Auditors slam Keys medical examiner in report

Monroe County's Medical Examiner's Office was the subject of a recent Clerk of the Court audit.
Monroe County's Medical Examiner's Office was the subject of a recent Clerk of the Court audit.

County auditors issued a strongly worded report this week accusing the Keys' medical examiner of demonstrating a "lack of cooperation" that left the auditors "unable to perform" their jobs when probing his office's finances and operations.

The auditors also recommended that the contract between Monroe County and the Medical Examiner's Office be rewritten to give the County Commission more oversight of the top coroner's finances and operating budget.

Even though medical examiners in Florida are governor appointees, Florida counties finance their operations.

The Monroe County Clerk of the Courts Comptroller Office conducted the audit at the request of County Administrator Roman Gastesi after Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Beaver was seen transporting at least four corpses in an open-bed silver Dodge pickup truck in Marathon to his building on Crawl Key off mile marker 56.5 in March 2015.

Beaver has since stopped using the pickup to deliver bodies. Still, the policy and other issues led to calls from elected county officials for his removal. But County Attorney Bob Shillinger said last summer that no action against Beaver would be taken until the audit was complete.

It's not certain what will happen now that the report is done, but the language written by auditors coupled with Beavers' submitted responses make clear a highly contentious relationship remains between the doctor and county officials.

Beaver wrote that the audit report is "riddled with errors, misstatements, and mischaracterizations."

"The Medical Examiner is a physician, not a business person," Beaver wrote. "And while the financial records may not have been maintained to the level of perfection desired by the auditor, the Medical Examiner has properly applied every penny to pay the expenses and salaries of the individuals operating the Medical Examiner's Office."

The audit covers June 2014, when Beaver was hired on an interim basis, to June 2015. Gov. Rick Scott officially appointed Beaver on Feb. 25, 2015. His term expires July 1, 2017.

Gastesi submitted a letter to the Comptroller Office requesting the audit on April 24, 2015.

The auditors found nothing illegal during their probe, but they said the contract between the county and the Medical Examiner's Office "did not establish and allocate the Medical Examiner's operating funds in a manner that provides accountability for those funds."

"The [County Commission] management should enhance monitoring and oversight activities to include a more detailed review of the Medical Examiner's non-medical operations and financial activities," the auditors wrote.

The report states that Beaver "comingled his personal funds with the office's operating funds." For example, he spent $29,212 of his budget to place a down payment and two monthly payments on a vehicle titled in his name.

"Some of the items purchased with the Medical Examiner's Office operating funds do not appear to meet public purposes," the audit reads.

Beaver, like many Florida medical examiners, is an independent contractor. He runs his operation on $631,370 a year, doled out in monthly payments of $52,614. Of that, $135,539 pays his annual salary and $82,512 goes to staff paychecks. The remaining $421,177 goes to expenses, operating costs and benefits.

Beaver maintains that since he is an independent contractor, the county has no legal right to control his day-to-day functions. He also said, according to the auditor's report, that funds the County Commission "paid to him and revenues generated from other sources cease to remain public funds once received by his office."

The auditors recommend that the contract be rewritten to "revise and address the method of how the county can ensure that the county funds paid to the Medical Examiner are used to meet public purposes."

The auditors began their report with a caveat that their conclusions may not be completely accurate because Beaver lawyered up and "refused access to certain records and disputed the county's right" to conduct the audit.

"As we are not sure we were provided all relevant documents, we are unable to provide reasonable assurance as to the reliability of the reported financial information," the auditors wrote.

"Readers of this report should consider the potential effect of these scope limitations on the findings and conclusions presented in this report."

Beaver wrote that the audit was a kneejerk response to complaints received by the county about the bodies in the pickup truck, but since then "there has been no incident as to the quality of the services provided by the Medical Examiner."

Beaver also stated that the county had the right to audit his office, but he had "the legal right to ensure that the scope of the audit was within the terms" of his contract with the county.