By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A Port Everglades plumber was fired, another quit and current and former port public works employees are under suspicion amid a quiet investigation into apparent out-of-control spending using county credit cards.
How much county money vanished over the years without anyone at the port or the county purchasing department noticing is not known. But a county source familiar with the investigation that is focused on allegedly fictitious purchases said authorities now have identified a decade’s worth of suspicious purchases by just one port worker totaling $1.1 million.
Plumber David Dean Moore was fired Aug. 16 after investigators determined he had abused his assigned purchasing card, or P-Card, to buy faucets, backflow preventer repair kits and more than 100 feet of brass pipe that were never received by the port, according to a Broward County report.
For example, a description of the incident in Moore’s county personnel jacket says he bought 11 faucets “represented on P-Card invoices (2017-2018) as being purchased and installed by Mr. Moore in Cruise Terminal No. 2.” But an inspection of Terminal 2 by port management on July 25 found that none of the faucets were installed there or “at any other locations on port property,” the report says.
“It can only be concluded that these materials and equipment were either never received by the port or received and then removed from the port by Mr. Moore which would lead to the conclusion that Mr. Moore engaged in the theft of county funds,” the report says.
Nevertheless, county personnel records show that on Nov. 28, after a complaint by Moore’s union representative at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2200, the county agreed to allow Moore to resign “in lieu of termination.” No explanation was provided, but the change means Moore remains eligible to collect pension and unemployment benefits.
County purchasing records obtained by Florida Bulldog using Florida’s public records law show that between April 2016 and May 2018 Moore rang up more than $117,000 in purchases on his county P-Card. The report in Moore’s personnel file does not provide a complete list or total cost of missing items procured by Moore, but does say his total purchases of those items from just one vendor exceeded $18,000.
Florida Bulldog has learned that both the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the County Auditor’s Office have been investigating since last summer.
“I will confirm that we are doing a procurement audit at the port,” said County Auditor Bob Melton. “We are actually hoping to wind the audit field work up in the next few weeks.” He estimated the audit findings could become public in March.
A sheriff’s spokeswoman declined comment, saying “it is an active and ongoing investigation.”
In addition to theft, Moore was found to have misused both his P-Card and county property, violated the county’s outside employment policy, and violated and circumvented the county’s procurement process, including by falsifying procurement documents.
There is no indication in Moore’s personnel file that the county sought to recover its lost money or refer Moore to the state attorney for possible criminal prosecution.
Moore did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Not ‘valid or just’
His union representative Howard Hibbert, a port electrician who is also president of AFSCME Local 2200, said the county agreed to rescind Moore’s termination because it “wasn’t valid or just….we had no policies or procedures in place.”
Hibbert said a second port plumber who fell under suspicion amid the investigation resigned after enduring “harassment.”
“How would you feel if the police or somebody was looking over your shoulder? When they fired Moore, he feared he would be next,” said Hibbert.
AFSCME Local 2200 represents the port’s hourly wage mechanics, electricians, service workers, painters, equipment operators, groundskeepers, carpenters, building techs, construction workers, storekeepers, welders and plumbers.
The county purchasing records show that Moore, who was hired in May 2007, was not the biggest spender among the 43 employees at the port’s Public Works Department with their own county P-Card. During the same two-year period, 13 other port workers charged more than $3.4 million in purchases to the county. That includes three employees who each spent between $440,000 and $493,000.
Government P-Cards allow employees to make modest purchases easily. But without proper controls, P-Cards can be tempting for abuse.
Eleven years ago the General Accounting Office did a study that found that internal control weaknesses in federal agency purchase card programs exposed the federal government to fraud, abuse and loss of assets. It urged agencies to take actions needed to strengthen internal controls like requiring documentation to prove that the purchase of goods and services was properly authorized and that when the good or service was delivered an individual other than the cardholder received and signed for it.
The GAO estimated that nearly 41 percent of the P-Card transactions it sampled failed to meet either of those basic internal control standards. The failure rate was 48 percent for large purchases over $2,500.
County authorities are said to be combing through thousands of P-Card transactions made by dozens of workers at the port and elsewhere.
According to the report in Moore’s file, the county got a tip on June 21 that Moore had misappropriated port equipment and materials. A review of Moore’s P-card purchases from May 5, 2017 through June 6, 2018 revealed a number of “irregularities,” says the report, which notes that Moore purchased the missing port faucets, repair kits and pipe from Z&Z Inc., a Pompano Beach company that was not a registered county vendor. Moore was placed on administrative leave on June 25.
BSO asked to investigate
“Given the seriousness of the allegations and the large amount of Port Everglades monies spent by Mr. Moore to procure the equipment and parts, the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) was contacted on June 27, 2018 to investigate,” the report in Moore’s personnel file says.
The report also says documentation was found indicating that in October 2009 Moore had installed port-owned property, a backflow prevention assembly kit, outside the port for a private company. “This documentation indicated a potential violation of the county’s outside employment policy and use of county resources for non-county authorized work,” the report says.
Florida Bulldog obtained a June 27 BSO report that says police were told that Moore and the retired port public works employee had placed “a multitude of purchases” for parts and equipment through Z&Z. Z&Z is where Moore charged in excess of $18,000 in unaccounted for purchases.
“The purchases were made to look as if they were items frequently used by Broward County Public Works. Several of these purchase orders had the signatures of [two port supervisors] under the ‘Received By’ stamp. Yet, at no point” did those supervisors physically receive or inventory the purchased items, the BSO report says.
Z&Z owner Bryan Zascavage did not respond to voicemails requesting comment.
In all, the report says authorities identified “multiple fictitious transactions going back as far as June 26, 2008.”
A detective asked “if it was common practice to have supervisors sign off on purchase orders without seeing the items on the order.” He was told “supervisors rely on the honesty of the employees requesting such orders,” the report says.
Union president Hibbert predicted the investigation will last two years.
“How far up the food chain does it go? Well, it is up to the director’s level [at the port] to come up with policies and procedures – and they were never installed,” he said.