For one man, getting a six-figure job in Fort Lauderdale City Hall was as easy as creating a webpage with photos of strangers, and padding his resume to make it appear he was qualified.
No one in City Hall checked, and voila, he was the treasurer. Salary: $118,040.
The embarrassing allegations of poor vetting are laid out in Broward Inspector General John Scott’s latest investigation, released Wednesday.
In it, the office alleges that Fort Lauderdale City Treasurer Ash-Shaqandi “Ash” Benzo held that job for a year after lying on his resume. His act of fiction was brazen, according to Scott, including the use of a dead man’s photo on a website for a company that no longer existed. Interim Assistant City Manager Linda Logan-Short hired Benzo, after she failed to properly check his background and references, the report says.
Benzo “resigned in lieu of being terminated” in December 2017, because of issues Logan-Short had with his job performance, according to Scott’s report.
“We found probable cause to believe that Mr. Benzo committed an Organized Scheme to Defraud under state law,” the report says.
The findings were referred to the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Spokeswoman Paula McMahon said in an email that “prosecutors will review their findings and make a decision on whether there was any criminal conduct.”
Benzo could not be reached for comment, but he and his attorney responded to the inspector general’s office, disputing some of the allegations. Benzo said his work brought financial gain to the city.
“In total, financial benefits to the city of Fort Lauderdale and its residents will be in the millions annually,” he wrote in a letter last August, during the investigation.
In a letter Monday to the inspector general’s office, attorney Roderick Vereen said the city was familiar with Benzo’s work history because he had applied in the past. His “education and certifications far exceeded what was required,” Vereen wrote.
Vereen’s letter didn’t address many of the investigative findings, and instead listed accomplishments from his one-year in the job.
Scott’s office said it found no indication that Benzo “committed any financial misdeeds” and also didn’t find that the city’s negligent background check amounted to misconduct or gross mismanagement.
But the report lambasted — without naming — Logan-Short, who was chief financial officer and deputy finance director at the time. Her check before hiring Benzo was “substandard,” the report said.
“Despite the candidate’s far-fetched assertions — such as being involved in the $350 billion merger of AOL and Time Warner, being instrumental in UPS’s decision to purchase Mail Boxes Etc., and auditing Detroit and other major cities during their bankruptcies — the Deputy Finance Director did not independently vet Mr. Benzo’s claimed experience and achievements,” the report says.
“She chose to ignore red flags, did not attempt to verify his employment and consulting work with his purported partner or any third parties, and instead relied on Mr. Benzo’s word and the internet website he created to determine that his work history was as he portrayed it.”
Logan-Short did ask one of the city’s finance advisers to look at his credentials, but by the time the person responded to raise concerns, she had already hired Benzo, the report says. When she checked Benzo’s website again, it was dead. But she didn’t ask him about it.
The city hired Benzo part-time in November 2016, and gave him a full-time job in January 2017. He resigned in late December of that year.
Benzo had applied to the city before, but no one noticed that he changed his resume to make it appear he had more experience in government finance, the inspector general’s report says.
He said he’d co-founded a company, ASNF Financial-Government/Municipal Finance, an acronym for “A Son Never Forgets.” The man he listed as his co-founder was pictured on the website.
But investigators said the photo belonged to a businessman in Chicago, who “was wholly unaware and shocked to learn that ASNF Financial used his image on its website.” The company itself no longer existed.
Another photo on the website, purportedly of the firm’s director of client services, actually belonged to a man who died in 2013, the report says.
Benzo checked “no” for contacting his most recent past employer. He’d worked for the city of Cape Coral, who marked him as permanently ineligible for rehire. Logan-Short said she didn’t remember seeing that information, though it had been emailed to her.
She and City Manager Chris Lagerbloom — who was not city manager at the time of Benzo’s hiring — did not respond to an email for comment.
In a letter to the inspector general, Lagerbloom said the city made some changes, including new personnel in human resources, to tighten up the hiring process.
Brittany Wallman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4541. Find her on Twitter @BrittanyWallman.