Fort Lauderdale hired a fraudster for the city treasurer job because the current Interim Assistant City Manager gave not even a cursory check of phony resume claims and a business website, according to a report by the Broward Office of the Inspector General.
Ash Benzo resigned in December 2017 after a year as city treasurer. The OIG’s report summary lays most of the blame for Benzo’s hiring on Linda Logan-Short, currently Fort Lauderdale’s interim assistant city manager as well as chief financial officer and deputy finance director.
“Despite the candidate’s significant assertions .. .the then Deputy Finance Director did not independently vet Mr. Benzo’s claimed experience and achievements,” the OIG summary states. “She made no attempt to verify his employment and consulting work with his purported partner or any third parties. Instead, she relied on Mr. Benzo’s word and the internet website he created to determine that his work history was as he portrayed it.”
Among what the OIG report called Benzo’s “far-fetched assertions” were being involved in the AOL-Time Warner merger; a key player in UPS’ Treasury Department and decision to buy Mail Boxes, Etc.; and auditing major cities, including Detroit, through bankruptcies.
Benzo first applied for the treasurer position Dec. 10, 2014, listing ASNF Financial as his place of employment from August 2003 through September 2014 and claiming on his resumé that he’d been a UPS finance manager from 2002 through 2004 and worked at CitiGroup as a senior financial analyst.
The OIG report says when Benzo submitted another application on Dec. 22, 2014, he said he did government accounting and budgeting at ASNF under company founder “John Berhan.”
That application got rejected on lacking the proper experience, but the job came open again in July 2015.
The OIG report notes that this Benzo application added 10 years of experience in government finance. It said he worked for the city of Cape Coral as a debt treasury manager. At UPS, he worked in the Treasury Department from 2002 to 2003 and was an adviser in favor of being Mail Box Etc. And, his job at ASNF Financial was at ASNF Financial-Government/Municipal Finance as a government finance manager from 2004-2015.
He did work at UPS, according to the report, but the company doesn’t have a treasury department. Also, the Mail Boxes Etc. purchase was in 2001, before Benzo’s hiring. He didn’t work at ASNF because the Georgia-registered company was administratively dissolved in 2010 after not filing its annual registration.
The “Jonathan Berhan” on the ASNF website didn’t exist, the investigation determined. Benzo lifted the photo of Berhan from the LinkedIn page of a Chicago-area residential management company’s senior vice president. ASNF’s site also included a Todd Johnson as Director of Client Services, a former portfolio manager at Bank of America and regional director at Citigroup. Alas, Todd Johnson didn’t exist, in any form — the photo came from an Orlando web designer who died in July 2013.
The OIG report says Logan-Short didn’t try to contact John Berhan, any of the cities Benzo listed as ASNF clients. She told the OIG she remembered Benzo’s resignation letter from the city of Cape Coral public records request of his personnel file. She didn’t remember the employee separation page, which was in her emails and marked Benzo as “permanently ineligible for rehire.”
“Some guidance from Fort Lauderdale’s HR would have assisted her in properly vetting Mr. Benzo’s background,” the report said.
Logan-Short ranked Benzo No. 2 for the treasurer job in 2015, when Logan-Short’s No. 1 choice took the position, the report said. Still, Benzo vulture circled by staying in touch with Logan-Short via emails that indicated he was in government banking with BankUnited. When Fort Lauderdale was looking for a city treasurer again in September 2016 and Logan-Short called Benzo, he swooped. He took the job.
And, being unqualified, failed. His performance, the OIG report says, dropped precipitously after Securities and Exchange Commission staff interviewed Benzo about statements he made on his investment adviser registration form about his company, Municipal Cash Management. He claimed the company controlled over $1 billion in regulatory assets.
“According to (Logan-Short), while Mr. Benzo had difficulty in performing some tasks overall, his performance declined after being interviewed by the SEC,” the OIG report says. “On Dec. 18, 2017, (Logan-Short) met with him and gave him the option of resigning in lieu of termination. On the same day, Mr. Benzo submitted his resignation.”
The OIG report says “considering the fact that the city paid him at least $118,040 in salary during his tenure as city treasurer, his scheme amounted to a first-degree felony.”