Miami Beach will recover all $3.6 million stolen from its bank account

A year after $3.6 million was siphoned out of a Miami Beach bank account in a theft of public money that went undetected by bureaucrats for six months, commissioners approved two settlements that will make up for nearly all of the stolen money that has yet to be recovered.

The City Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a $900,000 settlement with STR Marketplace, an online ticketing platform a New York man is accused of using to purchase expensive sports tickets with the stolen money. The city will also receive $536,258 from SunTrust, plus interest at a renegotiated rate that will bring in more money.

The city has slowly been recovering the money since the theft became public in December 2016. The $1.4 million in settlements brings the city to within $200,000 of all the stolen funds. City Manager Jimmy Morales noted larger interest payments should bring in the balance by April 2018. They will continue to receive the higher interest rate until Dec. 31, 2019.

“Hopefully we can put this in the rearview mirror,” said Morales.

The scandal was first reported by the Miami Herald when it was revealed someone had been transferring money out of the city’s general depository account at SunTrust Bank much the same way one would set up automatic payments of utility bills. The funds in the account included permit fees, parking fees and water bills.

David J. Miller, a Syracuse resident, was arrested in New York on unrelated charges in late May and is being transferred to Florida to face federal bank fraud and identity theft charges in the Miami Beach case.

The thefts began in summer 2016 and continued over the course of many transactions until December. The complaint filed against Miller accuses him of transferring money out of the Beach’s bank account in increasingly large payments, usually to buy sports tickets or pay his utility bills.

In late July last year, the first transfer was for $7,511. The transfers increased to more than $100,000 in September 2016. The next month, $352,000 was stolen in one day.

All of this went unnoticed by a struggling finance department that was behind on reconciling bank accounts. A consultant concluded earlier this year that the Beach’s finance department was mismanaged, inadequately staffed and unprepared to use a new internal software system.

The city has since implemented a host of reforms recommended by the consultant, but the department’s managers remain at City Hall. The chief financial officer who was in charge during the thefts, Allison Williams, demoted herself to deputy finance director and still works for the city.