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Audit: Gottwald spent county money on entertainment

The final findings of an audit of Stand Up for Animals released Friday reveal even more questionable expenses by the former animal-control provider than were contained in an Aug. 10 draft report.

Among the newest accusations to pop up in the final audit is that Gottwald spent $5,290 on "travel and entertainment" without documentation between October 2006 and July 2010, and bought a 2007 Ford Escape for $17,424 in August 2006 without county knowledge.

The extremely detailed final report from County Clerk Danny Kolhage's office was issued with no official response from Stand Up Director Linda Gottwald, who's been at the center of the controversy.

According to a letter included in the report by county auditor Sandy Mathena, Gottwald was given two weeks to provide responses "and an additional week upon request." Mathena said Gottwald indicated Nov. 1 as the earliest date possible to respond because of "work on exhibits and information pending from Monroe County."

For eight years, the county contracted with Stand Up for Animals to run the Marathon and Big Pine Key animal shelters. Gottwald ended the agreement on Aug. 23, two months after County Administrator Roman Gastesi requested the audit.

That request came on the heels of Gottwald asking, in June, for a 24 percent increase in her annual contract, to $327,880 from $263,477.

The travel and entertainment charges include outings at numerous Middle Keys bars and restaurants, gas stations, rental cars and numerous flights. Destinations include Las Vegas and Utah (apparently to visit an animal sanctuary), Michigan and trips within Florida.

Total vehicle expenses from the Ford Escape are $24,521, including insurance and repairs -- all paid from Stand Up's county funds. The audit says the SUV is now in Michigan.

The audit also confirms previous findings that Gottwald spent money from her county allotment toward expenses to open a shelter in Traverse City, Mich. That includes $2,900 to put fencing around a property, $1,154 in legal fees and $1,154 for an employee to use a county truck to transport five dogs from Stand Up in Marathon to Traverse City.

Another new accusation is that Gottwald spent $22,908 in county funding between 2007 and 2009 on "program, marketing and other expenses."

In addition, Mathena's findings call for Stand Up to surrender to the county a $241,989 First State Bank money market account. She notes that Stand Up collected as much as $281,529 in adoption fees for cats and dogs not authorized by the county.

According to the audit, Stand Up was charging adoption fees of $110 for dogs, $45 for cats and $55 for kittens. Monroe County's approved fees are $10 per adoption and a $10 license.

In addition to Stand Up, Gastesi called for audits of the Florida Keys Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which operates the Stock Island shelter and, for now on an interim basis, the Marathon shelter; and the Humane Animal Care Coalition, which operates the Key Largo shelter. The results of those two audits weren't available Friday.

Preliminary findings in the Stand Up audit were so damning that Kolhage released them Aug. 10. It cites numerous incidents of misspending by Gottwald.

The county then froze Stand Up accounts at First State and Centennial banks. That's when Gottwald gave notice canceling her contract, claiming the county and Kolhage weren't paying her employees. The county refuted Gottwald's claim.

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