Fired Fort Lauderdale auditor files formal complaint under Whistleblower’s Act

The independent auditor investigating Fort Lauderdale’s chief of police, who the city commission suddenly fired earlier this month, filed a complaint Monday under the Whistleblower’s Act for retaliation and improper dismissal.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The independent auditor investigating Fort Lauderdale’s chief of police, who the city commission suddenly fired earlier this month, filed a complaint Monday under the Whistleblower’s Act for retaliation and improper dismissal.

The complaint against the chief that the auditor was looking into was regarding whether the chief was working a second job on city time.

Local 10 News had an interview scheduled with the chief for Monday to hear his side of the story, but early Monday morning he cancelled it.

John Herbst, the longtime city auditor, was abruptly fired earlier this month by Fort Lauderdale’s mayor and two commissioners after they questioned why he was investigating a complaint against the police chief.

Now Herbst is firing back, sending a formal complaint to the city manager.

At a commission meeting earlier this month, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis asked Herbst to talk about the open investigation.

Herbst was a protected employee under the Whistleblower’s Act, having disclosed the allegations to the city manager, he says, back in December.

Now Herbst says the three who voted to fire him, Trantalis, Commissioner Steven Glassman and Commissioner Ben Sorensen, wrongly dismissed him, adding he believes the mayor may have committed a first-degree misdemeanor in part for disclosing a confidential investigation.

Herbst is now seeking relief and reinstatement.

The allegation he was looking into was that the city’s top cop, Larry Scriotto, was misusing city funds by working a second job as an NCAA basketball referee on city time.

Take for example Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving. The chief’s timesheet shows it as a regular duty day, the same day he’s listed as a referee for a game between Nebraska-Omaha and Purdue.

Previously when Local 10 News asked a police spokesperson if the chief was working a second job on city time they replied simply, “no.”

The chief would have been asked about this during his previously scheduled interview with Local 10 News, but the morning of the interview, which was several days after it was initially scheduled, the chief cancelled it.

And while the mayor has positioned the auditor’s chief investigation by saying it was “basically a secret investigation that he was involved with,” both the city manager and city attorney told Local 10 News that Herbst apprised both of them of the forensic investigation early on.

Herbst’s formal complaint, “under the Whistleblower’s Act for retaliation and improper dismissal by Mayor Dean J. Trantalis, Commissioner Steven Glassman, and Commissioner Ben Sorensen connected with alleged malfeasance by Chief of Police Larry Scirotto,” explained the city’s longtime independent internal auditor with an unblemished record in an email to city leaders.

The memo was addressed to the City Manager and cc’ed the mayor and commissioners, the city attorney, the city clerk, and the Broward County inspector general.

The memo stated, in part:

“This memorandum is to notify you of concerns I have related to the public disclosure of an active forensic audit of Chief of Police Larry Scirotto by Mayor Dean J. Trantalis during the City Commission meeting of February 15, 2022 and the further actions taken by Mayor Trantalis, Commissioner Steven Glassman and Commissioner Ben Sorensen to terminate me as a result of having undertaken said forensic audit.

“I became aware of allegations of malfeasance and misuse of public funds by Chief Larry Scirotto on December 2, 2021. This information was conveyed to you shortly thereafter as the chief executive officer of the City in accordance with FS s. 112.3187 (6). We agreed that the nature of the allegations were serious and merited further investigation, with an outcome that would hopefully exonerate the Chief and put an end to the rumors that were spreading through the department and local law enforcement community. When I disclosed this information (as defined by (b) below) to you, I became a ‘protected employee’ under the Whistleblower’s Act.”

The full memo can be viewed at the bottom of this story.

Local 10 News reached out to the mayor and the two commissioners named in the auditor’s memo for a statement.

Glassman said due to possible litigation he will not be commenting.

Local 10 News is still hoping to speak to Chef Scirotto.

During that commission meeting on Feb. 15, Herbst outlined some of the complaint-driven investigations and independent investigations his office has conducted over the past 16 years without incident that he said were similar to the one the Tantralis and Glassman seemed to object to prior to the commission suddenly voting to terminate his contract.

“We had an almost identical instance last year where my office received a complaint about the interim Chief which we also investigated and we brought that to your attention,” Herbst told the commission. “And we brought that forward to you as a final report, there was no objection to the report at that point in time.”

Herbst added the findings of that report were that the interim chief had not violated the city’s policies of nepotism.

During that same meeting, Herbst said he was planning to retire in the coming months. He also said he would be willing to drop the investigation they were objecting to.

They fired him anyway.

The item was not on the agenda that day.

He was given a 60-day notice and four months severance, per the terms of his contract.

Hired in 2006, Herbst, a CPA, “has held the position of independent City Auditor since its creation through a charter revision in 2004,” according to the city’s website.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."