Ac­cu­sa­tions traded dur­ing probe

Ex-em­ploy­ees ac­cused county ap­praiser of mis­us­ing funds; he says they un­der­per­formed

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Gal Tziper­man Lotan Or­lando Sen­tinel

Two for­mer em­ploy­ees of Orange County Prop­erty Ap­praiser Rick Singh al­leged a laun­dry list of mis­be­hav­ior — from mis­us­ing of­fice re­sources to de­scrib­ing fel­low politi­cians in vul­gar terms — in wide-rang­ing de­po­si­tions con­ducted by for­mer Orange-Osce­ola Chief Judge Belvin Perry in late 2017.

Perry was prob­ing ac­cu­sa­tions made by Lav­erne McGee, the for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, and Aisha Has­san, the for­mer fi­nance di­rec­tor, af­ter Singh’s at­tor­ney rec­om­mended an out­side re­view. Perry ul­ti­mately said his in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not find ev­i­dence of a hos­tile work­place.

The de­po­si­tions, re­leased this week, also in­clude an in­ter­view Perry con­ducted with Singh, in which he de­nied the al­le­ga­tions against him and de­scribed McGee and Has­san as un­der­per­form­ing and dis­grun­tled ex-em­ploy­ees.

McGee and Has­san last month filed a law­suit against Singh ac­cus­ing him of mis­us­ing pub­lic funds, treat­ing them poorly be­cause of their gen­der, and mak­ing of­f­color re­marks in the of­fice. Singh’s for­mer hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor,

“[H]e’s ner­vous about Dis­ney be­cause he knows that we’re in sev­eral law­suits with them, and he wants peo­ple to have the im­pres­sion that he’s steal­ing from the rich and giv­ing to the poor.” Lav­erne McGee, for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, speak­ing of Rick Singh, in a de­po­si­tion (not un­der oath)

Wil­lis Perry, filed a sep­a­rate law­suit in Au­gust mak­ing sim­i­lar claims — but also ac­cus­ing McGee of bad be­hav­ior.

Agents from Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment last week opened a “pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry” into the sec­ond-term Demo­crat’s con­duct to see if it mer­its a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

A spokes­woman for Singh did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Thurs­day. He has adamantly de­nied the al­le­ga­tions in the law­suit.

Both McGee and Has­san claimed Singh used in­ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage to re­fer to fe­male elected of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing fre­quently call­ing out­go­ing Orange County Mayor Theresa Ja­cobs a “b----.”

But his worst words were re­served for black women in pub­lic of­fice, they said, in­clud­ing call­ing an Or­lando city com­mis­sioner a “skank” and us­ing lewd lan­guage when talk­ing about for­mer U.S. Rep. Cor­rine Brown, who is cur­rently serv­ing prison time for fraud.

“He says, ’I don’t know why African-Amer­i­can women love me, I’m re­pulsed by them but they love me so I get what I can from them,’” McGee said.

Belvin Perry re­viewed McGee and Has­san’s al­le­ga­tions in April and said he could not find ev­i­dence of a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment or il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity.

“It is this writer’s opin­ion that a num­ber of the al­le­ga­tions were based upon the fact that Ms. McGee and Ms. Has­san had a very dif­fer­ent view of what the best prac­tices, poli­cies and pro­ce­dures of the OCPA should have been,” the for­mer judge wrote.

McGee claimed Singh made her and other fe­male em­ploy­ees run per­sonal er­rands for him and told them to try and sweet-talk a po­ten­tial ven­dor in or­der to en­tice the ven­dor to do­nate to his cam­paign, records show.

“Rick had paid some — he told some African-Amer­i­can peo­ple who he thought were on drugs or home­less that he would — that if they gave out

his signs and posted things and what­ever, that he would pay them,” McGee said. “But Rick never paid them. He was like, screw those Nwords.”

She also spoke about Singh’s re­la­tion­ship with Walt Dis­ney World, whose at­tor­neys have ac­cused Singh of over­valu­ing their prop­er­ties so they would have to pay higher prop­erty taxes.

“[H]e’s ner­vous about Dis­ney be­cause he knows that we’re in sev­eral law­suits with them, and he wants peo­ple to have the im­pres­sion that he’s steal­ing from the rich and giv­ing to the poor,” McGee said.

Mostly, McGee said, Singh was a man with a “tremen­dously bad tem­per.”

“If any­body spoke against him or ques­tioned his au­thor­ity or ques­tioned what he was do­ing, he would of­ten threaten you with your rep­u­ta­tion or say nasty things in terms of you per­son­ally, and he used that as a way to ma­nip­u­late and control — control us,” McGee said in a de­po­si­tion, which was not un­der oath.

Singh, in re­turn, claimed that McGee tried to ma­nip­u­late his re­la­tion­ships, lied to him and ob­ses­sively tracked his move­ments. He called her a “very violent, hos­tile, bois­ter­ous per­son.”

“She re­minded me of some­one that was ex­tremely, ex­tremely para­noid, and she al­ways cre­ated that en­vi­ron­ment where she was para­noid,” Singh said. “The world was fall­ing, and she was al­ways the sav­ior to — to save me. So many — so many peo­ple were try­ing to bring me down, in her words.”

“Mr. Singh, in view of all the things you’ve just said, why didn’t you fire her?” Belvin Perry asked.

“This was all in retrospect,” Singh said. “I wanted to be fair to her. When the al­le­ga­tions were brought to me, they were brought to me in a very un­timely mat­ter. They bot­tle­necked and came to me all at one time.”

Singh did not speak as harshly about Has­san as he did about McGee but said she was “an em­ployee that was con­stantly need­ing im­prove­ment.”

“She ap­peared to be very im­ma­ture at times,” Singh said. “Up un­til the time of that eval­u­a­tion, I would say it would have been a work­able re­la­tion­ship. Af­ter that eval­u­a­tion, we dis­cov­ered that they were email­ing things to them­selves and start­ing to cre­ate doc­u­ments that would sup­port their let­ter.”

Has­san talked about get­ting text mes­sages from Singh that made her un­com­fort­able, ask­ing what her out-of-work plans were and if she would be at­tend­ing events alone. She told Belvin Perry it was never phys­i­cal, but she felt the way Singh texted her and stared at her dur­ing meet­ings was not pro­fes­sional.

McGee said Singh asked her to say she was with him when he brought a strip­per into the of­fice. Singh, she said, “was wor­ried be­cause the video­tape on the se­cu­rity cam­eras might show him af­ter hours bring­ing women up­stairs, which he did fre­quently.”

Singh de­nied treat­ing the women in his of­fice poorly.

“I don’t think you could find an em­ployee here that would say that that’s my de­meanor,” Singh said. “I treat ev­ery­one in my em­ploy­ment with the utmost of re­spect, es­pe­cially women. I was raised by a sin­gle mother. I have sis­ters, I have a wife, I have a daugh­ter, I have nieces. I would not ex­pect any­one to treat them dif­fer­ently be­cause of their gen­der, and I hold that dearly.”


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