Why Carruthers is Like Faulty Wiring

cable-1508774__340I don’t know the full story yet behind the lien that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) placed on Comm. Heather Carruthers’s primary residence.  Apparently she owes over $133,000.

Strangely enough I found the document while researching the possibility that a guest house that Carruthers once owned, and from which she still derives income, was one of the illegal transient rentals that received amnesty from the City of Key West.  I found no evidence that it was, but I did find the lien.

I believe that taxpayers need to know about the tax lien because officials who are experiencing financial difficulties are more likely to be involved in fraud or corruption.  It’s a classic risk factor.  Think of it like faulty wiring in your house.  If the lights are dimming or flickering or breakers are tripping a lot, you might need to think about rewiring your house to avoid an electrical fire.  

If your county officials hate answering questions, won’t follow their own rules (or anyone else’s), have money problems, or push self-serving agendas using misleading rhetoric, then it might be time to rewire county government before even more taxpayer money goes up in flames.

The voters had the opportunity to do just that at the August 30 primary election.  They declined.  An inept and callously negligent county commissioner retained her seat.  The only credible watchdog in county government lost hers.  I’m no expert on human behavior so I’m at a loss as to how to explain it.  I can only assume that campaign rhetoric obscured the facts – as tends to happen.

I believe that fraud within Monroe County government is a very real concern because:

  • Capital projects are consistently way over budget, and the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), the body responsible for overseeing these projects, actually facilitates the negligent overspending.
  • Many of these budget overruns are rushed through by the BOCC.  The public is given little background information and offered insufficient opportunity to protest.  The circumstances behind the overruns are often muddled and unclear.  Bernstein Park is one example.  Why did the community center disappear and then suddenly reappear at a cost of $5 million?
  • The county fails to properly oversee the spending of taxpayer money.  The failure to secure the final audit report on the Big Coppitt wastewater project is just one example.

This report on who is most likely to commit fraud has two very handy checklists on page 22.

This post will focus on the second check list, which has to do with characteristics of individuals who are more likely to commit fraud.  I’m zooming in on Carruthers because she’s giving us plenty to worry about right now.  But some of the items in the table are applicable to other county officials or to the county, in general.

As for Carruthers…

Volatile and melodramatic, arrogant, confrontational, threatening or aggressive when challenged.

There are numerous examples of Carruthers behaving in such a way.  There’s her arrogant, high-handed response to being outed for misusing her county purchasing card.  And there’s her response to Kevin Diaz, who dared to question the ever-so-fabulous Florida Keys Stewardship Act (FKSA).

I asked her some questions on her county Facebook page.  She deleted those comments and has disabled comments altogether.  It’s actually too bad because she did a decent-ish job of answering the FKSA questions.  What’s funny is she deleted my questions and left her response.  Her comment by itself doesn’t make much sense.

The woman clearly does not like to be questioned or challenged.  At all.  One way communication only.  She talks, we listen.  There is no questioning, there is no discussion.  Disagreement – not allowed.

Is suspected to have over-extended personal finances.

In Carruthers’s case it’s more than merely suspected.  It’s a matter of public record.  The IRS tax lien is a huge red flag.  Carruthers certainly appears to be in serious financial trouble.  That means our hard-earned tax dollars may be in serious trouble, too.  Financial troubles are a well-known risk factor for potential fraud and corruption.  Will the other county officials look out for us?  How about county staff?  I doubt it.  They’ve had troubles of their own.

Cuts corners and/or bends rules.

Carruthers helped herself to a heavily discounted iPhone stolen from the very government entity she was elected to oversee.  That’s one.  As already mentioned, she is sloppy and careless with her county issued purchasing card.  That’s two.  How many more examples do we need?

Self-interested and concerned with own agenda.

The Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) is a terrific example.  Carruthers sold this tax as a “shift” that would benefit locals.  That was as far from the truth as one can possibly get.  In fact, Carruthers and her campaign donors would have benefited, while low-moderate income locals, especially renters, would have shouldered more of the burden.

What voters need to know is that Kevin Madok, who beat Amy Heavilin in the Clerk of Court primary race, wrote a blatantly dishonest “white paper” in support of the ESS.  That strongly suggests that Madok values his ties to the BOCC far more than he values the well-being of the general public.  In my opinion, that makes him unfit for Clerk of Court.

Madok is facing Ron Saunders in the general election this November.  Is Saunders any better?  I don’t know.  I’d love to hear what other people think.

Warning Signs

Do I have evidence that Carruthers is involved in fraud?  No, I do not.  But there are some serious red flags and red flags should not be ignored.  These are risk factors.  Like I said above, think of it like faulty wiring.  When you see the warning signs, you know your house might be in danger of burning down.  Better take appropriate action to prevent that from happening.

From the report…

A red flag is an event or set of circumstances that ought to alert an entity to the presence of risk. Within the organization, individuals need to be alert to red flags what to look out for, how to respond, how to follow-up.  By responding appropriately to red flags, fraud can be detected sooner and, in some cases, prevented altogether.

Monroe County government is troubled.  That much is clear.  Spending is out of control.  The Cudjoe Regional project is $49 million over budget and counting.  It is hated and mistrusted by the citizens in the area – so much so that they’ve filed a multitude of lawsuits.  The BOCC imposed a huge $125 million wastewater funding disparity on its own citizens in the Key Largo area, and has only very recently (and very reluctantly) agreed to partially repair the damage.  It should come as no surprise that Key Largo is suffering economically as compared to the rest of the Keys.

It is now customary and expected for county capital projects to go way over budget.  Long term debt has increased by $166 million in four years, and more huge spending initiatives are planned.  Now the county commissioners, Carruthers in particular, are proposing new taxes – one after another after another.

There’s also the scandalous side of things.  County commissioners facing sanctions for ethics violations.  County administrator getting a pass for purchasing stolen iPhones.  Misuse of purchasing cards.  Garden variety lying, manipulation and hypocrisy.

What’s the solution?  I don’t know.  Voters took a pass on making positive changes in the primary election.  Is it a lack of will?  A lack of knowledge?  Maybe they see something I don’t?  For my part, I’ll just continue putting the facts out there and hope the place doesn’t burn down.

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