Former tax collector employee arrested

Nearly 600 people in St. Johns County to get refund, officials say

Booking photo of Melissa Bush
Booking photo of Melissa Bush

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A former St. Johns County Tax Collector employee has been arrested by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office on charges of organized scheme to defraud.

Melissa Bush was employed as a customer service representative from December 2007 to April 2017 at the St. Johns County Tax Collector's Office. Officials with the tax collector's office said she primarily worked both in the main office in St. Augustine and the Ponte Vedra branch office.

"It is with a heavy heart that I share this news with you," said St. Johns County Tax Collector Dennis W. Hollingsworth, CFC. "Our office learned of possible irregularities during a random transaction audit. Upon further investigation, it was determined that the perceived discrepancy was part of a pattern. We immediately terminated the employee, launched a full investigation internally and advised both the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office and State Attorney's Office."

Officials said the investigation identified 593 victims and an amount totaling $13,433.53.

All victims identified in the investigation will receive a complete refund for any portion of their transaction that was fraudulently overcharged, officials said. SJTC will be reimbursed by restitution paid to the State Attorney's Office.

"I have been your Tax Collector the past 34 years, and never before has this happened under my watch," Hollingsworth said. "I realize people are fallible, and processes may be flawed, but I believe the measures we have implemented will significantly reduce the likelihood of this happening again. You have placed your trust in me, and I can be certain that we have learned from this, we are a stronger organization because of it, and will strive to maintain your faith in our services."

Officials said the incident prompted a complete review of procedures regarding monetary transactions. SJTC has long had in place procedures to audit tag, title, driver license and tax documentation, as well as financial reviews.

Several new measures have been put in place as a result of the discovery, including regular, random audits of customer service representatives tills, random drug screening, automated change machines, enhanced security surveillance and supervisor training, officials said.