Board of Education chair Tom Grady faces up to one year in prison for federal water dispute
Tom Grady. Image via the Florida House

Tom Grady
Grady is disputing the charges.

Florida Board of Education Chair Tom Grady faces a federal misdemeanor charge for excavating property in waters around the Florida Keys, a violation punishable by up to one year in prison.

Grady, a lawyer and former Republican state lawmaker, insurance executive and state financial regulator, has been accused in a federal indictment of “obstruction of navigable water” in April 2017 off the coast of Islamorada.

He did so “without the authorization of the Secretary of the Army acting through the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers),” a violation of federal law, an indictment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida said.

Grady surrendered on the charges Oct. 8 and was arraigned the same day, according to the Key West Citizen, which first reported the news. Bail was set at $50,000 on the conditions that he report to probation officials as directed, notify probation officials within 24 hours if he plans to travel within the continental U.S. and does not try to get a passport or travel documents.

Grady, who is being represented by David Oscar Markus and Margot Moss of the Miami-based criminal defense firm Markus/Moss, pleaded not guilty.

Trial is set for Nov. 22 in Key West.

As Education Board chair, Grady has led the sanctioning of several school districts over local mask mandates, stripping pay from several members and prompting President Joe Biden’s administration to step in and provide compensation.

In August, as a showdown heated up with school districts that imposed mask rules without parental opt-out options, Grady suggested removing local school board members who defy a recently passed law called the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which gives parents final say on their children’s education and health care.

“Rules matter,” he said.

Grady also helped to impose changes to Florida civics education standards banning “fiction or theory masquerading as facts,” such as critical race theory, a hot-button issue for DeSantis and the GOP.

Grady remains chair of the state board, a position he was appointed to in 2015 by then-Gov. Rick Scott.

Markus and Moss told the Key West Citizen Grady had obtained local, state and federal approvals for an excavation project he undertook April 4-21, 2017, near his former Islamorada property at 87429 Old Highway. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was among the approving agencies, they said.

The waterway in question is managed by the Army Corps. As such, it falls under federal jurisdiction.

“Unfortunately, the federal government’s position is that any existing federal permits were insufficient,” they wrote in a statement. “This case should never have been brought, let alone four years after the fact. Mr. Grady has always acted in good faith and believes he had the appropriate approvals.”

This isn’t the first time Grady’s actions came under scrutiny. In late 2011, while serving as head of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation, Grady closed half the state’s regional offices charged with investigating the mortgage business, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The move, part of a $3.5 million budget slash, eliminated 81 positions in the agency at a time when Florida led the nation in mortgage fraud.

He did not apply a similar cost-cutting approach to his own spending while running OFR, which included more than $6,000 for in-state travel, taking car services instead of taxis and seeking reimbursement for more than $10,000 in office furniture, including a $2,482 leather couch and a $563 floor lamp.

When he resigned from the role after just six months to become interim president of Citizens Property Insurance, the Times said, he took the furniture with him.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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