FDLE to investigate Orange County Clerk of Courts payouts

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Channel 9 has learned that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate two former leaders at the Orange County Clerk of Courts office who took huge severance payouts, which they have since returned.

Evidence from the investigation obtained by reporter Kathi Belich shows that the two planned to ask their dying boss to approve those payouts.

Emails obtained by Channel 9 appear to show the former interim clerk and her general counsel wanted to make sure Orange County Clerk of Courts Lydia Gardner's death didn't jeopardize their $100,000 severance deals and that they wanted her to sign documents eight days before she died from cancer.

Eight days before Gardner died in the hospital, general counsel Stephan Carter sent second in charge Colleen Reilly an email with drafts of termination documents on official letterhead ready for Gardner's signature.

Both documents terminated Carter and Reilly and made them "at will" employees eligible for "compensation due under the termination provision of their contracts."

The next day Reilly responded: "I may just ask her to sign both until we have an opportunity to sort this out. Thanks. Enjoy your trip."

There's no indication Gardner signed either document.

WFTV political analyst Rick Foglesong called what they did distasteful.

"Like biting into rotten fruit. The idea of taking advantage of one's weakened state in order to get something for yourself," said Foglesong.

After Gardner's death on May 9, 2013, Carter received a $156,443 payout and Reilly received a $115,329 payout.

The emails Channel 9 obtained show that four days after Gardner died Carter created another document appearing to justify their payouts.

"It does look like Stephan Carter is acting as a private attorney for him and Colleen Reilly rather than acting as the attorney, whose job it is to protect the welfare of the clerk of court's office," said Foglesong.

New Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez investigated and asked the two to return the payouts or face lawsuits.

Carter has paid the money back. Reilly said she will when she gets her tax refund.

Belich was not able to get Reilly or Carter to talk for this story.