By Tim Pallesen
An investigation shows that city employees might have benefited financially by purchasing goods and services for the city from companies that they or their relatives owned.
Investigators from the State Attorney’s Office already have seized records indicating that a company owned by two Environmental Services employees received $230,000 from the city for signs and poles.
The city says several more employees in the Police, Fire, Finance and Parks and Recreation departments also may have violated city and county ethics rules which prohibit a government employee from making money from a privately run business.
“This reflects a culture that’s unacceptable and will be changed,” City Manager Don Cooper told city commissioners on May 19. “This is one of the most disheartening things that I’ve ever had to deal with in my career.”
Cooper has been working with the State Attorney and Inspector General’s offices since an audit showed the irregularities in February. He said the “ongoing failure of management oversight” has been systematic under three city managers since 2006.
“This particularly gross misconduct has gone undetected for nearly a decade,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “I’m pleased during this administration the investigation identified that wrongdoing that may lead to criminal prosecutions.”
Cooper notified commissioners of the investigation after a search warrant was executed last month against the two Environmental Services employees, Cesar Irizzary and Orlando Serrano.
Irizzary is on unpaid administrative leave and Serrano has resigned. They face potential criminal charges involving theft, bid tampering, a scheme to defraud and a violation of the Florida Money Laundering Act, according to the search warrant.
Cooper is creating a new city purchasing department to oversee all city purchases over $2,500. All city employees received a letter stating the city ethics rules with their paycheck last month.
“We’ve made great strides bringing an end to the mismanagement and cronyism that tainted our city in the past,” Glickstein said. “Hopefully this is the final chapter.”