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House Speaker: Testimony from investigation into domestic violence agency ‘disturbing’ and ‘scandalous’

The House Speaker was left aghast by Monday’s proceedings.

Disturbing, scandalous, unprecedented.

Those are the words House Speaker José Oliva used Wednesday to describe the testimony heard this week by recent chairwomen of the state’s leading domestic violence agency subpoenaed to discuss that organization’s executive pay.

The Speaker said he had the opportunity to watch the whole proceeding, which left him aghast.

“It’s one of the ugliest things I’ve seen in my time in the Legislature,” he said.

The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) paid its former CEO Tiffany Carr a $761,000 annual salary and more than $7 million in compensation over three years. Monday was the latest in a series of hearings by the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee into the coalition’s alleged abuse of state funds.

FCADV is a sole-source private entity of the Department of Children and Families, at least until Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill (HB 1087) headed to his desk Wednesday after the Senate gave its final approval. Meanwhile, the Governor on Friday instructed state agencies to gather executives’ financial data in public-private contracts.

On Monday, three past FCADV chairwomen — Melody Keeth, Laurel Lynch and Angela Diaz-Vidaillet — testified that “typos” led to Carr receiving hundreds of days of paid time off over several years as she battled a brain tumor. CFO Patricia Duarte and chief operating officer Sandra Barnett are slated to testify Thursday.

But while Carr has been subpoenaed, Oliva said she is avoiding the state’s reach by staying in one of her North Carolina homes.

“I sincerely hope, and we are going to do everything within our power — one, to fully expose the truth of what has happened here, and two, to the degree that we can — to be able to go after those dollars and those people, particularly Ms. Carr, who’s now avoiding our reach in North Carolina, and find a way to bring her to have to face the consequences of what she’s done,” Oliva said.

As for oversight mechanisms, he acknowledged that the state is taking steps going forward, but accepted the lapse in sunshine that occurred in the last half of the previous decade.

“I think we could have been better at putting in place mechanisms to oversee … but more oversight is always better. A check and a balance is always better,” Oliva said. “This is unprecedented. This is one of those things you end up watching on some TV special on 2020 and say to yourself, ‘How did that happen?’ It’s like a perfect storm of really bad behavior.”

The Miami Herald last year reported that FCADV was stonewalling investigators reviewing Carr’s bloated salary.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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