Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says his office saved $2.5 million by uncovering fraud in a variety of energy grant programs that he says were badly mismanaged before he came into office. He says, "We inherited a pile of coat hangers."
Tallahassee, Florida - Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has uncovered blatant examples of companies trying to rip off millions of tax dollars from energy programs administered by the office of former Gov. Charlie Crist.
The Office of Energy took in about $220 million in federal stimulus cash and state money several years ago during the Crist administration. Putnam says a new audit shows the office made bad decisions that contributed to waste and inefficiency.
READ: Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services' audit (PDF)
One of the troubled energy programs was supposed to award rebates to homeowners and businesses that installed solar panels. But the rebate program was so popular in 2009, it became overwhelmed with more than 10,000 applicants and they ended up on a waiting list.
They stayed there until Putnam came into office and inherited the Energy Office in 2011.
He calls the solar rebate program a "disaster," adding "We inherited a pile of coat hangers." Putnam ultimately worked out a deal paying about 52 percent of the amount originally requested by consumers.
Putnam ordered an audit of the $220 million in energy grants and discovered two companies tried to steal $2.5 million. A total of $700,000 was awarded before the contracts were terminated.
Putnam says the Energy Office was mismanaged during the Crist administration. One example included a travel ban that prevented the state from checking on the locations slated to receive the $220 million.
"If you're administering $200 million in grant funds, you should have your grant administrator visit the site that's getting millions of dollars so that you find out it's not just some mailbox in a strip mall," said Putnam.
Putnam says his inspector general's audit also saved another $200,000 that had been awarded to a company but then went bankrupt.
Putnam says he has forwarded the cases of fraud to the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for further investigation.