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Could DOC lawsuit have been settled for less last year?

Attorney says taxpayer money could've filled 10 positions for year

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Whistleblowers who tried to expose a cover-up in the Florida Department of Corrections and claimed to be retaliated against will be getting a hearty pay day.

But the price tag on the backs of Florida taxpayers could have been a lot cheaper, according to prosecutors.

In 2010, Franklin Correctional Institution inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died in his cell. The DOC said it was from natural causes, but internal investigators alleged there was a potential cover-up and that Jordan-Aparo was gassed to death. The investigators then claimed they were retaliated against.

“It’s been three years of hell for my clients,” attorney Ryan Andrews said.

Andrews handled the investigator’s whistleblower claim. The DOC settled for $800,000.

The settlement comes as the department is trying to fill critical staffing needs at prisons around the state. The average correctional officer makes about $30,000 a year, so the more than $320,000 of taxpayer money being used on the settlement could have filled 10 positions for one year.

The remaining part of the $800,000 settlement will be handled by insurance.  But here’s the rub for taxpayers: Andrews said the lawsuit could have been settled for around $25,000 last year.

“Eventually they said, ‘Look, just transfer us to another agency and let’s see. We’ll be happy to do that. Keep our same rate of pay. No harm, no foul,’” Andrews said. “DOC was hoisted on their own petard -- they were trying to transfer people who they tarnished with bogus Internal Affairs investigations, and nobody wanted them.”

Franklin Correctional had a prison riot that forced a lockdown at the prison on the same day the settlement was filed.

The Department of Corrections has not yet responded to a request for comment about the settlement and whether it could have been settled for less last year.