The Pelican
December 3, 2010

By Judy Wilson

Deerfield Beach – An independent auditor has issued a scathing report indicating the city spent inordinate amounts of taxpayer money to present three community festivals, the Brazilian Fest, The Carl Nixon Mango Festival and Founders’ Days.

None of the events is funded for the current fiscal year, but in the years scrutinized by Michael Kessler, 2006-2008, the city laid out large sums to help finance the fun. It also appears that revenues from the Brazilian Fest went missing and from the Mango Fest were hugely understated. In the case of the Mango Fest, Kessler found no documentation to explain what happened to thousands of dollars.

In an audit cover letter to City Attorney Andy Maurodis, Kessler calls the city spending “the shameful exploitation and gross financial mismanagement of taxpayer funds.”

Kessler alleges that the city spent $1.68 million over the three years and has little documentation to explain the use of the funds or the revenues taken in at the events.

The Founders’ Days’ accounts are in fairly good order, Kessler reports. His most serious findings concern The Mango Fest which has complained of financial difficulties for many years. Kessler contends that the organizers took in $1.7 million in the years 2006-2008, but the only the income reported on bank statements for that same period was $215,000.

In 2007, for example, the numbers in the report show the city contributed $360,487 for the event, the Festival committee, $65,166 and the bank statement showing a deposit of only $60,081. But the Kessler Report estimated festival costs of admission and attendance, vendor and parking fees and sponsor dollars should have amounted to $706,784.

The organizers also overstated the scholarship money given away over the three years, $21,500 was claimed when it appears only $12,500 was actually awarded to students.

Kessler also found an officer of the Carl Nixon Mango Festival, Inc., was also an employee of Joy Productions, the company paid to provide entertainment for the three-day musical event.

From 2004-2009, Jimmie Horne, owner of Joy Productions was paid over $1 million for talent and other services.

Kessler reports his investigation reveals city employees paid Joy Productions for the same expenses three times either through fraud or fiscal incompetence. At the same time, the city was bound to entertainment contracts never reviewed by the city attorney.

The finances of the Brazilian Fest, which has since moved its venue to Dade County, also came under Kessler’s review. He criticizes the city’s lack of documentation on the amount of cash received from beer sales estimating a shortfall in 2008 of $28,000 from what was reported. The Brazilian Fest was run by promoter Debora Christina and in that same year proceeds of the fest were to benefit the Deerfield Beach Westside Businessman’s Association. No record was found of how much the Association received nor was there an explanation of why it was the chosen charity.

The city has been fined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for funding associated with the organization based on information contained in an earlier Kessler study.

The city did not fund the Mango Festival in 2009, and the event closed after a few hours when the entertainers pulled out due to lack of payment.

Kessler concludes that city administrators concealed and commingled event finances to keep the city commission unaware of the true costs.

At the helm during the years under study were former city managers Larry Deetjen, Ada Graham-Johnson and Mike Mahaney, former Parks and Recreation Director Vince Kendrick, former Acting Parks Director George Edmunds and some members of that department no longer with the city.

The report finance department was said to have condoned the financial misrepresentations. Sally Siegel, then head of the department, left the city earlier this year.

Kessler recommends his report be forwarded to the state attorney, the Florida Attorney General, the Statewide Grand Jury on Public Corruption and the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Kessler gets definitive answers.

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