Florida Board of Education chair accused of illegally excavating oceanfront Keys property

·3 min read

The chair of the State Board of Education turned himself in on a federal misdemeanor charge earlier this month after being accused of illegally excavating the property of his Florida Keys oceanfront home in 2017, according to court documents.

Lawyers for Thomas Grady say he is innocent and he received the proper approval from the local, state and federal government, “including from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” to proceed with the excavation project in April of that year.

“Unfortunately, the federal government’s position is that any existing federal permits were insufficient. We look forward to presenting our position and favorably resolving this matter,” attorneys David Oscar Markus, Margot Moss and Todd Yoder said in an emailed statement to the Miami Herald Thursday.

The property in question is located on the Old Highway in the Village of Islamorada. The 1,377-square-foot home situated on a 2.85-acre lot is one of several oceanfront mansions lining the road.

It’s not clear if Grady still owns the house. It was sold in September 2018 for $4.1 million, according to the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s website.

Grady’s attorneys did not explain the details of the excavation job, nor does the Sept. 30 charging document, beyond saying he “knowingly” excavated the property in a way that obstructed the water without the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers.

He faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison if convicted.

Grady, 63, turned himself in to federal authorities in Key West on Oct. 8 and was released the same day on $50,000 bond, according to court records. He had to surrender his passport, but he can travel within the state and outside the state with 24 hours notice to a probation officer.

He was charged by an information filed by U.S Attorney’s Office prosecutors, not a grand jury indictment. News of the charge was first reported by the Key West Citizen.

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a question asking if the charge would impact his position on the state board.

Grady is a Naples-area securities attorney and a former one-term Republican state representative. He was appointed to the State Board of Education by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2015. He was also interim president of Florida’s state-run Citizens Property Insurance in 2012 and commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation in 2011, stepping down a year later to head Citizens.

Most recently, he has been at the center of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ battle with nine county school boards over their mask mandates for students to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The state board has backed Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s planned sanctions on eight school districts that are defying DeSantis’ ban on student mask mandates. The sanctions include withholding state funds equivalent to the salaries of school board members who voted in favor of requiring facial coverings this academic year.

A dozen school districts began the year with mask mandates, but eight remain steadfast in their decision: Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach.

Sanctions have already been levied against Alachua and Broward counties’ school boards.

The Biden administration created a grant program to compensate those districts for the withheld funds, but the state board earlier this month approved penalties against Alachua and Broward in the amount of $147,000 and $420,000 respectively, which is the amount of the White House grants.

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