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Shocking! Corruption Alleged in Federal Grants

FORT MYERS, Fla. (CN) - Lee County, Fla., fired a worker for telling auditors about corruption in federal grant spending, the administrative assistant claims in court.

Lisa Wagner sued the Lee County Commission and its Economic Development Office boss, and her former boss, Glen Salyer, in Federal Court.

Lee County's seat is Fort Myers. Wagner says the corruption occurred in the county's "Lee Is Lending Program."

She says the county was accused of misusing federal grant money, and that she was one of six county employees who testified during the subsequent audit.

Wagner claims the county's loan program was corrupt, and that she testified about it. She told auditors, for instance, that a company owned by the county marketing manager's spouse was given numerous marketing jobs in addition to a $75,000 loan that violated conflict of interest laws.

Wagner says she also told the auditor she had seen the Economic Development Office "a. Sending advertising/marketing jobs that could be performed by EDO employees to the Orlando Company;

"b. Paying marketing invoices with little or no details of hours and cost;

"c. Paying exorbitant prices for products and services never used;

"d. Payment of $22,000 to the marketing company for 200 notebook folders, which are name brand items prices at $10 each on the internet which would total $2,000;

"e. The Marketing Manager contacting her husband's company to do work for EDO and she instructed staff to bill the Orlando Company;

"f. Responsibility for accounts payable reviews and documents being transferred from the Fiscal Officer to the marketing and payables clerk;

"g. The marketing company in prior years sending Christmas gifts to employees at the office and since 2012, such gifts are being sent to employees at home;

"h. The Marketing Manager's attendance records for payroll were being altered by the marketing/payables clerk, adjusting paid time off versus unpaid time after leave was signed by the Director, also failing to process leave slips for time off;

"i. A website set up for the Southwest Florida Regional Economic Development's marketing by an Orlando company cost $240,000 and there was not one call received from the website despite sending $50,000 from the operating funds toward Lee County's contribution;

"j. The Marketing Manager using PR Web (VOCUS) for County press releases and for her husband's company ads, paid for by the County;

"k. Employees having only had two performance evaluations in the last five years, and;

"l. Records being removed from the desk of the employee who takes minutes of meetings. Weeks later, the records were returned with several minutes deleted. Other confidential records were also removed from the employee's desk."

Wagner claims defendant Salyer became her supervisor after the conclusion of the investigation in September 2013, and immediately began to criticize her and the others who testified, "including verbal attacks that included specific reference to their cooperation and truthful disclosures to the auditor and sudden harsh criticisms of their workplace performance."

"Salyer, acting in his capacity as state actor, retaliated against Wagner by suddenly informing her of her termination on October 30, 2013, to be effective November 13, 2013," Wagner says.

She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for free speech violations and violations of Florida's Public Whistleblower Act.

She is represented by Benjamin Yormak of Bonita Springs.

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