71ºF

Audit: Joel Greenberg misspent millions while serving as Seminole tax collector

Greenberg purchased body armor, sprinkler system to spray petitioners

photo

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – An independent audit of the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office under the leadership of Joel Greenberg found gross misuses of taxpayer money including the purchases of sprinkler system to remotely spray petitioners, as well as tactical gear and weapons.

Greenberg, 35, served as Seminole County tax collector from January 2017 until June 24 when he stepped down from office following his indictment by a grand jury on federal stalking charges. Federal prosecutors said he is accused of harassing a political opponent.

[TRENDING: Donald Trump wins Florida | US presidential race results | Floridians vote to raise minimum wage to $15/hour]

He pleaded not guilty to those charges. Greenberg is also accused of using the Florida Driver and Vehicle Information Database to conduct “inappropriate searches” to research potential identity theft victims and facing charges of production of identification and false identification documents and aggravated identity theft.

The Seminole County manager requested an audit in August to review transactions and expenditures that could be considered a misuse of taxpayer dollars, specifically from January 2017 to September 2020, during Greenberg’s tenure.

An independent company, MSL CPAs & Advisors, focused on the Seminole County Tax Collectors general fund, which includes approximately $13 million and can be used for operating costs for the office. Anything left over at the end of the fiscal year is returned to Seminole County taxing authorities.

Throughout the eight-page report provided to County Manager Nicole Guillet on Oct. 30, auditors described a series of odd purchases and financial missteps by the former tax collector.

Auditors said they were told about an incident at the Casselberry branch where Greenberg hired a company to install sprinkler heads that could be operated remotely and could be pointed at a group of petitioners seeking signatures. It cost $15,000 to install these specialty sprinklers.

While auditing financial statements, auditors discovered Greenberg had set up an entity called Government Blockchain Systems LLC or GBS. The primary transaction for this entity was a payment of $65,860. Auditors found GBS was set up to allow taxpayers to potentially make payments to the tax collector’s office using digital currency.

Employees told auditors the purpose of GBS was to create a Seminole County cryptocurrency.

Auditors found there were no books or records for GBS and office staff said Greenberg kept the operations and activities for the entity to himself and did not provide the chief financial officer information.

Approximately $90,000 was spent to build a server room inside Greenberg’s private office to house cryptocurrency mining devices. The room was secured with a keypad entry system. Auditors said when they visited they did not find any such cryptocurrency mining equipment, which was purchased with public funds and belonged to Seminole County.

Auditors also learned the equipment would cause the office’s electrical breakers to overload. When it was moved to the Lake Mary branch, the equipment caused a power surge, starting a fire and causing $6,700 in damages. The costs were not covered under insurance because of the negligence of the ex-tax collector, according to auditors. Overall, auditors found the cryptocurrency server room, fire and other repair costs totaled nearly $100,000 and did not have a public purpose.

The equipment should also be returned to Seminole County or Greenberg should provide an explanation of its whereabouts, according to the audit.

The audit examined other purchases Greenberg made while in office, including purchasing a property in Winter Springs called Shooters Orlando. Auditors determined the tax collector overpaid $262,000 in public funds for the property. It’s unclear why the property was purchased.

Auditors also compared the Seminole County Tax Collector’s legal fees to surrounding counties.

“A typical Florida Tax Collector might incur between $10,000 to $20,000 in legal fees in any given year,” auditors wrote. Seminole County had incurred more than $1.4 million since Greenberg took office for an in-house attorney, lobbying and other legal costs.

“We are not aware of any tax collector who has an in-house attorney,” auditors wrote, also adding, “There would be no reason, during normal operations a Florida Tax Collector would need to hire an outside lobbyist.”

The auditors also found several positions created under Greenberg’s leadership that could be unnecessary, including a security force that was started and dissolved and marketing and public relations. Those personnel service costs totaled $1.6 million during Greenberg’s time in office.

A review of consulting contracts entered while Greenberg was in office “were vague as to what services were actually performed” and staff could not substantiate work performed under those contracts. Auditors said several of the companies contracted by Greenberg were created soon after he took office and several were dissolved soon after he left. More than $1 million of taxpayer money was “wasted on these contracts,” according to MSL CPAs & Advisors.

Greenberg’s credit card charges were also reviewed. Questionable expenses by Greenberg totaled $384,000. Auditors found many of the purchases were undocumented and took place on weekends and after hours. Those charges included the purchase of body armor, weapons, ammunition, other tactical gear and a drone with thermal imaging. The purchase of the Blockchain, cryptocurrency was also on the credit cards but that equipment has yet to be found.

On Tuesday, Seminole County elected a new tax collector. Greenberg’s federal trial has yet to begin.

The tax collector’s office declined to comment about the audit but a representative said in a statement, "Our office [is] staffed with some of the best in the business and is entirely focused on providing the best service for the residents of Seminole County at this time.”


About the Author: