Education

Audit showed improper spending by this former schools police chief. Now new questions.

Carla Corrons receives her badge as a new Miami-Dade County Public Schools resource officer from her chief Ian Moffett as Alberto Carvalho, superintendant of schools, looks on during a swearing-in ceremony for her and eight other officers at the School Board Administration Building in Downtown, Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. The addition of the nine new members to the force was part of an effort to ensure that every traditional middle and high school in the county has a full-time resource officer assigned.
Carla Corrons receives her badge as a new Miami-Dade County Public Schools resource officer from her chief Ian Moffett as Alberto Carvalho, superintendant of schools, looks on during a swearing-in ceremony for her and eight other officers at the School Board Administration Building in Downtown, Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. The addition of the nine new members to the force was part of an effort to ensure that every traditional middle and high school in the county has a full-time resource officer assigned. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

In the summer of 2017, then-Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ian A. Moffett ordered 30 of his officers to attend and provide around-the-clock security for a five-day conference held in Miami by the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers.

The officers worked overtime to drive attendees around town and even chauffeured their families to PortMiami for a post-conference cruise to the Bahamas. An audit, ordered by the superintendent in October 2017 days before a Miami Herald article found that schools police authorized more than $5,000 in overtime for the conference, took a year to find that all that actually cost the school district $34,097 — public dollars Moffett wasn’t authorized to spend. The district was never reimbursed.

The audit, finalized in December 2018, also found a conflict of interest: Moffett and Maj. Hector Garcia both held influential positions in the organization that benefited from district funds. It said “greater care” should have been undertaken to “prevent the appearance of irregularities.”

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in December that the district had made “significant personnel changes” to the schools police department ahead of the audit. He named a new police chief and had created a new department in April 2018 with just three employees: Two of them were Moffett and Garcia.

That lasted just eight months. Moffett, 48, and Garcia, 52, abruptly retired Jan. 15 amid a scathing audit of the conference episode. Now there are more questions about Moffett’s five years as chief: his taxpayer-financed travel, his hiring decisions, his support among officers and the contracts he approved with vendors who sponsor NASSLEO.

“Sometimes audits bring finality to an issue,” Carvalho said. “But sometimes audits open doors to other issues of interest to me.”

Rising to chief

Moffett’s story resonates with many of the students he swore to protect as the police chief overseeing the fourth largest school district in the nation.

Born in Guyana, he told the History Miami project that his family first immigrated to Canada then arrived in Miami when he was a teenager. He graduated from Miami Southridge Senior High School, enlisted in the Army and later served as a corrections officer before joining the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department in 1995.

Moffett worked his way up to captain. He left in 2009 to serve as a major in the Miami Police Department, running its training center.

In May 2013, Moffett returned to the school district to become chief of police and district security. Carvalho recalls his impressive experience and knowledge of the district’s police department. Moffett’s references vouched for him personally and professionally, the superintendent said, and the new chief was a titan in school policing circles.

North Miami Police Department and Miami-Dade County Public Schools Police take part in an active shooter drill at North Miami Senior High on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

But Moffett would not report to Carvalho. Instead, the chief reported to the head of human resources. Carvalho said police chiefs have reported to cabinet members in previous superintendents’ administrations.

Other cabinet members took turns approving Moffett’s travel expenses. Moffett placed his first request for travel three weeks into the job. He asked Carvalho’s then-chief of staff for $522.80 to attend a White House event with then-Vice President Joe Biden.

That request marked the first of 23 trips across the state and nation that Moffett made during his five years as chief — averaging about one trip per quarter.

Moffett seldom missed a schools police conference, and he was seldom unaccompanied. Garcia tagged along on 14 of those trips.

Carvalho said Moffett’s travels appeared appropriate but, “it merits a second look.”

Moffett did not return multiple requests for comment for this story.

Help wanted

Moffett’s hiring and promotion decisions have also attracted scrutiny.

One example is Garcia, who was the school district police chief in Las Vegas when Miami-Dade hired him in October 2013 to serve as a major and oversee the administrative division.

But if school district officials had looked more closely at Garcia’s past, they would have seen that he faced allegations of questionable behavior and improper spending in Las Vegas.

A July 2007 Las Vegas Review Journal story said Garcia, then the school district police chief of Clark County, faced accusations that he pretended to kick a federal arbitrator from behind and referred to her as a “bitch.”

That September, the Las Vegas Sun reported that Garcia sent $11,750 in business to a longtime associate to evaluate the feasibility of metal detectors. Weeks after Garcia resigned as chief, he landed a job with that same vendor: the School Safety Advisory Council.

After Garcia left, the Sun reported that a routine district audit of his time as police chief was “hampered by shoddy record keeping and missing files” — and unpaid bills.

Among the Garcia expenditures scrutinized were bills associated with two School Safety Advisory Council conferences in Las Vegas. Garcia spent $10,000 on registration fees for 50 employees in 2006, and $15,000 remained past due from the 2007 conference. The Las Vegas school district paid for 81 attendees that year, but records show just 45 people went.

The only article found in Garcia’s Miami-Dade personnel file was a 2008 Las Vegas Sun story about the new police chief there. Garcia appeared in one line about an audit that had not yet been finished. There also were handwritten notes from an interview with the new schools chief in Las Vegas that mentioned that Garcia faced “union complaints.”

A KLAS Channel 8 story from 2015 said the audit into Garcia’s spending and management of the department in Las Vegas ended after key records could not be located, according to interim police chief Phil Arroyo. Garcia worked with Arroyo at Palm Beach School Police decades ago.

Chief Human Capital Officer Jose Dotres defended the district’s background check on Garcia, saying multiple reference checks were made across all the organizations he listed and that there were “no negative indications of issues regarding performance or employment.”

Carvalho said the school district did not use online searches in 2013 as part of the background-checking process but does so today.

“Had I been aware of those elements, they certainly would’ve been strong flags,” Carvalho said. “It appears that the search was not conducted or thoroughly conducted.”

Garcia did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In the same month Moffett hired Garcia, he also hired Edward Walker as a police officer. In a letter found in Walker’s files at the Miami schools police department, Moffett praised Walker for surviving a “meticulous” background investigation.

“The fact that you were able to successfully finish a process that eliminates the majority puts you in an elite class of people,” Moffett wrote in the Oct. 7, 2013, letter.

Walker was hired and supervised by Garcia while both worked at Miami Dade College, and Garcia wrote multiple letters of reprimand against Walker months before he was hired at the school district. Walker, according to the letters in his school police file, had a history of missed deadlines and tasks.

“I have provided mentorship and training for you since your arrival at the College,” Garcia wrote to Walker in a letter dated March 12, 2013, which lists both men as holding doctorate degrees. “I have purchased you a daily planner and have provided you with training and guidance on its use.”

Walker jumped three ranks to commander in less than three years with Miami-Dade Schools police. He went on two trips with Moffett before leaving the district in June 2018, shortly after Moffett and Garcia left the police department.

Carvalho also said procurements under Moffett’s tenure will be examined in the inquiry. One example includes The Response Network Inc., which was registered as a vendor in the district in October 2013. A district spokeswoman said $167,000 was spent on online trainings for the police department, partly paid out of citations and forfeitures.

No contract or request for proposal was needed, she said. The company was a silver sponsor at the 2017 NASSLEO conference in Miami.

Duplicated departments

In 2018, while the school district investigated Moffett’s unauthorized spending for the schools police conference, his own rank and file talked about holding a vote of no confidence.

“The membership voiced its displeasure in how the department was being run at that time by the chief,” said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 133 President Al Palacio.

The vote never took place. That’s because on April 25 the school board approved transferring Moffett and Garcia to a new department: the Office of School Safety and Compliance.

Carvalho said they were transferred not for disciplinary reasons, but because it was time to separate Moffett and Garcia from “budgetary responsibilities” during the audit of what they spent on the 2017 conference.

“The confirmation via the audit that in fact these decisions were made outside of the acceptable process became the last straw,” Carvalho said.

The day after his transfer, Moffett attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Atlanta. The district approved the trip before the transfer.

Moffett’s new salary was $153,086, a drop of $6,130 from what he made as police chief. His new official title was Chief of the Office of School Safety and Compliance. His salary was $25,000 more than that of the new chief of police, Edwin Lopez, and he still had a spot in Carvalho’s cabinet.

So what was the job of this new department? The district said it was created to help comply with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, a sweeping bill passed after the Parkland school shooting that required schools to implement several safety procedures.

The new department was to coordinate training for threat assessment teams at each school, conduct school site assessments and review security policy and training. But those tasks were already being conducted by the district police department.

Carvalho said he thought the new department could lighten the load for the police department, which was focused on hiring and assigning officers to comply with the new state law that required every school to have an officer present.

“I think it was the right move at that time,” Carvalho said.

But there was confusion. Even the Florida Department of Education mistakenly listed both Moffett and current School District Police Chief Lopez as school safety specialists at the district, making Miami-Dade the only district with two specialists. The district told the state to only list Lopez.

While working in this new department, Moffett and Garcia continued to carry their badges and guns. They kept district vehicles, though they were not marked police cars.

And though Moffett was no longer a police chief, that didn’t stop him from becoming the president of the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police in May 2018. It bills itself as the second largest police chiefs association in the state and promotes “efficient law enforcement services.”

Moffett can be seen wearing his badge in photos posted to the police chief association’s Twitter account.

Carvalho said it was “somewhat inconsistent and uncomfortable” for Moffett to continue to represent himself as a police chief. The superintendent said he and his staff were unaware that Moffett was representing himself as such.

The end for both

In December 2018, the audit of the actions of Moffett and Garcia during the 2017 conference was finished. It found that not only did Moffett and Garcia make excessive, unauthorized expenditures, they didn’t even try to seek permission.

Both men sent the district letters announcing their retirements on Jan. 14. They officially retired the next day. Moffett also stepped down from his post at the Miami-Dade Association of Chiefs of Police.

Carvalho said neither he nor his staff asked Moffett and Garcia to retire. But their retirements did bring to an end any disciplinary action they might have faced. Had they stayed, the superintendent said, he planned to recommend pay cuts.

The Miami-Dade School Board has largely remained silent on the audit. No one from the board chose to comment on accepting the NASSLEO audit either at the board’s committee meetings or at the Dec. 19 board meeting, when the audit was approved unanimously with a bunch of items. Instead, board members at the same meeting chose to single out and praise a routine end-of-year inventory audit that had no material issues.

Board member Mari Tere Rojas, who sits on the audit and budget advisory committee, issued a statement on the audit that was read aloud by board member Larry Feldman in her absence.

“Some of the responses from management do not seem to go far enough in terms of accountability, approval of overtime and monitoring of expenses,” she said, adding that it was “unacceptable” and “problematic” to read that Moffett and Garcia held influential positions with the organization that benefited from school district dollars.

Carvalho made a brief appearance at the 2017 NASSLEO conference in Miami, but through a spokeswoman said he did not notice an unusual number of officers working security.

Board member Steve Gallon, who was also at the audit and budget advisory committee meeting, questioned the audit process and internal controls.

Carvalho said that whenever there is an allegation of fraud or criminal inappropriate use of any resource, whether money or time, the case can be referred to a number of entities, including the State Attorney’s Office and Office of the Inspector General.

With no one left in the Office of School Safety and Compliance (the assistant left too) the duties assigned to the department will now be divvied up between Chief Operational Officer Valtena Brown and the school police department, which will fully absorb the duties by the end of the school year.

Carvalho said all overtime now must be approved by the human resources department, and there are new monthly and periodic reviews of all salary expenditures. Carvalho quietly removed Moffett from his cabinet; his name and title disappeared from the superintendent’s web page in December.

“There was obviously here a woeful decision to put behind the curtain certain elements that should’ve been approved,” Carvalho said. “It was not in any way a process of failure. It was a deliberate deviation [from practice] that were above all, regrettable.”

Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover all things education, including Miami-Dade and Broward schools, colleges and universities. The Herald was her first internship before she left her hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida.


  Comments