BSO ordered to repay state $300,000 in misspent child protection funds

State DCF says gym equipment, car leases weren't proper expenses

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - When the state Department of Children and Families discovered last month that the Broward Sheriff's Office had misspent about $300,000 slated for children's investigative services, it opened an investigation and demanded that the BSO pay the money back.

Wednesday, the BSO agreed to pay back the money -- which was improperly spent on gym equipment for employees and leased cars -- in full.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel refused to comment on the matter, but it was the sheriff himself who signed a check for $35,000 to purchase gym equipment for employees at Busy Body Gyms To Go in Pompano Beach, including treadmills, ellipticals and weight benches, that was supposed to go toward investigating crimes against children.

The agency found that BSO also misspent another $267,000 for car leases for agency employees that the Inspector General's Office alleged came from an expired 2009 DCF contract that was supposed to have been spent on child investigative training.

The state Inspector General's Office demanded that the BSO repay the agency all the money earlier this month and on Wednesday the BSO agreed to do so, prompting the office to close its investigation.

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According to the inspector general's close-out memorandum, the BSO repaid the $35,000, which was taken from BSO training funds and has asked to have until Feb. 20 to repay the rest of the money.

The BSO issued a written statement from Lt. Col. Tom Harrington, a top administrator, which downplayed the investigation and any wrongdoing by the BSO.

"The equipment purchase was an appropriate expenditure for BSO wellness activities, but should have more properly been paid from our training division funds," wrote Harrington. "As for the lease of vehicles for CPIS investigators, the only issue was that we prepaid for them using prior-year CPIS funds instead of using current-year CPIS funds. At the end of the day, it was CPIS funds used for CPIS purposes."

It's unclear why the money from the 2009 grant had apparently not been spent on training as earmarked or where the $267,000 that is still owed will come from.

In its close-out memo on the investigation, Inspector General Keith Parks noted that the DCF "does not believe BSO has any intent to falsify or improperly expend contract funds."

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