By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward’s top administrators have repeatedly covered up employee whistleblower complaints about serious failures, including missteps that led to a fatal accident at Port Everglades, according to new court documents.
The county’s failings should disqualify it from investigating whistleblower complaints, the documents say.
Further, the documents say the court should require new oversight of troubled Port Everglades, Broward’s largely autonomous $168 million enterprise fund that was recently determined by county auditors to be a site of “gross mismanagement” costing millions.
Deputy Broward County Attorney Michael Kerr said, “We do not comment on ongoing litigation.”
The explosive accusations are contained in a 37-page amended complaint filed against the county on Feb. 26 by former Port Everglades skilled-trades supervisor Christopher Rosinski.
Rosinski sued the county in February 2019 under Florida’s Whistleblower Act alleging retaliation after he exposed widespread misuse of county purchasing cards (P-Cards) by Port employees. Five men were later charged and convicted in federal court of defrauding the county and sentenced to various prison terms of up to 21 months. Also, they were ordered to pay a total of $600,000 in restitution.
Whistleblower complaints ‘quashed’
The new, expanded complaint by Boca Raton attorney Chandra Parker Doucette says “plaintiff has come to learn of numerous other examples of whistleblower complaints that were quashed and/or never properly investigated or remedied by defendant including but not limited to: ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] violations, sexual harassment claims, unlawful exposure to toxic work environment and unchecked reckless behavior by employees of defendant which led to the death of at least one employee.”
Elsewhere, the matter is described as a “fatal scissor lift crash and cover up.”
In 2013, a four-story scissor lift at Port Everglades’ cruise ship Terminal 1 toppled onto a concrete deck, killing two county public works employees, Kenneth Krason and Mark Freeman. A third worker, Thomas Fischer, recovered from critical injuries.
The amended complaint does not identify the whistleblower complaint about the matter that was allegedly quashed, or elaborate further about the “unchecked reckless behavior” that led to the death.
Likewise, the complaint does not specify any of the other whistleblower complaints that were allegedly covered up by county officials.
The complaint does, however, contend that Rosinski reported “unsafe water, plumbing and sewer conditions which have exposed the public (including international tourists and other visitors as well as Broward County citizens, port employees and the plaintiff) to longstanding hazardous conditions including lead in the drinking water and monumental toxic environmental concerns due to untested disposal of waste water and improperly stored chemicals at the port.”
Further, Rosinski “provided a written report and recommendations regarding emergency eyewash stations in accordance with OSHA [U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration],” but the port “has yet to take action to ensure the safety of the public or port employees.”
The Priscilla Coq shut down
Things went no better at the county’s Professional Standards/Human Rights office, where Rosinski filed a formal whistleblower complaint in July 2018. The complaint details how Priscilla Coq, a lawyer in charge of the office, shut down an investigation three months after the complaint was made without filing a required report of investigation or notice. It took six more months before Rosinski was told the case had been closed and delegated the independent County Auditor. The complaint says the move violated county ordinances because it should have been delegated to the state Office of Inspector General or law enforcement.
Nevertheless, Rosinski gave a 4.5-hour sworn statement to Broward Auditor Bob Melton’s office. That led to a sweeping investigation that resulted in a 337-page report issued late last year that substantiated Rosinski’s claims.
The report concluded that “gross mismanagement” had led to massive employee theft, millions of dollars in unverified county credit card purchase and millions more in apparently lost rent tenants in the Foreign Trade Zone. Auditors also found that from 2014-2018 approximately 2.5 million gallons of untreated ship wastewater was illegally dumped into the port’s sewer system.
While all that was occurring, and Rosinski was cooperating with the auditors, Broward Sheriff’s detectives and the FBI, he was “surveilled, his location sought out and monitored, he was confronted and verbally and physically threatened by port employees,” the complaint says.
“The County through Port Administration actively pitted Defendant’s employees against Plaintiff by having Plaintiff retrieve potentially incriminating records from other employees and supervisors (with their knowledge),” the complaint says.
The complaint is chock full of the names of ranking county officials and others who Rosinski says sought to hinder or intimidate him. At Port Everglades, they include Acting Port Director Glenn Wiltshire, Port Operations Director Bob Flint, Deputy Director Jeffery White and Port Human Resources Officer Kathy Gillock.
Bertha Henry’s inaction
At County Hall, the biggest names are Broward Administrator Bertha Henry and Deputy Administrator Monica Cepero.
Henry acknowledged publicly in December that she met personally with Rosinski in August 2018 before regarding his whistleblower complaint, “at which time Plaintiff detailed his allegations of unlawful acts and gross waste of public funds and/or mismanagement, including but not limited to the fact that he felt he was at risk of losing his job and could be physically harmed by one or more Port employees.” Rosinski gave written accounts to both Henry and Deputy Administrator Monica Cepero.
“During that meeting Defendant made no attempt to address Plaintiff’s concerns about retaliation nor protect Plaintiff, however a decision was made to begin assigning Port Security to escort and protect auditors during their work on location at the Port,” the complaint says.
Rosinski resigned four days later. Forced by from his job by “the pervasively corrupt environment,” Rosinski was later hired by Fort Lauderdale. But the complaint says the county later contacted the city to get him fired. The declared reason: “failure to successfully complete his probationary period.’’
The complaint says Port Human Resources Officer Gillock later “bragged” to Professional Standards investigator Steven Patterson that she’d gotten Rosinski fired.
The complaint asks Broward Circuit Judge William Haury not only for damages, but for a judgment that would include “oversight” of Port management and “restructuring” of the county’s Whistleblower Program “to ensure training and compliance” with state and local laws.