March 4, 2020; Tampa Bay Times

NPQ has had too many opportunities to try to shame the state of Florida into making sure its nonprofit sector isn’t tainted by bad actors. Many of these stories have been about the classic fundraising scam using veterans as bait.

A few weeks ago, NPQ reported on a situation in that state that had smoldered for a few years before suddenly flaring up. The issue centered on an exorbitant pay and benefits package given to the CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV). Back then, several board directors of the FCADV were reportedly being subpoenaed over the matter. Now, the fire that caught has started to spread. The Tampa Bay Times reports that the state is suing the FCADV; its former CEO, Tiffany Carr; and three of its former board chairs.

The lawsuit, filed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis and state attorney general Ashley Moody, is an attempt to recover some or all of the $7.5 million in taxpayer dollars that went to Carr in recent years. Dissolving and reorganizing FCADV is a secondary goal.

The circumstances surrounding FCADV require some context. In 2003, then-governor Jeb Bush signed a law designating FCADV as the sole recipient of state domestic violence money. The funds were to be distributed to redirect that money to shelters around the state and to provide training and oversight for their operations. By 2012, Rick Scott was governor, and he raised a warning flag; he didn’t believe it was appropriate to “designate in statute a specific private entity as the recipient of state funds.” Carr’s salary and benefits, totaling more than $350,000, were also called into question.

Come to 2019, and the organization was still receiving all that state funding, and Carr’s compensation package had increased significantly. FCADV’s Form 990s indicate that in 2015–16, her compensation totaled almost $670,000; the next year, it was almost $800,000. (The year after, she took a cut, coming down to $630,000.) On top of that, she requested and cashed in 75 days of paid personal and sick time out of the 620 such days that were granted to her. Carr told the Coalition’s board she needed the time to deal with a brain tumor, an ailment of which there is no evidence of treatment.

The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence comprises the shelters the state funds through it, and shelter representatives make up the board of directors. Late in February of this year, the three most recent board chairs defended their actions in front of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee. All three said they thought they were approving hundreds of hours of sick time, not hundreds of days. One, Melody Keeth, is quoted as saying she thought she had been deceived and that Carr was lying to the board about her brain tumor. Another, Laurel Lynch, claims that documents were altered by Carr to increase the number of days allowed after Lynch had signed them.

Needless to say, the legislators on the committee seemed frustrated, with one even questioning the testimony, saying it sounded too convenient that all three witnesses used the same excuse.

Following that hearing, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill severing the relationship with FCADV. The Department of Children and Families has temporarily taken on oversight of the programs and funds that FCADV controlled and has put out a call to parties that might be interested in assuming that responsibility for the long haul. Shelters, and the victims of domestic violence they serve, are being reassured there will be no breaks in funding or services as this transition occurs.

It may be the case that Carr’s extra compensation came from grant money and donations, not tax dollars, but in the end, does it really matter? If all this is true, it means money was stolen from victims of domestic violence who, according to another Tampa Bay Times story, received substandard services due to all the money going into the coffers of the FCADV.—Rob Meiksins