FORT WALTON BEACH — An audit released Tuesday by Okaloosa County’s Department of Inspector General shows District 1 Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard pocketed a $673,129.26 salary last year and received $1,143,242.03 in professional fees, while overseeing an office that is accused of misusing thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds.
According to the audit, which was sent to county commissioners in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, the medical examiner is accused – among other things – of using professional fees for expenses “which do not appear to serve a public purpose.”
“We noted instances where DMEO (District One Medical Examiner’s Office) costs are being reimbursed by the counties without sufficient supporting documentation,” the audit said. “We noted several instances of professional fees being utilized for expenses which do not appear to serve a public purpose. The DME (District One Medical Examiner) workload, when no associate medical examiner is employed, appears excessive.”
Minyard’s attorney, Ted Borowski, blasted the audit and claimed Minyard’s “character and work ethic have been disparaged despite fulfilling her contractual obligations in a professional manner.
“A collection of misleading statements combined with a sprinkling of financial figures does not constitute a credible audit as conducted in accordance with the Standards for Professional Practice of Internal Auditing,” Borowski wrote.
The auditors noted that they struggled to get records to conduct the audit in the first place, as Minyard retained legal counsel and disputed the counties' right to audit. She eventually relinquished digital copies of her QuickBooks files, a portion of their 2017 tax statement and a copy of office policies and procedures as well as a portion of other requested information.
Auditors determined that Minyard’s office used public funds to throw employee birthday parties, provide bonuses and pay her daughters $77,000 to work for her during the summer months between 2010 and 2017. They also found instances in all four counties in which the county was billed twice for removal services for the same body. Additionally, Okaloosa County was billed for body removal and pathology cases that were not on their case list.
The audit also questioned the purpose of the medical examiner’s Fort Walton Beach office, which is paid for by Walton and Okaloosa counties despite no autopsies having been performed there since 2014. All autopsies are performed in Pensacola, and all four counties pay $100 per week for the Director of Operations to drive back and forth between the Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola offices.
The audit found inconsistencies in office personnel’s travel expenditures, including charging counties $0.50 per mile despite the currently approved state reimbursement rate of $0.445 per mile. The counties were also charged an average of $100 per month for SunPass toll replenishments, despite the medical examiner’s office not providing the proper receipts to prove that the toll usage was a valid business charge and not for personal travel.
The audit also found that, despite an excessive workload and an average of 395 autopsies per year between 2012 and 2016, Minyard only had an associated medical examiner 36.7 percent of the time. The professional fees paid for by the counties are a flat rate that include the salaries of both the medical examiner and associated medical examiner, so for all the time Minyard did not have an associate medical examiner, the auditor said it appeared she pocketed the fees for both positions.
Okaloosa County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller J.D. Peacock ordered an internal audit of Minyard’s office in May, saying reviews of contracts with each of the four counties indicated there wasn’t sufficient supporting documentation to clearly understand where taxpayer dollars were going.
Peacock said he was getting “pushback” from Minyard’s office in providing several of the financial records and documents he requested.
The Okaloosa County Commission voted unanimously on May 1 to not endorse Minyard’s pending reappointment as medical examiner, after hearing various concerns about Minyard from Peacock and Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley.
On May 15, Minyard’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against all four counties claiming the counties had no right to audit all of her office’s financial records.
County Commissioner Nathan Boyles said Friday that the audit “confirmed what we had feared, which is that the medical examiner has been charging excessive fees for the provision of services to the citizens of Northwest Florida.”
He said the commission’s decision not to recommend Minyard for re-appointment was the right one.
“In light of the additional information we’ve received from this report, that was absolutely the right decision,” Boyles said. “I suspect that this will continue to be the position of Okaloosa County and that it’s time for a change in the position of District 1 medical examiner.”
In all, the audit revealed six findings and provided recommendations for each of the findings:Finding 1: The medical examiner doesn’t provide counties with a comprehensive budget of all revenues and expenditures, so the counties have not been able to gain a full understanding of the actual cost of operating the medical examiner’s office. Finding 2: The medical examiner has been using county-funded resources without compensation to the counties, and has been double-reimbursed by both the counties and the Florida Department of Corrections for expenses related to salary, morgue personnel and body transport, as well as public records requests. Finding 3: The medical examiner collected $197,840 in cremation authorization fees throughout the audit period and was supposed to use the entirety of that income to offset expenses and reduce counties’ annual budget allocation, but instead set aside half of the fees to cover “budget shortfalls” and counted the other half toward her own personal income. Finding 4: The medical examiner’s office has been submitting invoices for expense reimbursements without proper documentation, including monthly employee reimbursement costs and toll charges. Finding 5: Fees paid to the medical examiner’s office are not being used exclusively for a public purpose; in some instances the medical examiner was found to using taxpayer monies to pay her personal accounting expenses and personal tax payments, as well as payments to her family members for summer jobs. Finding 6: The medical examiner’s compensation is not clearly defined and her workload, absent a full-time associate medical examiner, appears excessive.
Minyard's term expired July 1.
In a letter to law enforcement agencies on June 29, State Attorney Bill Eddins said his office had consulted with Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office and had determined that Minyard’s term would remain in effect until a formal appointment is made by the governor, either of Minyard or someone else. Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said the governor would make an appointment at the recommendation of the Medical Examiners Commission.
Minyard was appointed in 2004 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to lead Florida’s District 1 Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner’s Office. The privately run district encompasses Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, and its main office is in Pensacola.