ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh should be criminally charged with official misconduct.
FDLE said it investigated allegations that Singh destroyed documents at his office after a series of 9 Investigates reports into his spending habits.
Those findings are now in the hands of prosecutors.
A 9 Investigates crew asked to speak with Singh at his downtown Orlando office Tuesday, but he walked past the crew and declined to comment on- or off-camera.
Beth Watson, Singh’s communications manager, told 9 Investigates, “We have no knowledge of any recommendations or pending charges.”
Documents obtained by 9 Investigates’ Shannon Butler show that the 9th Circuit State Attorney’s Office, which includes Orange County, was given the findings, but due to a conflict of interest, the Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reassigned the case to the 7th Circuit based in Volusia County.
Now, prosecutors in the 7th Circuit will decide whether Singh will face charges.
The Orange County Comptroller audited Singh’s office in 2015 after 9 Investigates spent years examining spending at his office.
Once the audit was complete, auditors said Singh’s office made it difficult to get basic documents but found nothing illegal.
Since then, three former employees filed federal whistleblower lawsuits claiming they were part of the destruction of documents.
At least one said she had copies of some of the documents in question.
Those employees also allege Singh misspent taxpayer money on travel and created a hostile work environment.
The most damaging allegations came from former communications director Laverne McGee and former finance director Aisha Hassan, who were fired after they said they complained about it all to their boss.
Singh hired former Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. to investigate the women’s claims, but Perry found nothing wrong.
The women were fired for what Singh said was poor performance.
At least one of the three women was interviewed by FDLE for this investigation.
Singh previously said the allegations made by former employees were baseless and were attacks on his character.
As for the whistleblower lawsuits, one employee, Willis Perry, who works at the Orange County State Attorney’s office, has settled with Singh.
The suit filed by McGee and Hassan is still working its way through the court system. The federal court’s website indicates that the process is expected to continue for most of the year.
The latest developments could have significant short- and long-term consequences.
State Attorney for the 7th Circuit, R.J. Larizza, will review the case and will determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward.
WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said the timeline of that process is entirely up to Larizza.
“Since there has been no arrest in this case, there is no timeline,” Sheaffer said. “The state is only governed by the statute of limitations, and that gives them a long time.”
Depending on what comes next, under the state constitution, DeSantis has wide authority to suspend an elected official.
The constitution lists seven reasons for suspension, including malfeasance, incompetence or commission of a felony.
If DeSantis moves forward with a suspension, he would also be able to appoint an interim replacement until an election can be held to fill the position or until the suspension is lifted.
© 2020 © 2020 Cox Media Group