When veteran Broward prosecutor Carolyn McCann retired from the State of Florida in March, she collected a lump sum of about $280,000 from the state for her retirement plus roughly $60,000 a year for life.
After collecting that generous payout, McCann isn't legally allowed to return to state employment for at least a year. The law is meant to prevent government employees from the wasteful and often corrupt practice of "double-dipping" — retiring, collecting a pension, and then returning to work for the same salary, leaving ambitious, younger workers in the lurch.
But McCann, at the request of Broward State Attorney Mike Satz, returned to the agency less than two months later. She now makes $112,500 a year on the public dime in addition to the $60,000 annual pension (and the quarter-million-dollar-plus payout).
That's obviously illegal, right?
Nope. It seems the thirstiest of Florida's trough-drinking bureaucrats have found a loophole in the law that the state is allowing them to use. Though McCann is being paid the $112,500 in taxpayer money, she's technically employed by a pass-through private company based in St. Augustine called SS Solutions. Satz has arranged to pay that company $133,500 per year, which then funnels money to McCann, minus the firm's $21,000 fee for the trouble.
And it only gets worse. In the next several months, three other top employees — chief prosecutor Jeff Marcus, executive director Monica Hofheinz, and corruption/special investigations chief Tim Donnelly — are all retiring (on paper anyway). All three of them make the office's max salary of $170,000, and Satz has approved all three to immediately return on private contracts after collecting their lump-sum payments — which total $1.17 million among them — through the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), in addition to pensions totaling $243,648.48 a year for the rest of their lives.
When the three return to work, their annual pay is expected to total more than a half-million dollars combined, with an estimated $75,000 going to SS Solutions, the pass-through company. Throw in McCann's contract and the total comes to more than $700,000 for taxpayers.
Marcus alone will receive a $430,000 lump sum and an $89,000-a-year pension courtesy of state taxpayers, along with the expected $170,000 pay from the State Attorney's Office when he "retires."
Satz, who is leaving office in 2020 after serving 44 years as state attorney, refused an interview about the alleged double-dipping but answered questions in writing. He claims he needs to keep all four attorneys in public employ because of their knowledge of the case against Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz. Satz himself is prosecuting Cruz.
"This is a tremendously important case not only to the victims' families and the survivors, but also to the Parkland community, the Broward community, the state, and the nation," Satz writes.
That explanation doesn't sit well with Teresa Williams, a candidate to replace Satz, who has served 11 terms since 1976. "I find it offensive that [Satz] is using the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy to justify it," Williams says. "I can't imagine there aren't other seasoned prosecutors in the office who are able to handle the matter."
Attorney Bill Gelin, who writes the courthouse blog JAABlog and works with Satz's prosecutors, points out the Cruz case is open-and-shut. There is a confession and a video of the shooting. The defense has already offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison rather than the death penalty, a deal Satz has resisted.
"The whole thing stinks to high heaven," Gelin says. "For [Satz] to claim this is necessary for a case that already seems largely proven is preposterous."
Satz maintains that there is no such thing as an open-and-shut murder case and that he is resisting the plea deal because the death penalty "was designed for" Cruz, the mentally deranged 19-year-old shooter. He "should not be allowed to choose his own punishment," Satz says.
After first claiming Hofheinz, who is not involved in the Cruz prosecution, was needed to obtain funding for the case, Satz explains he needs her to continue running the office after her retirement because so much of his time is being spent on the case.
Again, Williams isn't buying it.
"To state that Monica Hofheinz's employment is necessary to obtain that funding is not what I believe is a valid excuse," she says. "The DROP was created to encourage employees to retire so other people can accept those positions. What [Satz] is trying to do is double-dip."
Broward prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy, who is also running to replace Satz and is widely regarded as his chosen successor, defended the double-dipping practice. She says in a text message that Broward citizens "deserve the best, brightest, and most experienced attorneys on the [Parkland] case, and that is what they have been given."
Gelin says morale is already extremely low at the agency, and this news will only further discourage younger attorneys in the office.
"They're not willing to invest in their younger lawyers and nurture them," he says. "The idea that other lawyers in the office aren't capable to replace them is ridiculous. The perception is that Mike Satz just doesn't want to let go of his cronies who he's kept close to him over the last 20 or 30 years."
Satz says otherwise.
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"People are advancing very rapidly in this office, and retaining good employees is something I have always prioritized," he writes. "I am not running for re-election, which means that whoever wins the election could put their own senior management team in place –- why put people into these roles now and have them displaced?"
The state attorney points out the practice is allowed by the state's Division of Retirement and also claims the funds he's using to pay the returning retirees isn't "taxpayers' money" because it will come from fees paid by defendants. The even bigger proven loser in these kinds of double-dipping cases is the state pension fund, which at times gets drained of money years before the employee truly retires.
A message seeking comment was left for all four attorneys involved. This story will be updated if any choose to respond.
"Every dollar you get comes from taxpayers," Williams says. "Are you paying them out of your own bank account, Mr. Satz? Because, otherwise, you're using taxpayers' funds."