Florida sues domestic violence agency over executive pay

Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (Capitol News Service)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida sued a non-profit domestic violence agency Wednesday, claiming its board members and executives deliberately hid exorbitant salaries, bonuses and other compensation.

The lawsuit filed by the Department of Children and Families seeks more than $30 million in damages from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The lawsuit comes after officials learned former coalition president and CEO Tiffany Carr received $7.5 million in compensation for the three years before she resigned last November.

“The recent revelations regarding the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence are alarming and disturbing,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news release announcing the suit. “The Coalition’s deliberate abuse of state dollars, inexcusable lack of transparency and calculated breach of public trust is untenable."

In addition to the coalition itself, the lawsuit individually names Carr, the organization's chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and each of the board of directors. The lawsuit claims the state was deliberately misled about compensation for Carr and other management and the coalition refused to turn over documents sought by the state.

In separate legal action filed Wednesday, Attorney General Ashley Moody is asking a court to freeze assets belonging to the coalition and a separate foundation used to raise money for the non-profit agency.

Moody is also asking that the court appoint a receiver to take control of the coalition and its related foundation.

Moody held a news conference, where she called the executive compensation at the coalition “greed at a scandalous scale.”

She said Carr is “one of the greediest people I have ever known in charge of a non-profit. We allowed this person to take taxpayer money that was supposed to go to victims of domestic violence.”

Until last week, the coalition was by law the only agency that distributed government money to the state's domestic violence shelters. DeSantis signed a bill last week that stripped the agency of its unique status in state law.

The lawsuit claims that instead of returning unspent money provided by the Department of Children and Families, the coalition used it for bonuses and paid time off for Carr and the coalition's top managers.

In two separate years, the board of directors approved more paid time off for Carr than there are days in a year. Carr converted those days to cash instead of taking time off, according to testimony last week before a House committee investigating the coalition.

The lawsuit claims chief financial office Patricia Duarte and chief operating officer Sandra Barnett were given raises and paid time off, and that they in turn helped keep Carr's and their own compensation hidden from the state.

Duarte told the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee last week that there wasn't anything unethical happening at the agency. Barnett reluctantly testified that the use of paid time off at the coalition “is not okay.”

The lawsuit claims the coalition increased state money being funneled to shelters run by its board of directors, and the increases helped pay for board members' raises at their individual non-profits.

A lawyer for Carr didn’t immediately return a phone message left at his office seeking comment.