Tourism Official Allegedly Used Florida County Money to Source Promo Items From Her Own Company at Inflated Cost
Here's a weird one out of the Sunshine State: Carol Hudson, former vice president of sports marketing for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau in Florida, allegedly purchased promo items from her own side company, Saints Enterprises, without telling Broward County officials it was her company. As you might guess, that's against the rules.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, an audit revealed that Hudson sourced $420,000 worth of promotional products, including leather carry-on bags, briefcases, athletic bags and 45,000 zip-up beverage insulators, from her promo business. She charged $182,000 for the beverage insulators alone—twice the actual cost. The audit also revealed $588,271 in other non-promotional products expenditures with "no documented public purpose."
Broward County spent $182,000 on beer koozies. It didn’t know the employee buying them owned the company they were purchased from. Audit uncovers $1 million in questionable charges.. https://t.co/qmwm6gLTyl
— Larry Barszewski (@lbarszewski) November 23, 2019
What's more, it's unclear whether the county ever actually received the promo items.
“There was no documentation of receipt of the items by the county," Bob Melton, county auditor, said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "That was not unusual though for the expenditures from this account. We’re not saying the goods were not necessarily received. We don’t know if they were all received or not.”
There's also this, via the Sun-Sentinel:
Not only did Hudson use her own company for many purchases, she also spent another $67,098 in four questionable transactions with a company where she had a “personal and professional relationship” with a marketing director, auditors said.
Those orders included backpacks, which Melton said the company bought from Hudson’s Saints Enterprises and then sold to the convention bureau.
Saints Enterprises, Hudson's company, does not appear to have a website. Manta, a small-business directory, lists it as an LLC established in 2016, with estimated annual revenue of $54,157. A Facebook page for Saints Enterprises was created in 2017, but shows no activity other than two photo updates made in December of that year. The page has zero likes.
Hudson resigned from her county position in September after auditors brought their findings to her boss. (It's unclear if she's still operating Saints Enterprises.) Following the audit, county officials said they will tighten up accounting practices, review expenditures more closely and require proper documentation for all purchases.
Unlike the many perceived instances of government officials and agencies misusing budget for promo items, this is pretty clearly an abuse of funds. Here's hoping county officials don't shy away from future promotional products purchases as a result.