TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement fired a deputy chief of staff days after she sought whistleblower protection and complained about alleged retaliation against an attorney who tangled with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ aides over releasing public records.
Friday’s dismissal of Patricia Carpenter, who served as deputy chief of staff at the agency for six months, came amid a shake-up of high-level staff following a contentious November meeting over the governor’s travel records.
Carpenter sent an email to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass on Tuesday informing him that she was filing a whistleblower complaint because an attorney who disagreed with aides to DeSantis was being denied a planned promotion and raise “based on retaliation for disagreeing on what would be released as a public record.”
DeSantis’ spokesperson Jeremy Redfern disputed Carpenter’s account.
“The governor’s office has received multiple complaints of this employee creating a hostile work environment,” he told The News Service of Florida Friday.
Carpenter’s email to Glass alleged the retaliation against Florida Department of Law Enforcement attorney Janine Robinson came after Robinson met with DeSantis’ aides and other department officials, including then-department Chief of Staff Shane Desguin, in early November.
The meeting involved a heated discussion about the release of public records after the Republican-controlled Legislature this spring passed a law shielding DeSantis’ travel records.
According to Carpenter’s email to Glass, Robinson tried to convince DeSantis aides that the law did not exempt from disclosure all of the records being sought but that the governor’s staff “absolutely disagreed and explicitly directed that none of the records would be released.”
Robinson “was extremely upset and explained that she and COS (Chief of Staff) Desguin had been part of the team drafting this statute and what they were asking for was not the intent of this law or what is allowed by law,” the email said.
“Janine also noticed/informed EOG (the executive office of the governor) that she had already told press outlets what they would be getting regarding specific records and their outstanding public records requests. EOG’s stance was let them sue, we will fight it in court and believed the court would be friendly to them. The meeting ended shortly after this discussion,” Carpenter wrote to Glass.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesperson on Friday also denied Carpenter’s allegations.
“While FDLE (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement) usually doesn’t comment about personnel matters, the allegations made by Ms. Carpenter are false. Her whistleblower claim was denied by the FDLE IG (Florida Department of Law Enforcement inspector general) because it did not meet Florida state statutory criteria,” spokesperson Gretl Plessinger said in an email. “She was an at-will employee who was terminated for insubordination, mismanagement of state funds and other agency policy violations.”
The dispute at the November meeting involved records sought from the department by the Washington Post, including records of plane travel by DeSantis and Florida Department of Law Enforcement employees accompanying him. The Post in July filed a lawsuit challenging the denial of the records.
Carpenter and Desguin — the department’s second-in-command — were placed on administrative leave on Nov. 9, after the governor’s office rejected their efforts to promote Robinson and give her a raise. Desguin, who had worked at the agency for almost 20 years, days later was forced to retire.
At 1:16 p.m. Friday, Carpenter — who was supposed to return to work on Monday, after taking medical leave — was told by phone she no longer had a job and that her belongings would be sent to her. A dismissal email subsequently sent to Carpenter by Glass noted that, as what is known as a “career service employee,” she serves “at the pleasure of the agency head” and is subject to firing at his discretion.
“As such, I am hereby dismissing you from employment at the close of business on Friday, December 1, 2023,” Glass wrote.
Carpenter’s email to Glass on Tuesday laid out in detail what allegedly took place at an early November meeting at Florida Department of Law Enforcement headquarters in Tallahassee. The meeting included DeSantis aides Meredith Pardo and Chris DeLorenz and Robinson, who asked Desguin to join in. Desguin later relayed what occurred to Carpenter, according to her email.
Shortly after the meeting, according to Carpenter, Desguin told her that he received a call from Anastasios Kamoutsas, a DeSantis deputy chief of staff, about Robinson.
Desguin “was visibly upset over the call and informed me that he had been told to pass a message to the Commissioner” from the governor’s office, Carpenter’s email said.
“During the phone call from Kamoutsas, COS (Chief of Staff) Desguin was told explicitly that he didn’t care how the message was delivered but that the request to promote Janine Robinson was denied and the request for a salary increase was denied. COS Desguin asked why and was told that Janine ‘is not on our team,’” Carpenter wrote.
Carpenter said she realized the action taken to deny Robinson an “earned promotion and raise” was based on retaliation for disagreeing about the records “and this directive could not be enforced.”
On Nov. 9, Carpenter sent an email to high-ranking department staff directing that Robinson receive a salary increase and be promoted to deputy general counsel.
“I wrote and sent this email because Janine was being retaliated against for arguing over what FDLE was being asked to do with public records by the EOG (executive office of the governor) and I could not allow this to occur or be a part of this,” Carpenter wrote in Tuesday’s email to Glass.
Within 30 minutes of her Nov. 9 email being sent, Carpenter said, Desguin received a call from DeSantis’ chief of staff, Alex Kelly, which she was able to hear.
“Kelly was clearly angry with COS Desguin asking what he thought he was doing and said that he had been given a directive by this office via Kamoutsas not to promote or increase the salary for Janine. He instructed COS Desguin to fix this and send an email to staff withdrawing the earlier email promoting Janine. He directed COS Desguin to bring a copy of the email to him at EOG showing that this had been completed and it was not to be sent via email, but hand delivered for his review,” Carpenter’s message to Glass said.
Desguin hand-delivered a copy of the email withdrawing Robinson’s promotion to Kathryn Glass, a receptionist at the governor’s office. Kathryn Glass is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner’s wife.
Hours later, Desguin and Carpenter were put on administrative leave. Carpenter said she was told the action was prompted by “an email earlier that day.”
“Based on the above facts, I am asking for protection as a whistle blower under Florida law. Retaliating against Janine Robinson was, in my opinion, retaliatory and I could not be a part of that,” Carpenter wrote to Glass on Tuesday.
By Dara Kam, News Service of Florida