Former Volusia ad agency director allegedly stole thousands in tourism funds

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The former director of a Volusia County agency that uses tax dollars to promote tourism was arrested after $47,000 disappeared from the agency's bank account, authorities said.

Nicole Carni was the director of the Southwest Volusia Advertising Agency, which manages tax dollars to market southwest Volusia County to tourists. She was arrested Monday and charged with organized scheme to defraud.

"We just want our money back and then everyone can be happy," said County Chair Jason Davis.

Davis said he had made it his mission to find out what happened to $47,000 in tourism tax dollars that disappeared from the SVAA accounts.

"It's a lot of weight off my shoulders," Davis said.

According to investigators, the owner of a website design company told them in a sworn statement that Carni cut him a check for $3,795 more than he charged the quasi-government agency. She then allegedly told him to give her the difference back in cash.

Investigators also said she had people who were hired to clean up the SVAA offices do work at her home. The workers replaced siding, painted and pressure washed, and it cost taxpayers nearly $1,000, according to authorities.

"The entire system is broken and needs to be fixed," concerned citizen Bill Tavernier said.

Tavernier believes the county government should get out of the advertising business and pay a professional agency to handle it instead.

"We have some good people on these boards, but they aren't professionals. They don't know how to target-market," Tavernier said.

Eyewitness News went to Carni's boutique on Flagler Avenue to get her side of the story, but it was closed Tuesday. She bonded out of the Volusia County Jail late Monday night.