Alarmed by evidence of policy violations involving a probe into ineligible concealed weapons permits, and the recent admission of erroneous statements left unchanged for more than a year by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s top watchdog, state Senator Linda Stewart on Monday requested an independent investigation by Florida’s Chief Inspector General.
“It has come to my attention that a disturbing pattern of violations of professional standards and policies has emerged within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Inspector General, raising serious questions concerning the independent nature of its most recent investigation, and whether political pressure may have been exerted in the process,” wrote Senator Stewart in a letter sent to Governor Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet.
“This letter is to request that in the interest of full transparency and accountability to the people of Florida, you approve and dispatch Florida’s Chief Inspector General to conduct an immediate investigation.”
While the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (DACS) inspector general is under the direct supervision of Commissioner Putnam, such a request is not unprecedented. Similar investigations by the Chief Inspector General of agencies outside the immediate jurisdiction of the governor were ordered in 2007 (Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty) and 2012 (Citizens Property Insurance), to name just two examples.
Senator Stewart’s request stems from her hunt for public records, which began last month following news reports that close to 300 concealed weapons were issued to ineligible applicants by Putnam’s agency over the course of more than year. Using a report on the incident approved and issued by Putnam’s inspector general, Senator Stewart sought exhibits noted in the report, along with the agency’s polices and procedures cited as protocol for the witness interviews.
Not only were two of the witness interviews withheld from the initial records’ production, but subsequent demands by the Senator for the missing accounts revealed that they were merely summarized narratives, neither sworn nor recorded, or noted as exceptions. In other words, a direct violation of the policies and procedures the report stated were followed, as well as multiple assertions throughout the report that all witnesses had been recorded under oath. Putnam’s agency also claimed that no notes exist of these two witness interviews.
Finally, Senator Stewart flagged the misleading summaries of some of the interviews conducted with other witnesses, including the employee ultimately forced to resign for the concealed carry scandal. The mischaracterizations were only discovered after reviewing audio files of the interviews, which were conducted under oath.
The breath of the mistakes, along with the omissions and mischaracterizations led Senator Stewart to question the integrity of the investigation, as well as where the fault was laid. “A single low-level employee was singled out for punishment and dismissal when the fault appears to also lie not only with those above her, but corrective measures that were supposed to have been made system-wide but apparently never instituted,” she wrote.
As the state Senator representing the district hard-hit by the Pulse Nightclub massacre, Senator Stewart wrote that “it is vitally important to me and the citizens I represent that individuals who receive concealed carry permits are properly entitled to them. And when mistakes are made, they are fully investigated so that they do not happen again.
“The investigation and the ensuing report by DACS and its inspector general leave me deeply skeptical that the problems have been identified, or that it was free from any political influence. Nor am I confident that the responsibility for this massive failure has been fully assessed. We owe it to the citizens of Florida to rectify this flawed investigation, and demand a full accounting from its inspector general for the apparent violations of professional standards.”