A former vice president of Broward County’s tourism bureau improperly steered more than $250,000 of county business to her boyfriend’s companies over a three-year period, the county’s inspector general said in a report released Thursday.
Christine Roberts, the bureau’s vice president of convention sales at the time, used her position to select her boyfriend Marcus Michaud’s event companies — Marcus Clovis Productions and Marcus 4 Productions— for seven of eight events under her control between July 2012 and June 2015, the report said.
The investigation also found that , the of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, operated outside of the county’s procurement protocols and Vice President of Tourism Sales Fernando Harb helped Roberts achieve her goal of hiring Michaud “while knowing that the selection was wrongful.”
The tourism bureau didn’t follow county procurement regulations and instead used its own, unauthorized procedures, the report said.
Among the report’s findings:
— Roberts used her authority to increase the overall budget for a 2012 International Association of Venue Managers event by $123,275 to account for services provided by Michaud — services that had not been requested by the host group.
— One way Roberts was able to steer business to Michaud was through her ability to set the specifications for a contract. For example, for one event she required a specific pair of large prop sunglasses that Michaud’s company already owned. Officials said other vendors did not bid because the sunglasses were “too restrictive or too expensive to meet.”
— Roberts tried to give Michaud as much business as possible, and when the tourism agency made that harder to do, “she simply operated more covertly.”
— A selection committee created by the bureau violated the state’s Sunshine Law on at least two occasions in December 2014 by not publicizing its meetings and not having the meetings be open to the public.
The inspector general also determined that Grossman and Roberts failed to properly administer the $255,570 in question, accusing them of gross mismanagement.
“Even after CVB managers reported the relationship and misuse to Ms. Grossman, she continued to allow her subordinates to operate outside the county’s procurement process and failed to ensure that her unauthorized practices were working to stop her agency’s imprudent spending of taxpayer money,” the report said.
The Inspector General’s Office is forwarding its report to the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Broward State Attorney’s Office “for whatever action those agencies deem appropriate.”
The conditions that led to the problems no longer exist, the report said. The bureau’s current CEO, , who took over in 2016, oversaw an overhaul of its financial administrative practices. Roberts resigned in July 2017 and Harb has tendered his resignation effective Oct. 1.
Attorneys for Roberts and Michaud said Thursday the report was biased and left out key facts. The Mayersohn Law Group release said the two did not break any laws.
In a separate response to the report, the law group said Roberts and Michaud “made absolutely no efforts to conceal their personal relationship.” The loan to Michaud, which was needed because he required surgery and didn’t have health insurance, was “an arms-length transaction” that was publicly recorded as a loan against his property, it said.
The statement said the report overstates Roberts’ “authority and ability to influence budgets.” For example, it said the Venue Managers event extras were decided by an event committee — not Roberts — and they were needed because the committee “sought to augment its welcoming/opening presentation.”
As for Michaud, the lawyer statement said the report “intimates that any amount received pursuant to his proposal was ‘profit’ to him. It fails to consider his extensive overhead expenses and costs for implementing the events that were delivered without question.”
Attorney Larry Davis, representing Harb, told investigators that his client was following established tourism agency policies and that Michaud received contracts despite Harb’s dislike for Michaud and a previous attempt to cut Michaud off from bureau business.
“If Mr. Michaud was improperly engaged by the CVB on any occasion, it was in spite of Mr. Harb, and solely due to Ms. Roberts’ machinations,” Davis wrote.
Grossman accepted that the “buck stops” with her, having led the bureau for several decades.
“I regret that I did not follow-up on my directives regarding Ms. Roberts, but accepted and relied upon the reports and assurances of my colleagues. As soon as I was advised that such problems were going on, despite my attempts to avoid them, I acted in good faith to ameliorate them. It was, apparently, not enough, and for that, I am truly remorseful and disappointed in myself,” Grossman said in her response to the investigation.
This was the second report in as many years that looked critically at Grossman’s management of the tourism bureau. In May 2017, the county auditor found that the bureau had dispensed hundreds of thousands of tourist tax dollars while ignoring proper county procedures.
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