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Domestic violence agency’s CFO cashed in on paid time off

Tiffany Carr, former executive director of Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, left, speaks at a news conference held by Gov. Jeb Bush, right, to announce a public awareness campaign designed to prevent disaster-related domestic violence, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, in Tallahassee, Fla.  (AP Photo/Phil Coale)
Tiffany Carr, former executive director of Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, left, speaks at a news conference held by Gov. Jeb Bush, right, to announce a public awareness campaign designed to prevent disaster-related domestic violence, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Coale) (Associated Press)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The chief financial officer of a domestic violence nonprofit agency was given 15 weeks of paid time off two days before the fiscal year ended and immediately converted it into cash, she testified before a House committee investigating the agency for excessive executive pay.

Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence CFO Patricia Duarte said the agency's president and CEO, Tiffany Carr, gave 75 days of paid time off on June 28, 2018 to be used in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018.

“How could you use 75 days of PTO between June 28 and June 30?” asked Republican Rep. Randy Fine.

“This was explained to me that I could either have it in my bank to use in the future, or liquidate it before June 30,” Duarte said.

“What did you do?” Fine asked.

“I liquidated it," Duarte said.

The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee is investigating the agency after officials learned that Carr received $7.5 million in compensation during her final three years leading the agency that was, by law, the only entity that could funnel state money to domestic abuse shelters around Florida.

That exclusive arrangement ended Thursday when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill immediately stripping the coalition of its special status in state law. When Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Leek announced the news of the bill signing, both Democrats and Republicans on the committee burst into applause.

The governor has also asked the state's inspector general to investigate the coalition.

The coalition's board twice awarded Carr more days of paid time off than there are days in a year, including one year when she received 620 days of paid leave. Board members testified Monday that it was to help her in case she needed surgery for a brain tumor. In the years since she announced she had the tumor, Carr hasn't had surgery and board members never asked for documentation of the illness.

Around the same time Carr began cashing in millions of dollars of unused paid time off, Duarte's salary nearly doubled in one year, rising from $126,000 to $225,000.

Duarte testified for more than three hours, and was repeatedly asked if she thought there was anything unethical going on at the agency. She mostly avoided the question, but eventually said no. As for her receiving the paid time off at the end of the year, she said that was a decision Carr made.

“Why not get a bonus? Why go through this sort sham of giving people extra PTO that they’re then immediately liquidating?" Fine asked.

“She was always adamant when she gave me any award like this. I would say, ‘This is too much award.’ I said it in the past, once. And she said that that was her decision,” Duarte said.

Asked how many hundreds of thousands of dollars Duarte has cashed in, she replied, “Couple hundred? I don’t know.”

Duarte said that much of the paid time off that Carr cashed in came from money provided to the coalition by the state Department of Children and Family. She was asked if she ever told Carr that it was an improper use of funds.

“I did have a conversation with her, and I told her that was an allowable expense, but the amount could be seen as unreasonable,” Duarte said. “She said that basically funds were not to be returned to DCF and that’s where I was directed to charge it to.”

Coalition Chief Operating Officer Sandra Barnett also testified Thursday, and reluctantly said that the use of paid time off at the coalition “is not okay.”

Barnett received 600 days of paid time off over 10 years.

In annual evaluations Carr prepared for Barnett and Duarte that were read during the hearing, Carr praised both for their loyalty and for being careful not to release information requested of the agency by others.

Carr resigned from the coalition in November and was given a consulting contract, which was terminated at the end of January. Carr now lives in North Carolina, where Duarte says she is in possession of three boxes of coalition records that Duarte shipped her after she resigned as president.

The committee wants Carr to testify, but so far hasn’t been able to issue her a subpoena.