Politics

This Florida politician says she trained at MIT, but there’s no evidence she attended

As a self-styled watchdog politician on public-works projects, Deede Weithorn touted an education from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during her tenure on the Miami Beach commission.

When she was first elected in 2007, she called herself an “MIT-trained engineer.” On her biography at Berkowitz Dick Pollack & Brant, an accounting firm where she was hired the following year, she listed a master of science in engineering from the Boston-area university and a master of science in accounting from Florida International University.

But Weithorn has stopped talking about graduate degrees now that she’s running for the Florida House of Representatives.

Because there’s no proof they exist.

The registrar’s office at MIT and a national clearinghouse used by the university for degree verification have no record that Weithorn attended the prestigious university, much less graduated. An FIU administrator said that Weithorn took courses as a “non-degree seeking student” from 1980 through 1982, but the university has no record of her earning a degree.

Weithorn MIT (3)
Back when she worked for BDPB, state House candidate Deede Weithorn listed two master’s degrees on her biography. Screengrab

Today, Weithorn includes no mention of graduate degrees on her state House campaign website. She said she has not lied about her education. Rather, she thinks MIT has misplaced her records and believes her old accounting firm may have botched the information about her time at FIU, where she says she studied in pursuit of a license as a certified public accountant.

“I don’t want a problem over something I don’t consider a big deal,” Weithorn said in an interview.

Weithorn’s website does mention her bachelor of science degree in business administration, which the University of Florida confirmed she earned in 1979 when she graduated with honors after transferring from Emory. But she said she decided it would be best to stop talking about her MIT education after she struggled to find her records in 2011, when she was running for reelection as a Miami Beach commissioner and the Miami Herald first raised questions.

Exactly what my degree says and whether we can find it, I don’t know

Deede Weithorn, candidate for House District 113

At the time, the university had no record of Weithorn’s attendance under her married name and maiden name, Schofel. The Herald and the university also searched variations and spellings of her given name (Jeryl), middle initial (D) and maiden name.

“I called [MIT], too, and I had problems,” said Weithorn. “Exactly what my degree says and whether we can find it, I don’t know.”

Weithorn was unable to produce evidence of a diploma during the campaign, but insisted that the degree existed. The Herald opted not to run an article when efforts to report on Weithorn’s education ran up against the eve of the election. Subsequent degree verification checks this month, spurred by her House candidacy, turned up empty.

Weithorn says her decision to drop mention of MIT isn’t an admission of dishonesty. She says she is an MIT-trained engineer, but the credential isn’t worth the headache of verifying the degree. With her new firm, Municipal Financial Services, she also left off any mention of MIT, and referred to her credentials from FIU only as “accounting,” omitting any reference to a specific degree.

“I believe I had them but they’re not verifiable. … It’s been so many years that [the universities] can’t find anything,” Weithorn said, acknowledging that her memory of her time at FIU is fuzzy. “And I can’t remember, frankly, if at FIU if I just took the accounting classes.”

She said any errors in her biography with her old accounting firm weren’t her fault.

“It’s not my error,” said Weithorn, who according to her LinkedIn profile, left the firm in 2016. “Those bios were done for us.”

Melissa Gracey, director of marketing for the firm, now named Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants, said that’s unlikely: “All of the information in her bio, I assume, came from her résumé.”

Weithorn, 59, is now running to represent the heavily Democratic House District 113, where Rep. David Richardson is forgoing a reelection bid in order to run for Congress. She faces a primary contest against Kubs Lalchandani.

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