MONROE COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY WILL TAKE TOURIST DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL AUDIT FINDINGS TO GRAND JURY

The multimillion-dollar tourism marketing agency that for decades has promoted the Florida Keys to tourists worldwide is under criminal investigation, the Monroe County State Attorney said Thursday.

Florida-Keys-SAO Dennis Ward said he will take the troubling financial findings revealed in a county audit of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council to a grand jury.

The TDC failed an audit by the Monroe County Clerk’s Office, which was released Oct. 31, that found, “repeated noncompliance with Monroe County’s purchasing policy, … a lack of controls and management oversight, … appearances of potential self-dealing by certain employees as well as possibly one of the TDC’s agencies of record.”

“We’re in the process of hiring a forensic accounting firm,” Ward told The Keys Weekly on Nov. 9. “We want to follow through on some things and see what else is there.”

Ward’s announcement comes the day after the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners voted 5-0 to hire an outside accounting firm to take a deeper dive into TDC management practices.

“It’s not saying anybody’s guilty of anything,” said Commissioner Craig Cates, of Key West at the BOCC’s Nov. 8 meeting. “This is for transparency and the public’s trust.”

County commissioners also recommended the TDC board suspend – with pay – its marketing director Stacey Mitchell and bring in an outside firm to manage the agency.

Ward said, “The grand jury will probably have questions. We’ll see if the grand jury wants to subpoena people.”

The TDC board has scheduled a special meeting on the matter for Nov. 16 at the DoubleTree Resort in Key West.

Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.