Audit reveals Collier Co. task force misused funds
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NAPLES, Fla.- County oversight costing you money? An internal audit is revealing misuse of funds for a 9/11 memorial in Naples. The Freedom Memorial just off Golden Gate Parkway has been under construction for nearly a decade. The project relies heavily off grants and donations but according to the audit, that money has been put in the wrong places and taxpayers could end up paying for it.
The September 11th terror attacks hit especially close to home for Jerry Sanford, he is a retired member of the New York Fire Department.
He established the Freedom Memorial Task force to pay tribute and honor those who lost their lives on that dreadful day. Since 2003, volunteers have been raising money for the 2 million dollar project.
But, Collier Clerk of Court auditor Megan Gaillard said the donations weren't handled properly and deposited into personal instead of county accounts.
"When you co-mingle funds, you can't necessarily identify how much was received when there are a lack of receipts and documentation so it is always a possibility when funds are co-mingled they've been stolen." Gaillard said.
Gaillard said the task force also received grant money it wasn't eligible for and never charged sales tax on fundraising merchandise. Now, taxpayers could be on the hook for some of the money which has to be paid back to the Department of Revenue.
"The county could lose money, donations could not be recorded or received, tax penalties for not recording sales, taxpayers could be the one paying the bill instead of using the donation of funds intended for the project." Gaillard said.
Jerry Sanford admits the whole thing does look a bit suspicious.
"People are thinking oh wait a minute he took the money so it looks shady but there's absolutely nothing going on." Sanford said.
But insisted every single cent was used for the memorial. Both he and the auditor agree this county project's problem could have been avoided.
"We really weren't managed the right way, not throwing the county under the bus but we've never done this before."
"If the project had been overseen by the county as initially indicated by the creation of the task force in 2004 the majority of these issues could've been resolved." Gaillard said.
County Commissioners will discuss where to go from here at an upcoming meeting. In the meantime, Jerry Sanford said he plans to meet with an attorney later this week and opes to turn the task force into a non-profit organization so it can continue to collect grants and donations.