Florida Prisons

Prison inspectors detail alleged interference in their investigations

Doug Glisson says his bosses in the prison inspector general’s office repeatedly tried to set him up for demotions because he refused drop a sensitive investigation.
Doug Glisson says his bosses in the prison inspector general’s office repeatedly tried to set him up for demotions because he refused drop a sensitive investigation.

Charges of corruption against the Florida Department of Corrections escalated Tuesday as two demoted senior investigators filed a new lawsuit, accusing the agency of retaliating against them for alleging cover-ups, inmate abuse and political interference on behalf of a company whose lead lobbyist became the governor’s general counsel.

In the 544-page complaint filed Tuesday in circuit court in Leon County, Doug Glisson and John Ulm allege that their bosses systematically tried to discredit them and set them up for demotions by concocting charges, violating agency procedures and even forging signatures.

They claim that the governor’s office has wielded influence over agency investigations and point to both the governor’s former top lawyer, Pete Antonacci, and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, as being involved.

Glisson and Ulm, both senior investigators in the Office of Inspector General, were demoted in May after spending the past two years speaking out. In testimony before a state Senate committee last year, they alleged that their boss, then-Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, covered up evidence of inmate abuse, dismissed allegations of impropriety by those close to him and failed to properly police violent corrections officers. They are asking the court to order their reinstatement and for the state to pay all attorney fees and lost wages.

FDC spokesman Alberto Moscoso said the agency would not comment “on active or pending litigation [that] involves the agency or any of our current or former members.”

The dozens of supporting documents filed with the court include copies of agency reports, emails and investigations that show the agency conducted a series of internal investigations into Glisson and Ulm. The inspectors allege the investigations were assigned to officers who took directions from Beasley or had conflicts of interest.

Glisson and Ulm also allege that Beasley ordered Ulm to close an investigation into the department’s former food vendor, U.S. Foods, after the company was accused of serving inmates tainted meat and engaging in deceitful billing.

In a July 2015 letter to Beasley, Ulm suggested that U.S. Foods’ former lobbyist — Pete Antonacci, the governor’s general counsel, who now serves as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District — should be questioned as should “conspirators and persons of interest” in the case. Ulm believed that the case should be referred to the federal government “because of the vast amounts of federal money involved” and because, he said, lobbyists were being paid to try to keep the U.S. Foods contracts in effect in Florida despite the allegations.

His email noted that after Antonacci went to work for the governor, U.S. Foods did not hire another lobbyist to be the liaison with the department, suggesting it didn’t need to because of Antonacci’s position of influence.

“This capital connection could come back to cause an embarrassment to [FDC] Secretary [Julie] Jones, as well as the entire Department,’’ Ulm wrote. “I would like you to reconsider your position and directive not to investigate or seek a referral to another agency concerning the various corporations who I now believe fronted for U.S. Foods.” He also indicated he was seeking whistleblower protection.

U.S. Foods held a three-year, $222 million contract with the department and an investigation was opened in 2011 by both FDC and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE found there was evidence that the company inflated food prices, filed fraudulent freight invoices and possibly colluded with FDC employees.

In June 2015, the Florida Department of Financial Services agreed to settle the dispute — three weeks before Ulm’s letter to Beasley — and U.S. Foods agreed to pay the state $15.5 million, although analysts for the Florida Department of Financial Services determined that the fraud cost the state about $16.9 million.

After the letter, Beasley ordered that Ulm be placed under investigation as a means to diminish his allegations, the complaint alleges.

“Obviously, had Ulm been able to appropriately complete his investigation without interference by IG Beasley, other individuals and companies may have been indicted, and additional fines, penalties, and false billings may have been recovered from U.S. Foods,’’ the complaint states.

Glisson was also the subject of six retaliatory investigations, the complaint alleges, all stemming from his decision to present his findings to the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Glisson, Ulm and two other senior investigators accused Beasley of refusing to investigate the 2010 gassing death of inmate Randall Jordan Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution. The department listed Jordan-Aparo’s death as from “natural causes” until the investigators started asking questions and found errors in the way the investigation was handled by Debbie Carter-Arrant.

Trying to clean up [FDC] is like trying to clean up Chernobyl. The culture of retaliation, hidden agendas, and abuse of power still exists at the highest levels of the department.

Ryan Andrews, attorney for two inspectors

Beasley told them “don’t worry about the death of some inmate, focus on the low-hanging fruit,” they allege in the complaint. A day after Beasley discovered they were talking to the Senate, he ordered investigations into Ulm and Glisson and other investigators and assigned the task to Carter-Arrant.

The complaint cites several examples of Beasley assigning people to investigate Glisson and Ulm who had alleged conflicts of interest. At the same time, it says allegations of impropriety against Beasley were disregarded.

The complaint says that Glisson told his supervisor, Kevin Dean, during a training in Orlando in 2014 about a rumor involving Beasley and then-assistant general counsel Elissa Saavedra. Although Dean documented the conversation in an incident report, he failed to follow agency procedure and enter it into the electronic records system for tracking complaints.

FDC spokesman Alberto Moscoso said the agency would not comment “on active or pending litigation [that] involves the agency or any of our current or former members.”

When a copy of the report was sought by Glisson and Ulm’s attorney, Deputy Inspector General Ken Sumpter “pulled the document from a special drawer in his desk.”

It was one of several instances in which FDC officials failed to record potential conflicts of interest, as required by agency rules, the two inspectors allege.

Glisson and Ulm also allege that the governor’s office was instrumental in dictating the release of sensitive reports relating to their allegations.

For example, they uncovered a handwritten note from the governor’s chief inspector general, Miguel, whose office conducted an investigation into their actions in 2014. She appeared to be ready to release the report clearing them of any wrongdoing just weeks before the governor’s re-election, but was told to hold off.

“Bo said he spoke to Pete A,’’ said the note, signed by Miguel on Oct. 15, 2014. It was an apparent reference to Antonacci and a staff member in the executive office of the governor.

“Told him ‘you wanted to issue it today,’ ’’ she continued. “...I said that I plan to work with them but I need to independently issue the report. I understand things better if I’m given a rationale but not hearing a rationale makes me have to guess & outsiders will only construe that I’m sitting on this pending the election — which we can’t afford to do.”

Another note in the file was dated Nov. 18, 2014, and it indicates when Frank Collins, the governor’s then-deputy chief of staff, was ready to release the report. “I spoke directly with Frank Collins,’’ Miguel wrote. “He indicated that we needed to issue the [FDC] report. He said he would get with Bo to determine the next steps and said the report needed to be issued the week of Thanksgiving.”

Ryan Andrews, attorney for Glisson and Ulm, said the documents show that despite promises by FDC Secretary Julie Jones, the culture has not changed.

“Trying to clean up [FDC] is like trying to clean up Chernobyl,’’ he said. “The culture of retaliation, hidden agendas, and abuse of power still exists at the highest levels of the department. ...The department is a mess, and the conduct of the highest ranking officials within the department, and specifically the [FDC] Office of Inspector General needs to be immediately reviewed by another state agency."

Mary Ellen Klas: meklas@miamiherald.com and @MaryEllenKlas