Southwest Florida Fire Chief Files Whistleblower Complaint, Alleges COVID-19 Fraud
According to a report from Naples News Daily, Kevin Nelmes, a former division chief for Greater Naples Fire Rescue District, has filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the department. Mr. Nelmes alleges COVID-19 fraud, including violations of Federal Claims Act (FCA) and the Florida Public Whistleblower Act. Mr. Nelmes argues that his former employer knowingly misused CARES Act funds and took unlawful retaliatory action against him when he reported the matter. Here, our Florida COVID-19 fraud attorney provides an overview of the allegations raised by the former fire chief.
Allegations: Misappropriation of CARES Act Funds
In March of 2020, the congress passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), a $2.2 trillion economic support package. The CARES Act contained a number of different provisions, including funding for local emergency services departments. Using money from the federal CARES Act, Florida Governor Ron Desantis sent nearly $1.3 billion to counties with fewer than 500,000 people. This includes Collier County, which is home to Naples.
Kevin Nelmes, at the time a division chief, raised internal concerns that the CARES Act relief funds were being misappropriated by the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District. He alleged that the money was not being used for the proper purpose—that being the acquisition for personal protective equipment (PPE) and the coverage of certain COVID-19 related personnel costs. Mr. Nelmes wrote the Deputy Chief recommending an investigation into the alleged misuse of federal funds.
Allegations: Whistleblower Retaliation in Violation of Federal and State Law
According to the lawsuit filed by former Naples fire chief Kevin Nelmes, he was subject to unlawful retaliation for raising his concerns about the misappropriation of COVID-19 relief funds. Mr. Nelmes states that he was placed on administrative leave within a week of filing his complaint with the district chief. Soon after, he states that he was involuntarily separated from his position. The lawsuit also states that the public employer never actually investigated the allegations of misuse of CARES Act funds raised by the plaintiff.
The allegations in question, if proven true, would constitute a violation of federal law (False Claims Act) and state law (Florida Public Whistleblower Act). Both statutes contain legal protections against retaliation for whistleblowers. Mr. Nelmes is seeking several forms of relief in his whistleblower complaint, including a court order barring the Naples fire department for further retaliation against whistleblowers, compensation for loss of income and fringe benefits, and non-economic damages for physical injuries and mental/emotional harm.
Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Whistleblower Rights Attorney in Florida
At Guttman, Freidin & Celler, our Florida whistleblower lawyers are committed to protecting the legal rights and financial interests of our clients. If you have any questions or concerns about CARES Act fraud, COVID-19 whistleblower claims, or the False Claims Act, we can help. Contact us today for a strictly confidential, no obligation initial consultation. From our Miami law office, we provide statewide and nationwide legal representation in whistleblower claims.