Orange County Property Appraiser won’t face charges after FDLE investigation

Orange County property appraiser Rick Singh (Orange County property appraiser's office)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Following a two-year investigation into misconduct allegations against Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, state prosecutors will not pursue charges against the elected official running for re-election.

Singh was accused of altering Orange County Property Appraiser’s records that were submitted to the comptroller’s office during a 2015-2016 audit. The audit was focused on fuel and travel expenses.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began investigating the allegation against Singh in 2018. In January, the investigative findings were sent to State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s office in Volusia County. This week the state attorney’s office announced they would not be pursuing charges against Singh based on the investigation.

Witnesses told FDLE investigators that Singh directed staff to delete language that he attended a Curry Festival from a travel document as well as a lunch with an Orlando Magic official. Investigators found Singh submitted an altered photo to justify his attendance at the Curry Festival in Tampa taken two years after the event.

Singh received a monthly travel allowance of $540 to $575 for using his personal vehicle for work but was also using OCPA owned vehicles as well, investigators said. Documents were modified to show “staff” used the vehicles instead of Singh to avoid political criticism, according to investigators.

Prosecutors said it came down to the evidence presented and whether it proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed and Singh was the person behind the crime.

“Based on the testimony, evidence and the applicable laws and regulations there is insufficient evidence to establish criminal activity beyond a reasonable doubt,” the state attorney wrote in the closeout report.

The State Attorney’s Office said while it’s clear the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office did not follow protocol when it submitted altered documents to Orange County for a 2015 audit, submitting altered documents “did not rise to the level of a crime in this case because there is no evidence of a ‘benefit’ to Rick Singh as a result of those alterations,” prosecutors wrote. If the original documents had been submitted they would have passed an audit in the first place, prosecutors said.

The other allegation that Singh benefited in his appearance politically from the altered documents was a “stretch” if that would constitute a violation of the Official Misconduct Statute, according to the SAO.

“There is no legal precedent for the theory that avoiding political criticism/consequences under this factual scenario is unlawful,” according to the state attorney’s office.

The conclusion to the investigation comes as Singh is running for re-election and the primary is a month away.

The communication manager for the Orange County Property Appraiser sent this statement in response to the conclusion of the investigation.

“Based solely on allegations of records mismanagement, a statement from the 7th Circuit further underscores that the plaintiffs in the aforementioned lawsuit – Laverne McGee and Aisha Hassan – orchestrated many of the claims and later falsely testified about their involvement. They also pled the fifth amendment during sworn testimony to protect themselves from self-incrimination. McGee and Hassan filed their lawsuit against Singh and OCPA in November 2018, and since that time, an internal investigation conducted by Chief Judge Belvin Perry and now the 7th Circuit have discredited their allegations. In fact, the 7th Circuit noted that they were unreliable witnesses due (to) their potential financial gain and conflicting testimony.”