The fall from grace of longtime tax collector, James A. Harris, Jr., has taken an ominous turn, after an audit of the last six months of his term in office revealed evidence that has led to a pending criminal investigation.
State Attorney Jack Campbell on Tuesday confirmed the investigation, but would not comment further.
Tax Collector Richard Watson, in Orlando for a state conference, said that after he assumed office April 10, he requested an audit dating back to Oct. 1, 2016. The county auditor, Roberson & Associates, found “altered deposit slips and non-validated checks, which were questionable.”
Watson said such an audit was standard when a newcomer assumes office, and that he was advised by other tax collectors he consulted to conduct one, to clear the slate in advance of his term in office. He said the auditor later reviewed the last couple years of books before making his findings.
Watson was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott a week after Harris resigned April 3 after 24 years in office, following a felony arrest over the previous weekend.
Harris, a Democrat elected without opposition in Nov. 2016 to his seventh consecutive term in office, faces charges of sexual activity with a person age 16 or 17, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Campbell said that case has been continued until October.
Watson said the state attorney’s office has referred the financial matter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but Campbell declined to say.
“I don’t comment on pending criminal investigations,” he said.