ORLANDO, Fla. — The man who decides how much in property taxes Orange County residents pay is facing serious accusations in a lawsuit.
- 2 former workers accuse Rick Singh of misusing taxpayer funds, manipulating property values
- Workers also accuse Singh of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment
- Singh's office: Internal investigation found no wrongdoing
- READ: Federal Lawsuit | Internal Investigation (.PDFs)
Two former employees of the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office filed the lawsuit against property appraiser Rick Singh in federal court.
The office’s former director of communications, Laverne McGee, and its former finance director, Aisha Hassan, filed the federal lawsuit November 6. The two women are seeking a jury trial.
McGee and Hassan accuse Singh of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging Singh instructed McGhee to “cover” for him and lie to his wife when he brought women, including strippers, to the OCPA’s office after hours.
But the majority of the women’s claims involve what they allege are Singh’s misuse of taxpayer money.
McGee claims when she questioned Singh about a list of places he wanted to travel on personal trips, Singh told her to “come up with justifications for these things to show why I’m going.”
Hassan alleges Singh, while on an out-of-town conference with other employees, upgraded only his room to concierge access. When auditors questioned this extra expense, Hassan alleges Singh told her to convince a hotel manager to say the room had not been upgraded – something she says Singh eventually convinced a hotel manager to do.
The women also allege Singh manipulated property appraisals, not raising property values for his “friends, certain business acquaintances and politicians who supported him during his campaign” – and unlawfully increased property values for those “who objected to his misdeeds” – which would in effect raise their tax rates. McGee says Singh raised the value of her personal property – forcing her to pay more taxes.
The lawsuit states both women were let go in August 2018, which they claim was ultimately in retaliation for them coming forward with their accusations. Singh’s office says the two were on paid leave for several months before being terminated for excessive violation of agency policies and unethical behavior.
A spokesperson for Singh’s office said in a statement:
“The Office of the Orange County Property Appraiser holds itself to the highest professional standards and is committed to providing a safe and productive work environment for our employees. We respect the rights of all employees and take any concerns very seriously.
“The majority of the allegations contained in this lawsuit have been previously investigated by former Chief Judge Belvin Perry and were found to be without merit. We look forward to presenting the facts in court in a fair and impartial manner and to vigorously defending the integrity of this office.
“These allegations are completely baseless and clearly made with the sole intention of damaging Mr. Singh personally. Mr. Singh vehemently denies these malicious attacks on his character.”
An internal investigation conducted by former Chief Judge Belvin Perry found no evidence to support the allegations.
A former federal prosecutor said the lawsuit’s chances of moving forward will depend on the strength of the evidence.
“As in any whistleblower case, it’s going to come down to the credibility of the accusers and whether what they allege can be corroborated by other evidence,” said Andrew Searle, and attorney with Phillips Law Firm in Orlando.