of Representatives launched its own investigation in 2020. It voted to subpoena Carr, as well as 14 executives and board members of the coalition, and asked for the board’s resignation.
CEO cashed out more than $4 million in time off
Documents obtained by the committee and investigated by the Times/Herald revealed that the coalition’s compensation committee, comprised of shelter operators and friends of Carr, agreed to pad her salary with bonuses and more than $3 million in paid time off.
Other records showed that the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence staff and board sought to justify Carr’s compensation by comparing her salary to CEOs at other nonprofit agencies, then backdating and forging documents to support their position.
Carr evaded the House subpoenas by living in one of her homes, a $3.4 million estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Florida officials couldn’t reach her because she remained out of state.
After the House investigation in 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1087 into law, which severed the state contract with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The coalition was then ordered dissolved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Ronald Flury in March 2020, and its operations were transferred to the Department of Children and Families. Flury appointed a receiver to access the funds from the center’s nonprofit foundation.
Settlement recovers $5 million
In August 2021, Moody and DeSantis announced they had reached a settlement with Carr, the coalition’s former employees and their insurers to recover $5 million of the $7.5 million Carr had been paid. The money was paid to the Florida Department of Children and Families and a court-appointed receiver.
The settlement resolved two lawsuits that accused Carr and the others of defrauding the state and federal government.
“Non-profit organizations exist to improve the lives of others, but during our investigation, it became clear the only thing these FCADV executives were serving were each other,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass said in a statement. “Their selfishness and greed came at the expense of domestic violence victims who needed their organization the most. I appreciate the work of our agents and analysts, exploring years of documentation to detail these crimes as well as DCF (the Department of Children and Families) who assisted on this case.”
Carr’s attorney, Chris Kise, defended Carr’s behavior in 2021, noting that the settlement did not admit any liability. He said that the Department of Children and Families, which had oversight over the coalition, had access to all the organization’s certified financial audits, including paid time off provisions. He said the departmnt never raised a question about the accrual of paid time off, which her contract allowed her to convert into cash.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, to reflect the arrest of Tiffany Carr and add details about the charges against her and Patricia Duarte.