Friday, August 11, 2023

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: DiNapoli struggled with personal debt for years. DeSantis put him in charge of billions. (Miami Herald, August 11, 2023)

One-party rule by Republicans and corporations has consequences.  Florida Boy Governor RONALD DION DeSANTIS sure can pick 'em.  MICHAEL DiNAPOLI lacks ethics but was recommended to Governor DeSANTIS by his Chief of Staff to lead the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which is charged with safeguarding affordable housing money.  No other recommendations.  No application.  Warnings about unethical behavior ignored. Sound familiar?  That's the story about the all-Republican St. Johns County Commission's stinky hiring of HUNTER SINCLAIR CONRAD as County Administrator. 

From Miami Herald:

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Miami Herald

DiNapoli struggled with personal debt for years. DeSantis put him in charge of billions

By Lawrence Mower,

7 hours ago

Eight years before Gov. Ron DeSantis chose him to be Florida’s affordable housing director, overseeing billions of state and federal dollars, Mike DiNapoli’s finances — and career — appeared to be in shambles. 

After decades of working in wealth management in New York City, he lost his job with the financial services firm UBS, where a customer — who said DiNapoli was her brother — accused him of stealing her money and forging her name on a check. 

Creditors were garnishing DiNapoli’s bank accounts. His nearly 10-acre equestrian estate in Ocala was in foreclosure and his homeowners association was pursuing him for past dues. In 2017, he filed for bankruptcy. 

Later that year, DiNapoli found a new career working in state government, and in January, DeSantis promoted him to lead the Florida Housing Finance Corp., the state-created organization in charge of Florida’s affordable housing dollars. 

DiNapoli, 54, was suspended in July, less than six months after DeSantis chose him for the job. An inspector general investigation is ongoing. His suspension leaves the corporation leaderless as it assigns an additional $711 million for affordable housing across the state, part of the Legislature’s attempt to tackle the state’s growing affordability crisis.
Mike DiNapoli, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., has been placed on administrative leave. Florida Housing Finance Corp. 

As of Friday, 21 days after DiNapoli was suspended, the corporation has not acknowledged his suspension or the reason for it. It’s unclear whether the DeSantis administration was aware of DiNapoli’s history. His office has not responded to any requests for comment over the last week. 

When asked by the Herald/Times for DiNapoli’s resume or application, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. said it had none on file. On Tuesday, the Herald/Times requested those records from his previous employer, the Florida Department of Commerce. As of Friday, the department had not complied with the request. 

DiNapoli’s only letter of recommendation for the state Housing Finance Corp. came from DeSantis’ chief of staff, James Uthmeier, who this week took over managing the governor’s struggling presidential campaign. 

In a January letter, Uthmeier urged the corporation’s board chairperson, Mario Facella, to pick DiNapoli to lead the organization. The letter did not say why. 

“Please take this important action at your next available opportunity to meet,” Uthmeier wrote. 

Since DiNapoli’s appointment, the office has seen a wave of departures, including the firing of its longtime general counsel. Democratic lawmakers are questioning the decisions that led to DiNapoli’s appointment. 

“What’s the vetting process over at Camp DeSantis?” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said in a text message. “Is this the caliber of agency personnel he’d install at the national level?” 

Wall Street history 

DiNapoli, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, had a long career as a wealth manager in New York City until Sept. 9, 2015, when he lost his job with Switzerland-based UBS. 

Three weeks later, UBS received a customer complaint identifying DiNapoli as her financial adviser and “brother,” according to a public record with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a private self-regulating organization for the industry. 

She alleged that between 2014 and 2015, DiNapoli “stole money from her account as well as forged her name to a check that was addressed to her and deposited those funds in another account,” the report states. 

It’s unclear whether the report was investigated. The allegations were denied by the company, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the complaint was unfounded, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. 

A spokesperson for the regulatory authority didn’t provide more details on the report. DiNapoli’s sister couldn’t be reached for comment. UBS declined to comment on the report and the reason for DiNapoli’s termination. 

In the months before and after he left UBS and found another job with another financial firm, DiNapoli faced a series of legal actions relating to his personal affairs. 

Starting in 2015, state and federal court records show: 

▪ In February 2015, American Express sued him in Marion County to recoup $10,398.50 charged to his JetBlue card. The company was allowed to garnish his bank accounts to recoup the amount until December 2022. (In 2016, American Express sued DiNapoli’s wife to recoup $5,448.95 in charges.) 

▪ In November 2015, his mortgage lender moved to foreclose on the Ocala home he and his wife bought in 2013, a nearly 10-acre property with a four-stall horse stable with tack room and feed room, according to a description on Zillow. The lender alleged he had missed the last six months of $2,656.82 payments. 

▪ In 2016, his homeowners association filed a lien on his home, alleging he owed $1,000 in dues. 

▪ Also in 2016, the New York City Athletic Club, where DiNapoli stayed while working for UBS and commuting from Florida, sued DiNapoli to recoup $10,728.43 in outstanding charges. The company was allowed to garnish his bank account, and the amount was paid back in 2017. 

▪ In May 2017, DiNapoli filed for bankruptcy, claiming he had less than $50,000 in assets and between $500,000 and $1 million in liabilities. 

▪ In 2019, after a three-year legal battle, a New York court ordered DiNapoli to pay back $1.4 million of a signing bonus UBS had given him. 

Into Florida government 

In August 2017, DiNapoli took a job with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity as a deputy chief. By 2020, when he was promoted to lead the Office of Small and Minority Business Capital, he was making $75,000. 

Dane Eagle, a former state representative who was named secretary of the department in 2020, said he knew nothing of DiNapoli’s personal financial history and saw no “red flags” that would make him do a background check three years after DiNapoli was hired. 

He said DiNapoli’s suspension was “shocking.” 

“He’s always come across as a stand-up guy,” said Eagle, who left the department in December and is now a lobbyist. “He did great with the programs that were under him.” 

Those programs included administering the state’s emergency bridge loan program, which issues interest-free loans to businesses and local governments after disasters, and the Homeowner Assistance Fund, which gave money to homeowners to pay their mortgages during the coronavirus pandemic. 

When the Florida Housing Finance Corp.’s board of directors met in February to confirm DiNapoli, he received a strong endorsement from Eagle’s temporary replacement, acting Secretary Meredith Ivey, a former spokesperson for DeSantis. 

Ivey touted DiNapoli’s “great personal success” in his previous career in finance in New York City. 

“I asked him, ‘Well, why in the world would you choose to continue working so hard and working 80-plus hour weeks?’ ” Ivey told board members. “And he said, ‘I really just want to help people.’ ” 

The Florida Housing Finance Corp. was created by the Legislature in 1980, to serve as a bank that administers billions of dollars in affordable housing loans for developers, federal low-income tax credits, mortgage assistance and other programs. 

DiNapoli’s hiring followed the abrupt departure of the previous director, Harold “Trey” Price, who was appointed in 2017, when Rick Scott was governor. His hiring coincided with the Legislature this spring deciding to assign hundreds of millions more dollars to the corporation to help build affordable housing. 

That push for spending was led by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, whose office declined to comment on DiNapoli’s financial history. 

“Our office was made aware that Mr. DiNapoli was being placed on administrative leave due to some personnel matters,” spokesperson Katie Betta wrote in a text message. 

She said Passidomo was “closely monitoring” the implementation of the affordable housing plan. 

State Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, said DiNapoli’s financial history was “very surprising.” The public needed to trust the corporation’s leader, she said. 

“We are in a time where people are really struggling to have a roof over their head, and we need somebody with a background of strong stewardship, not only of their own funds, but public dollars,” Tant said. 

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