Clerk of Courts employee investigated after more than $1M in checks stashed in office

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Duval County Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell says more than $1 million in checks were stashed in the office of one of his employees and he doesn't know why.

When Fussell tried to fire the employee, he learned he couldn't, even though a board agreed with his findings.

Fussell said he isn't sure why the checks would be stashed away, but the employee, Cynthia Gardner, said no money is missing. A criminal investigation is now underway.

For years, some checks made out to the city and others that were to go to charities and other people were never deposited.

Gardner was a supervisor in the clerk's office, responsible for money that flowed into the office from various transactions, such as tax deeds and other financial matters. At issue is what happened or did not happen with a number of checks that crossed her desk.

"I don't feel people should guide my future. I don't feel I did anything wrong," Gardner said. "I worked as hard as I could. I was as honest as I could. And all I wanted was some help."

Fussell said Gardner never asked for help. He said many of the checks she was responsible for were not deposited, and he said over the course of seven years, more than $1.3 million were just left sitting in her office.

"These checks were just laying in a pile," Fussell said. "These checks were strewn through documents. We had to unload the office, as I told you, onto a conference table to be able to tell exactly what was there."

"That is not unaccounted for, No. 1," Gardner said. "No. 2, that is a fabricated amount of money."

Gardner said Fussell is wrong. She said it's not $1.3 million, but maybe $256.

Fussell showed copies of the checks, like one for $90,000 written from the state of Florida that was supposed to go into a city account.

"There were checks from a previous clerk, blank checks that were signed," Fussell said. "Yeah, you should never have blank checks laying around signed from the previous clerk."

Fussell said he tried to fire Gardner.

"I thought it was the proper thing to do when the information was brought to me how egregious these acts were," he said.

But the Civil Service Board decided Gardner should not be fired, just demoted. So she will be allowed to return to work soon.

Fussell, however, said this is not over.

"Their concern is money sits that long, that there is the potential somebody is looking where to put that money maybe, and that's why we brought in the Sheriff's Office," Fussell said. "That's why I can't talk about the criminal investigation."

As for whether there's money missing, Gardner said, "I say it's all speculation and I say those checks were all locked up in the safe. Now I don't know why those checks all of the sudden were not locked up in the safe."

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