Florida Keys

Florida Keys’ administrator keeps job after iPhone scandal

 

Monroe County commissioners voted not to fire the county administrator over an iPhone scandal.

cclark@MiamiHerald.com

Until February, Lisa Druckemiller toiled anonymously behind the scenes in the Monroe County Technical Services Department.

But she quickly became a household name in the Florida Keys as the woman behind a scandal that has engulfed several co-workers, her supervisor, the county administrator and a county commissioner.

Druckemiller, a 31-year county employee who abruptly retired in February , was indicted in July on charges of stealing 52 county-purchased iPads, iPhones and an LG phone – and selling them at cut-rate prices or giving them as gifts to co-workers, friends and family.

No one else was criminally charged, but a grand jury report recommended that two county employees be fired, including County Administrator Roman Gastesi. But the County Commission, in a special meeting Monday, voted 4-1 not to fire Gastesi, even though he purchased five Apple products from Druckemiller at steep discounts.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to place a letter of reprimand in Gastesi’s file. His only other punishment is that he must pay for an investigation and disciplinary hearings for other involved county employees — as much as $12,000 — conducted by retired Monroe County Judge David Kirwan and retired Sheriff Rick Roth.

The other employees include Deputy County Administrator Debbie Frederick, Druckemiller’s direct supervisor and friend, who the grand jury recommended be fired also.

The grand jury also found that Gastesi ignored warnings from a 2010 audit to separate duties of those overseeing the cellphone acquisition and distribution that enabled Druckemiller to go undetected for so long.

Gastesi paid about $900 for four iPhones and an iPad that cost the county $2,330 with multi-year contracts.

Choking back tears Monday, he said he was sorry for his error in judgment and the “black mark it put on county government.”

Assistant County Attorney Robert Shillinger defended Frederick and Gastesi. He said it was Frederick who brought the problem to his attention when she discovered there was more than just “bad bookkeeping” going on the day after Druckemiller retired.

And, Shillinger said, when the scandal first came to light, Gastesi supported going to the state attorney’s office.

In addition to Gastesi, County Commissioner Heather Carruthers and six other county employees bought Apple products at sweetheart deals – which should have raised eyebrows, the grand jury said.

Carruthers paid $99 for an iPhone worth $299. Other county employees got similar discounts, as well as nine friends and family of Druckemiller.

She told them all she was passing on discounts she got for purchasing in bulk.

“It looked pretty bad for everybody,” County Mayor David Rice said.

He said he found it hard to believe people fell for such a pitch until he learned that one of them was respected County Attorney Suzanne Hutton.

While Hutton did not purchase a product from Druckemiller, Hutton had said her sales pitch did not raise suspicions to her of illegal activity.

“I’m satisfied today that it had to be very believable,” Rice said. “… I suspect Lisa should have been in sales, not in computer equipment because she was very effective.”

In a tearful apology for the embarrassment the scandal has brought to county government, Carruthers said she was “conned” by someone she trusted.

She said she thought she was doing the right thing by paying for her own phone.

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