Concerns about former Milton Mayor Guy Thompson’s guilty plea on charges of looting the United Way of Santa Rosa County may prompt an in-depth audit aimed at uncovering whether financial fraud occurred within the city government he ran for 20 years.
Although current Milton Mayor Heather Lindsay doubts that Thompson could have stolen municipal funds, she told the Navarre Press that the city needs to be sure.
“For peace of mind, I am very interested in what an audit could accomplish; however, the way in which Guy Thompson stole from United Way could not have been done at the City of Milton,” said Lindsay.
Lindsay, a veteran lawyer who earlier this month agreed to accept a new full-time position as the City of Pensacola’s assistant attorney, was a volunteer on the United Way board for four years. Lindsay said she plans to end her private law practice soon when she begins the Pensacola job.
Lindsay added that she plans to continue as Milton’s elected mayor and to discuss with Pensacola officials any possible conflicts of interest by working for the two cities.
The Milton City Council is scheduled on May 23 to discuss the possible authorizing of a thorough internal look at the city’s finances specifically focused on discovering any wrongdoing—a probe known as a forensic audit.
Still, Lindsay said in an email, Thompson didn’t hold financial reins at the city as firmly as those at United Way.
“He had control of money coming in and coming out of accounts at the United Way of Santa Rosa County. The Mayor of Milton has no authority to cash a check, make a deposit, withdraw funds, or collect revenue due to the City,” Lindsay said.
“As the United Way of Santa Rosa Executive Director, Mr. Thompson had power over finances that as mayor he lacked. Regardless, an audit would likely give everyone peace of mind,” Lindsay added.
Thompson pleaded guilty earlier this month in Pensacola’s U.S. District Court to 20 counts of embezzling United Way funds totaling more than $650,000 between 2011 and 2018—and then evading taxes on the illegal income. His 20-year tenure as Milton’s mayor overlapped the period in which he was stealing from United Way by four years.
Asked by a reporter why United Way board members didn’t demand more financial details from Thompson, when donations plummeted in 2016 and he awarded pay raises to himself and other charity staffers, Lindsay said: “I can’t speak for the board members who were serving in 2016. For myself, I recall reasonable explanations given by Mr. Thompson about personnel issues and the fundraising campaign.”
For example, Lindsay said, “Mr. Thompson blamed lower contributions on poor performance by a marketing employee he had terminated. An increase in personnel expense was covered by a subcontract to the combined federal campaign.”
Lindsay said in an email to this newspaper, “I served on the UW board after an invitation from Mr. Thompson was made in December 2014. I resigned in June 2018 when I called Mr. Thompson to give him my regrets for having to miss another meeting. I had too many scheduling conflicts to feel useful as a board member.”
Lindsay credited federal agents for stepping in.
“What the FBI uncovered through its detailed and thorough investigation is stunning. Considering the staggering loss to the community in terms of dollars that could have been used to help people in need, it is small comfort now to be assured that I as a board member could not have discerned Mr. Thompson’s criminal conduct because of how skillfully he operated his scheme.”
Meanwhile, the Milton City Council decided last week to change the name of the Guy Thompson Community Center back to the Milton Community Center, which it was known as until four years ago.
“It’s time to move on,” said Jeff Snow, a council member.
Lindsay supports the name change. She wrote in a May 10 memo sent to all council members: “The City of Milton has experienced a blow to discover that donations to the United Way of Santa Rosa County have been diverted to enrich our former mayor, Guy Thompson, who was a trusted leader for so many people for so many years.”
Yet even in agreement on removing Thompson’s name from the building, controversy has arisen.
Snow pointed out that he received Lindsay’s memo four days before the council was scheduled to discuss and vote on the name change. Thus, Snow worried that the memo is a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, which prohibits anyone on a public council or committee from contact ahead of a vote that could be seen as trying to influence that decision.
“As soon as I read the memo, I reported it to the city attorney, Alex Andrade,” Snow told a reporter.
Lindsay said that she doesn’t view her memo as a Sunshine Law violation but has notified Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille of concerns such as Snow’s.
“I write to report myself for consideration by your office as to an alleged Sunshine violation,” Lindsay wrote to Marcille on Thursday.
“I am troubled about further tarnishing of the office of mayor in Milton beyond the damage caused by Guy Thompson’s criminal conduct. Although I do not believe I violated the Sunshine Law, the best way to restore faith in Milton leadership is to be as transparent as I am in this letter. I appreciate the time of your office in reviewing my concerns,” Lindsay wrote to Marcille.
Marcille, who specializes in white collar crime and Sunshine Law issues, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, which he usually doesn’t make until an investigation is completed.
Lindsay essentially pleaded her case in the letter to Marcille: “Specifically, in response to the news of Mr. Thompson’s theft of funds designated to help the needy and vulnerable in Santa Rosa County, I as mayor directed city staff to amend the previously released agenda to add changing the name of the Guy Thompson Community Center. I sent a notification memorandum to council,” which was forwarded to all city employees and several members of area news media.