Wasteful spending & freebies: How Matt Shirk left office

Ex-public defender accused of violating state law while in office

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Nick Jones - Digital producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A state audit shines a new light on troubling details about Jacksonville's former chief public defender in his final months of office, saying he spent lavishly and recklessly gave away government property.

Hounded by allegations of sexual misconduct and ethical breaches, Matt Shirk had been under fire during his final year of office. He was ousted in 2016 by Charlie Cofer. Now he’s accused of committing several policy and law violations.

Details contained within a Florida Auditor General’s report, first reported by the Florida Times-Union, show Shirk gave away 14 computers worth a total of $11,000. Ten were recovered with the hard drives removed, which Cofer contends is a violation of state laws.

He also gave away nine government-owned guns worth nearly $800 to a motorcycle group, which is a private entity, without the proper paperwork. The guns were recovered by Cofer.

The audit found Shirk owes the state $5,242 as part of his retirement package. Cofer said he has demanded that Shirk pay back the money, but he hasn't received it.

READ IT: Florida Auditor General’s report

Shirk approved 371 paid hours for staffers to do support work for a non-profit he founded, Vision for Excellence, at a cost of $8,600. In addition, taxpayers paid for staff to work 225 hours at two charity golf tournaments at a cost of $5,400.

Shirk also paid $90,000 to the lobbying firm the Fiorentino Group with state funds, but the auditor found no records that there was a competitive bidding process for the job. (Full disclosure: Marty Fiorentino is married to News4Jax anchor Mary Baer.)

After the election, auditors found Shirk gave significant raises to 14 employees with no performance evaluations, totaling $64,000. He spent thousands on two conferences in San Diego and New York City, which auditors said weren't necessary.

The report notes a June 2016 crash Shirk was in, saying he used $2,300 from the public defender's office's budget to pay for repairs to his BMW. Shirk claimed he was on official business, but supplied no proof. No police report was written, and the State Attorney's Office order him to repay the costs.

Shirk also authorized a $117,000 contract for software in a caseload management system, without putting it out to bid. He paid the vendor $16,000 to start designing it, but the contract was terminated when the vendor experienced technical woes.

The News4Jax I-TEAM spoke to Cofer in reference to the report. Cofer said the report speaks for itself and that the audit was straightforward and honest. Cofer has filed complaints against Shirk with the Florida Bar.

Still an attorney, Shirk is now in private practice in Jacksonville. He did not return messages seeking comment Thursday.

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