Pensacola, Florida
Sunday September 23rd 2018

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Audit or Witch Hunt

By Rick Outzen

An audit conducted of the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office (DMEO) resulted in several allegations of misallocations of costs between Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, duplication of charges and use of public funds for private purposes.

Brad Embry, Okaloosa County’s Inspector General, conducted the audit and recommended the counties drafted new contracts with the Medical Examiner’s Office requiring more detailed budget documentation and annual audits.

Ted Borowski, Medical Examiner Dr. Andrea Minyard’s legal counsel, questioned the objectivity of the audit that he believed went beyond an examination of finances of the Medical Examiner’s Office. He wrote in his response to the report, “The contents of this ‘audit’ merely reflect an attempt to affirm the misinformation being widely circulated by Sheriff Ashley.”

According to Borowski, the “inflammatory statements” made by Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley and others included “Dr. Minyard makes more than a million dollars a year; the DMEO was performing more than 800 y-incision autopsies per year a decade ago; Dr. Minyard does not want to hire an associate because she wants to keep the money for herself.”

And this has hit the news as Gov. Rick Scott must decide whether to reappoint Minyard to another term. Her current term expired July 1.

Audit Findings
The state of Florida is divided into 25 medical examiner districts. The district medical examiners are appointed by the governor to three-year terms. Fees, salaries and expenses related to the district medical examiner may be paid from the general funds or other funds under the control of the board of county commissioners. The district includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. Each county has a separate contract with the District Medical Examiner (DME).

Minyard has been the medical examiner for District 1 since 2004. She replaced Dr. Gary Cumberland, who resigned amid ethical questions from the state Medical Examiners Commission. Cumberland was president of Pensacola Pathologists P.A., which had done no-bid lab work for the Medical Examiner’s Office. He had split his time between the Medical Examiner’s Office and his private pathology practice.

Minyard had worked as an associate medical examiner in the District 1 office since September 2002. Before then, she worked in the district offices in Panama City and Leesburg and the Montgomery County office in Dayton, Ohio. A 16-member panel nominated her with the blessing of State Attorney Curtis Golden. Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to the position.

Some of Minyard’s problems with the auditors appear to be tied to a private company she owns. Payments from all four counties in the district related to cost reimbursements and professional fees associated with the DMEO are made payable to Gulf Coast Autopsy Physicians, P.A. (GCAP), a for-profit corporation of which she is the sole shareholder.

Through her attorney, Minyard initially refused to provide certain records and disputed the counties’ right to audit. The Okaloosa County Inspector General’s Office requested the year-end financial statements of 2016 and 2017, a copy of the Intuit QuickBooks files, business tax filings and a copy of DMEO policies and procedures. Minyard eventually relinquished a digital copy of their Intuit QuickBooks files, a portion of their 2017 tax statement and a copy of DMEO policies and procedures as well as a portion of the requested information.

During the audit period (Oct. 1, 2016-Mar. 31, 2018), approximately $2.48 million in revenue entered the DMEO. This amount includes all payments made to the DME for professional fees, employee salaries, employee/reimbursable costs, cremation fees, report fees, expert witness fees and Florida Department of Corrections fees. Escambia County provided 44.35 percent of the revenue.

Minyard’s average annual compensation for the audit period, including her salary, bonuses, distributions from GCAP and county-paid benefits and ancillary costs, totaled $673,129.26.

The DMEO contracts for body removal/transport and pathology services. The auditors reviewed all of Okaloosa’s cases during the 18-month audit period and compared the case list for Okaloosa County to the body removal and pathology invoices. They found Okaloosa was billed for body removal and pathology cases that were not listed on their case list.

They also sampled body removal invoices for all four counties and found instances in all in which the counties were billed twice for removal services for the same body. In January 2018, the counties were charged twice for five bodies to be moved from a funeral home to the DMEO and back. Okaloosa County was billed to move bodies from the Fort Walton Beach morgue to the Pensacola morgue and back.

According to the report, the auditors found Minyard was using the business account of the DMEO to pay for bonuses, regular luncheons, birthday celebrations for employees, her personal accounting fees and her federal taxes.

The auditor wrote, “It does not appear that all the professional fees paid by the counties are being used to do the counties’ business.”

The auditors recommended all future contracts with the medical examiner should require the annual budget to be comprehensive, inclusive of all expected revenues and expenses related to the official duties of the office. The agreements also should include language about the compensation of the counties for resources being used by the DMEO for other purposes and an audit clause allowing for the examination of all revenues and expenses related to the DMEO’s official duties, not just county expenses.

They recommended the counties should ensure that revenue from cremation authorization fees are included in the medical examiner’s annual budget and is applied to the operating expenses of the office, not personal income for the DME. The counties should require detailed documentation for all requested reimbursements to ensure they are fulfilling a public purpose.

Since the DME’s compensation is not clearly defined and the DME’s workload, absent a full-time associate medical examiner, appears excessive, according to the auditors, they recommended the counties consider contractual language that would define the amount or range of annual compensation for the district medical examiner and any associate medical examiners.

In addition, because the practice guidelines only reference workload requirements for full-time associate medical examiners, the auditors recommended the Boards of County Commissioners seek guidance from the Florida Medical Examiner Commission for recommended workload for district medical examiners.

Response Draft
Minyard’s attorney, Borowski, responded to the findings. He wrote that there is no requirement or obligation to provide a comprehensive budget for the district nor have any counties requested one. The counties have no claim to the revenues of the Medical Examiner’s Office from fees charged for services to other parties, “especially to the revenues of GCAP.”

“There has been no failure on the part of the medical examiner to fulfill this non-existent obligation,” said Borowski.

He said the alleged uncompensated county-funded resources are neither identified nor quantified. The auditor’s finding of collecting cremation authorization fees without the proper legal authority is “fundamentally incorrect,” and he provided resolutions supporting his position. Borowski asserted that it’s counties that determine the appropriate documentation for invoices, and he said that auditors failed to identify any alternative public purposes for which public funds are being paid.

“Dr. Minyard’s character and work ethic have been disparaged despite fulfilling her contractual obligations in a professional manner,” wrote Borowski in the conclusion of his response. “This Response Draft is not a proper audit under the Standards of Professional Practices, the Code of Ethics, or the Rules of Conduct for internal audits and auditors.”