The feds find Riviera

Palm Beach Post Editorial
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A year ago, three state legislators, city residents and this newspaper asked for answers to this question: How accountable are Riviera Beach and its Community Redevelopment Agency for the public's money?

Some credible answers finally arrived in December. The state auditor general cited 25 counts of financial mismanagement, ranging from unpaid sales taxes to consultants being paid millions of dollars for undocumented work.

Not much has happened since then, unless one counts the fact that while no one can say why - or wants to say - no one is denying that the U.S. attorney's office is reviewing the Riviera Beach audit findings. This comes after four former Palm Beach County elected officials are in prison or headed there on corruption charges. If there are similar problems in Riviera Beach, the city should be the Justice Department's new area target.

Andrew Lourie, supervisor in the U.S. attorney's office in West Palm Beach, said only: "It is a public audit. We're reviewing it." But the corruption question is why the audit initially was referred to Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer in February by the state's Joint Legislative Auditing Committee. "Now that it has been bumped up to the federal level, it seems at least a hint that the state attorney found something of consequence," said Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, the auditing committee's co-chairman. "If I was being investigated and I heard it had been referred to the feds, I wouldn't be very happy that day."

The audit getting federal scrutiny examined the city's and the CRA's books from Oct. 1, 2004 to Nov. 30, 2005. Rep. Domino and others had cited, to name one example, the $1.2''million payment to West Palm Beach construction consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates for services that were not documented. In fact, finding No. 14 was that the CRA "paid $5,612,891 for various consulting and professional services" during the audit period "without accomplishing the projects" outlined in the city's 2001 redevelopment plan.

Riviera Beach officials had tried to finesse such questions by anointing a citizens review committee. Some city representatives traveled to Tallahassee this year in a vain attempt to convince Rep. Domino's committee that continuing state scrutiny was a waste of time and taxpayers' money. City officials maintained that the expenditures cited in the audit were documented, and that no one would be stupid enough to try anything criminal.

Here's another thing that has happened since last year: Most of those officials are out of office.