A high-level Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent has filed a whistleblower complaint, saying he was unfairly investigated after telling supervisors about rampant dysfunction at the Miami field office.
Robert Breeden, the assistant special agent in charge in Miami, alleged he was forced to retire after reporting “gross misconduct” by Addy Villanueva, the former top agent in the field office.
In internal documents, Breeden said that he made the disclosures to FDLE’s commissioner back in July 2013. Among the allegations: Villanueva’s misuse of a state vehicle, inappropriately buying a printer for her home and “disengagement” at the office because of her dating life.
He claimed that when Villanueva – who was recently removed from the position as special agent in charge in Miami – learned of his disclosures, she orchestrated a campaign that led to a bogus internal investigation of him and his forced retirement.
The whistleblower complaint, filed with Florida’s Commission on Human Relations, comes at a sensitive time for the state’s police force.
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott ousted former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, who has in turn has gone public to the Times/Herald with stinging allegations that the governor’s office inappropriately meddled in the agency’s affairs, including asking him to falsely name a clerk of court as the target of a criminal probe.
The public turmoil also comes as Miami’s field office is being tasked with greater responsibility: taking over the investigations of police shootings involving officers from Miami and Miami-Dade.
“From top to bottom, they’re in a huge disarray right now,” said Florida’s Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera, whose union represents FDLE. “Anytime you have that much distraction, it has to affect your ability to do an investigation.”
Breeden, a FDLE employee since 1995, was the No. 2 in the Miami field office. Last summer, he was suspended with pay after his agency investigated claims of Breeden‘s “belittling and demeaning treatment” of employees.
An internal FDLE investigation sustained charges of “failing to be courteous” to staffers and “conduct unbecoming of a public employee. A final investigative report found some Miami agents said Breeden “manages through fear, intimidation, manipulation and micro-managing.”
He denied the claims, saying he only pushed employees to try and “turn this region around and improve morale.”
“I categorically deny mistreating anybody or abusing anybody,” he told investigators in a September statement with internal affairs.
Breeden, 52, is burning leave time until his retirement officially starts on Feb. 3. He declined to comment.
According to the whistleblower complaint, a superior told Breeden in November that he was being demoted. “But two days later, this was revoked and [he] was forced to resign or be terminated.”
“Hopefully, the ultimate goal is for Bob to be reinstated to his position so he can continue his career at FDLE,” said his lawyer, Tiffany Cruz, of Tallahassee.
A spokeswoman for FDLE, Gretl Plessinger did not comment on specifics of the whistleblower complaint. She said in a statement that “complaints were received at FDLE Headquarters from Miami members about their treatment” by Breeden and that “he resigned in lieu of termination.”
Villanueva could not be reached for comment.
The internal affairs investigation into Breeden included interviews with 79 people, most of them Miami FDLE agents and employees. A final investigative report paints a portrait of the FDLE Miami field office as rife with factions and turmoil.
In documents sent to FDLE by Breeden’s lawyer in response to the investigation, Breeden claimed that in July 2013, Bailey pulled him aside during a meeting to ask him if Villanueva “is in over her head or just so disengaged due to her personal life that she cannot run the region?”
Bailey assigned the head of FDLE’s internal affairs, Cindy Sanz, to probe the matter. Breeden said he shared a host of documents and complaints with Sanz, including that Villanueva, who was divorcing, had repeatedly asked him to use his state car to give rides to her boyfriend, a Miami-Dade police officer.
In documents, Breeden claimed that Sanz also asked him to send any documentation to her personal e-mail to “avoid creating a public record.” Sanz has retired from FDLE.
Sanz, according to the documents, said her office was “pulling all of Addy’s paperwork (travel vouchers, time sheets, swipe card records, cell phone records and Sunpass toll records) to analyze it and look for discrepancies.”
FDLE, however, insists that Villanueva has never been the target of an internal probe. “Following the allegations involving Mr. Breeden, former SAC Villanueva voluntarily [was] demoted to the position of special agent supervisor in the Miami Regional Operations Center,” Plessinger said.
The Florida Bulldog news website first reported her demotion. Villanueva had been touted as the first female Hispanic FDLE special agent in charge.
Breeden claimed that when Villanueva found out that he had cooperated with superiors, she became angry and vowed to “turn the troops” in Miami against him. Breeden, in the documents, said he repeatedly complained to supervisors about the hostile work environment.
Not long after, Villanueva forwarded an “anonymous complaint” about Breeden to supervisors, spurring the internal investigation.
He also alleged that Villanueva boasted that then-FDLE Assistant Commissioner Jim Madden would never get rid of her because “he had touched her inappropriately and he couldn’t do sh*t to her or she would claim sexual harassment.” Madden retired last month.