Watchdog closes probe into Pembroke Park official’s ‘questionable’ credit card purchases

Allegations officially unsubstantiated, but Broward OIG says town has ‘utter disregard’ for protecting public purse

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Broward County’s chief watchdog closed her inquiry into official credit card purchases made by a Pembroke Park town commissioner without alleging any wrongdoing, saying she couldn’t substantiate any policy violations because such policies barely existed in the first place.

In a 138-page report, Inspector General Carol Breece called Pembroke Park’s policies “woefully inadequate” and said the town had an “utter disregard” for its obligation to “guard the public’s purse against wasteful spending.”

(The full report can be found at the bottom of this page.)

Breece confirmed to Local 10 News that the investigation revolves around purchases made by Commissioner Geoffrey Jacobs, who previously served as the town’s mayor. Local 10 News previously reported that her office was investigating Jacobs, who has also found himself in the spotlight — and censured — over accusations that he mistreated town employees.

‘Questionable’ transactions

Officials said a tipster first alerted the Office of the Inspector General to Jacobs’ potentially questionable transactions in March 2021.

“These transactions included purchases for food, gas, electronics, tools, travel, and other miscellaneous items,” the report states. The transactions totaled $35,305, per the report.

Transactions included various travel expenses, $9,700 in meal purchases, including at Hollywood restaurant GG’s Waterfront, an Amazon purchase for a $139 ring light and a gun safe.

Regarding a sample of 37 transactions, Breece wrote that the commissioner “offered explanations for their purpose that bore at times just a slight connection to town business,” but didn’t recall two of them.

“The commissioner’s food purchases, altogether, were questionable in the absence of a recognizable primary public purpose or Town policy specifically approving the use of a p-card,” Breece wrote.

The report offers this explanation for the commissioner’s purchases at GG’s Waterfront, which included children’s meals:

“Regarding his September 19, 2019, purchase at GG’s Waterfront, a restaurant in Hollywood, the commissioner told us that he paid for his and the Town Events Coordinator’s meals. According to him, the Town commission had the two go to GG’s to sample the food and to decide on a location for the Town’s holiday luncheon, which is how he also explained his September 16, 2020, purchase. Similarly, the July 8, 2020, GG’s purchase was for meals during a holiday luncheon set up meeting.

The commissioner also used his p-card to pay the $1,000.40 balance of a town luncheon on December 17, 2021. According to the receipt, the luncheon included 37 guests, three children, and valet for 32 cars. He told us the guests represented the Town’s entire staff and his children. The price of three children meals cost $60 total. Per the commissioner, the Town Events Coordinator used his (the commissioner’s) card to pay for the event.”

OIG report

Investigators said they found the ring light and gun safe, which Jacobs said was for the town’s then-new police department, at the Pembroke Park Town Hall.

Breece said her office “failed to see a primary public purpose in purchasing a set of AirPods Pro with his name and former Town title engraved on them for $266.43.”

‘Woefully inadequate’ policies

Breece’s report excoriated the town’s lack of “substantive guidance” regulating credit card expenditures.

For instance, her report says Pembroke Park’s credit card policy simply stated that use of purchasing cards was limited to “non-restricted commodities” and to be used for “official town business only,” without ever defining what constituted “town business.”

Additionally, the report states the policy listed no limits for expenditures. Its travel policy also outlined no reimbursement limits.

“The Town’s woefully inadequate guidance on p-card usage enabled p-card holders to believe they could use the p-card for whatever they wanted if they could argue any connection to official Town business,” Breece wrote, saying its “fundamental deficiencies” put town taxpayers at “critical risk” for card abuse.

“Because the town had no standard to which we could hold the commissioner accountable, the allegation of misconduct was unsubstantiated,” she wrote.

In a memorandum, Breece put town officials on notice, demanding they implement stricter guidelines.

“We hereby notice the town that, should it continue to tolerate unchecked p-card use, these risks can include the OIG in the near future undertaking an investigation into whether town commission and management members engaged in gross mismanagement and whether individual p-card users engaged in misconduct such as corrupt misuse of position, theft, or violation of the state’s per diem and travel expenses law,” she said.

The OIGs office plans to conduct a follow-up review in 60 days to determine the town’s progress in updating and establishing policies.

What are town officials saying?

Local 10 News contacted all five commissioners, including Jacobs, via email seeking comment.

As of late Thursday afternoon, only one had responded.

“I have already instructed our town attorney to look into what (policies) other cities have in place,” Pembroke Park Vice Mayor Erik Morrissette said via email. “I find the results of the findings disturbing and I am surprised we have no policy in place. Personally I rejected the P card as I want to be 100% transparent. Any expense by an employee or elected official must be scrutinized.”

Local 10 News also contacted Jacobs’ attorney Thursday seeking comment on the commissioner’s behalf and has not yet heard back.

Read the full report:

About the Author:

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.