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  1. Florida Politics

Florida Lottery secretary resigns under fire

Cynthia O’Connell, the head of the Florida Lottery, is resigning effective 
Oct. 1.
Cynthia O’Connell, the head of the Florida Lottery, is resigning effective Oct. 1.
Published Aug. 29, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O'Connell, one of Gov. Rick Scott's original agency heads, has resigned in the wake of media reports of questionable travel expenses and absenteeism.

O'Connell's resignation via a letter dated Friday came as she also faced internal questions about her use of her state credit card for personal items, although those issues were resolved.

Scott announced that he has appointed longtime lottery executive Tom Delacenserie as interim secretary. The governor said O'Connell announced her Oct. 1 departure to explore opportunities in the private sector.

Yet, O'Connell has been under pressure for some time. Her agency faced severe criticism last year over poor financial management and a fraud investigation into unusual, recurring lottery payouts. The Palm Beach Post, in a series of reports last year, found suspicious patterns of winnings at the same retail outlets.

More recently, Politico reported this week that O'Connell racked up nearly $30,000 in travel bills and took nine weeks of vacation in 2014, the equivalent of 20 percent of all business days, at a time when key staffers in her office were under investigation.

Legislators who oversee lottery operations reacted with surprise.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, a longtime member of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, said he considered O'Connell a friend.

"I thought she did a good job," Richter said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also a member of the committee, said he thought that O'Connell was one of several Scott agency heads who could face difficulty being confirmed in the 2016 session. Those who were not confirmed in 2015 and are not confirmed next year will lose their jobs.

O'Connell, who received an annual salary of $141,000, was appointed by Scott in 2011.

"Cynthia has been part of my team since my first year in office, and she has done a tremendous job serving Florida families," Scott said in a statement. "Under her leadership, the Florida Lottery has achieved record sales, and last year the Lottery transferred over $1 billion to Florida's education system. Cynthia's constant marketing efforts have not only enhanced our school system, but given many Florida students the opportunity to excel in the classroom."

Delacenserie has been deputy secretary of sales and marketing at the lottery since 2013, Scott's office said.

Before that, he served as the director of sales for the Florida Lottery from 2005 to 2013. He began his career at the Florida Lottery in 2000 as a district manager in Fort Myers. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.