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Former economic director charged

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Amanda Douglas, the former director of the Nature Coast Business Development Council and Enterprise Zone Development Agency, is being formally charged with two counts of grand theft and two counts of scheme to defraud in connection with money missing from agency accounts.

    Assistant State Attorney Glenn Bryan confirmed on Wednesday that Douglas has made restitution of the funds and that he has recommended she be released on her own recognizance. He said the judge has signed the capias warrant allowing her release on her own recognizance after her arrest.

    "This is for two cases currently in our office," Bryan said. Each charge is a third-degree felony and carries a maximum sentence of five years and/or $5,000 fine.

    Carol McQueen, chair of the NCBDC and vice chair of the EZDA, Enterprise Zone Development Agency, first revealed the problem of the missing money — reported to be $35,000 — three months after she discovered it at a Levy County Commission meeting on June 22.

    Douglas, who resigned in January, is the second director for both agencies to run into legal problems. Former Executive Director Pamela Williams Blair,  who resigned her posts in November 2008, was arrested a month later on one charge of lying to the FBI in connection with a public corruption case that netted convictions for two county commissioners. Blair is due to go on trial in federal court on Sept. 7.

McQueen said an audit in March showed the money was missing and the information was turned over to the Levy County Sheriff’s Office. On May 5 a sworn complaint was sent to the State Attorney‘s Office.

    McQueen, director of the Levy County Visitors Bureau, said she and Bronson businessman Skipper Henderson, chairman of the EZDA, gave sworn testimony to the state attorney’s office last week.

    Bryan said at that time that he had “a lot of paperwork” to go through before deciding whether to file any charges.

    Douglas, the daughter of Chiefland Police Chief Robert Douglas has not commented. Her attorney, B. Larry “Snuffy” Smith of Chiefland, is ill and did not return a call on Wednesday.

    McQueen said at the June meeting that the NCBDC has voted to remain neutral on the pushing for criminal prosecution. “They didn’t want to be one way or the other which is kind of odd,” she said.

    Henderson said, “We’re just looking to have the money returned. As far as EZDA is concerned we’re broke. “

    Henderson said the EZDA board had also voted to remain neutral on the issue of prosecution and said the vote by both economic development agencies board members, including McQueen, was unanimous.

    Commission Chair Nancy Bell, of Chiefland, asked how much money was missing, and McQueen seemed unable to disclose the exact amount, saying it was between $19,000 and $20,000.

    McQueen said an additional $16,000 was missing from the EZDA.

    McQueen said she was speaking out in June because county officials “have been getting calls from the public and the Board of County Commissioners wants to know what is going on.”

    County Coordinator Freddie Moody denied McQueen was asked by him or the commissioners for a briefing on the case. “Absolutely not. It caught me totally by surprise because that was not a board request,” Moody said.

     Asked why she waited until June to go public with the information, McQueen said:

    “I want to put the public at ease that it’s not a dead issue.” Asked again why she waited, McQueen said, “I’m not sure where you want to go with that but I have no other comments for you on that.”