This blog is already a scandal sheet – sort of. It’s devoted to exposing the lies told by Monroe County in their effort to cover up the funding disparity they have imposed on their very own taxpayers in Key Largo. Wastewater, though necessary, is a huge, very expensive project. Therefore, it has an out-sized financial impact on all the taxpayers. But the sewer project does not exist in a vacuum. It is managed…actually mismanaged…by the same old bubbas that have been in charge forever. It’s no surprise that the county wastewater projects wound up where they have – behind schedule, over budget, and mired in controversy.
Some citizens took charge of their own destiny. Marathon and Islamorada incorporated. Marathon successfully completed its project in a responsible, cost-effective way. After a rough start, Islamorada’s project is back on track. Key Largo has an independent wastewater district, which was formed after a false start by the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. That project was completed on time and within budget. An incorporation attempt in Key Largo failed in 2000. That, unfortunately, left Key Largo taxpayers open to the predations of Monroe County. The end result is that Key Largo taxpayers have been underfunded by the county to the tune of $100 million – resulting in a $26 million over-contribution. I like to call it an “efficiency tax”. It also gave the county lots of resources to squander on unnecessarily expensive projects in the other unincorporated areas – most notably Cudjoe Regional.
Like I said, the wastewater projects do not exist in a vacuum. They are mismanaged by the same corrupt bubba system that has been mismanaging the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA), Monroe County and Key West since the beginning. I thought it might be handy to keep track of all the corrupt government officials that have disgraced the Keys throughout the years.
Heather Carruthers: Carruthers has been pushing new taxes since early this year. First, it was the Emergency Services Surtax (ESS), which would have increased taxes on low-moderate income locals. Next it was the “sin tax“. Now there’s talk of a new tax to fund the unnecessary canal restoration projects. Carruthers loves raising taxes. You know what she doesn’t love? Paying taxes herself. The IRS placed a $133,000 lien on her primary residence, which she finally managed to clear up somehow. (Bubba bail-out?) Carruthers bashed the idea of working people serving on the BOCC, but with her poor financial skills she probably ought to find a day job her-own-self.
George Neugent: It was only a matter of time before one of the county commissioners showed up on the list. Neugent failed to report a free golf membership and failed to provide adequate detail on his financial disclosure forms. The Florida Ethics Commission didn’t like that. The ethics complaint that triggered these sanctions has it’s roots in the Stand Up For Animals (SUFA) debacle. Karma…it’s real. Neugent has chosen to accept the public censure and reprimand.
Since Neugent is the “least bad” of all the commissioners, it makes me wonder what the other four have going on. Kolhage’s financial disclosure forms seem to have a few holes, too. That’s an ongoing research project. Interesting times.
Dennis Zecca: Former commander of the Islamorada Coast Guard station, Zecca is serving a ten-year sentence after pleading guilty to his role in a murder-for-hire plot. Ten years seems pretty light to me. The names of the people who hired Zecca have been redacted. The public, including the intended victim, does not know who they are.
“Joe Weed”: Joseph Patrick Clements, also known as “Joe Weed”, was arrested for an illegal gambling operation. The arrest for illegal gambling follows an earlier arrest on marijuana charges. Mr. Weed has been suspended from his job as a computer technician at the Monroe County school district. I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering if this matter is somehow tied in with the $20,000 missing from the school district.
Gregory Veliz: Convicted on drug charges and released from federal prison in 1994. In January 2016, local media reported that he had been hired as the new Assistant City Manager of Key West. City Manager, Jim Scholl, claimed that Veliz was the only applicant. More background information can be found here and here. It turns out that Mr. Veliz and and some member of the Kolhage family operated a business together and forgot to pay sales taxes. Oops.
Dave Clark: Former president of Cay Clubs convicted on several counts of fraud for a vacation rental scam. Not a public official, but definitely worth a mention. It was a huge scam – $22 million.
Randy Acevedo: Former Monroe County school superintendent who, at the very least, looked the other way while his wife Monique, embezzled over $400,000 from the school district. Monique Acevedo was the adult education coordinator at the time. Randy Acevedo has since been hired on at the FKAA under questionable circumstances. Acevedo also tried to obtain a volunteer position as a football coach at the very same school district his wife plundered while he looked on and did nothing. Acevedo was supported in his volunteerism effort by school board member Bobby Highsmith. The citizens obviously were not pleased. There was quite an outcry.
Michael Reckwerdt: Former mayor of Islamorada sentenced to a year and a day for federal tax fraud. Reportedly, his wife also attempted to run him over with a golf cart for alleged cheating. Bad boy. Try keeping your hands in your own pockets.
Tom Willi: Former county administrator indicted on federal gun charges. Now he’s facing more charges. Can’t stay out of trouble I guess. Willi recently pled guilty and faces up to ten years in prison. This case has finally concluded. Willi has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
Melva Wagner: Occupied District 2 seat on FKAA board for months after moving to Naples. She resigned after news of the move went public. Before her resignation FKAA attorney, Robert Feldman, insisted that Wagner was qualified to retain her seat. Oops.
Brian Barroso: Occupied District 1 seat on FKAA board, but did not apply for reappoinment after becoming the subject of a nepotism probe. The State Attorney’s office and the Florida Ethics Commission could find no evidence that Barroso influenced the decision to hire his sister, Christie Martin. Martin was hired for a $40,000 per year position and within two years was promoted twice. She now earns over $90,000.
My take: At this point, the board members do not need to exert influence in an overt, detectable way. Folks at the FKAA know how things are supposed to work. Because the FKAA has an appointed, not an elected board, they do not care much about public perception. They only need to keep their shenanigans out of the paper to avoid embarrassing the governor. Fortunately for the citizens, the FKAA is having a harder time doing that these days. Rock on, Key West Bluepaper. Rock on, Sunshine Law.
Roman Gastesi: Or, as I like to call him, the “iPhone Bandit“. The theft of over $20,000 worth of iPhones and other gadgets occurred on Gastesi’s watch. Gastesi, in fact, was the recipient of multiple heavily discounted gizmos. A grand jury recommended that Gastesi be relieved of his duties. The BOCC evidently liked Gastesi’s style too much to do that. They allowed him to keep his job. Of course, some of them also took advantage of the low, low prices. So there’s that. Gastesi has since gone on to play a major role in the many wastewater funding deceptions documented on this blog. As I said, the BOCC likes his style. They are allergic to “icky” facts and love a good spin job. Gastesi’s their man for sure.
Bob Dean: Or, as I like to call him, the “Free Range Voter”. Dean occupies the District 3 seat on the FKAA board. He represents Key West, but he lives in Key Haven which is outside Key West city limits. FKAA rules require that the board members live in the district they represent. Dean likes to pretend that he lives behind his business in Key West, but the State Attorney’s office has concluded that the evidence indicates otherwise.
The State Attorney recently challenged Dean’s right to vote in Key West elections. Dean went ahead and voted anyway, which was perfectly okay with the Key West canvassing board. Dean’s fitness to serve on the FKAA board has been left to the governor’s appointment office to sort out…theoretically. An interesting side note, Dean was initially being represented in this matter by Randy Acevedo’s number one fan, Bobby Highsmith. Highsmith, it turns out has practiced law with Robert Feldman (FKAA’s current attorney), Kirk Zuelch (FKAA’s current executive director), and Tim Koenig (Monroe County judge). Dean is now being represented by Michael Halpern.