Some of $1.3M in office was for nonprofit groups

By Jim Piggott - Reporter
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Some of the $1.3 million in checks and cash found stashed in the office of a Duval County Clerk of Courts employee was due to go to nonprofit groups and people who had dealings with the clerk's office and due some money, Channel 4 has learned.

The clerk's office said most of the checks have been processed, while others will be reissued. For now it believes all the money has been accounted for, but some groups had no idea they were not getting money.

The employee responsible, according to the Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, is Cynthia Gardner.

Some of the checks were for people who served on juries but did not want to take the small amount of money they are paid by the state for their service. That money is donated to the state's Guardian ad Litem program, but instead of going to it, the checks ended up in Gardner's office.

"It's taxpayers' money and it's people's money," Fussell said. "They decided to donate it or money that should have been used in this office. And any of it's bad when you mishandle taxpayers' money."

The local director of the Guardian ad Litem, an organization that acts as a court-appointed advocate for children in court, was not aware there was a problem.

Meanwhile, the office continues to break down what happened, saying there were various types of checks -- more than $500,000 in the stack that would have gone to the not-for-profit group and to other third parties.

"We did everything to get the checks issued to the people that should be issued," Fussell said. "Checks that should have been voided and destroyed have been voided and destroyed. Ones that should have been deposited have been deposited in our bank account."

Gardner said she does not believe the problem was with her. She did successfully fight to get her job back, though the Civil Service Board agreed with Fussell and said she was guilty of insubordination and was inefficient in her performance, the board ruled against Fussell on dismissing her.

Gardner said this is all a mistake, and if she is guilty of anything it's a disorganized office.

"There are definitely no funds missing. Everything is accounted for. Everything," she said. "That is the reason why I kept some of things I did keep because they are accounted for. As far as a criminal investigation, they may come but they can't prosecute a messy office."

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