Florida's disaster-preparedness chief resigns over whistleblower complaint

TALLAHASSEE — The man in charge of disaster preparedness for the state abruptly resigned Monday amid allegations from his own employees that he discriminated against female staffers, overstated department travel savings and made improper purchases with his state taxpayer-funded credit card.

Ruben Almaguer, Florida's interim emergency management director since Craig Fugate left to head FEMA in May, is accused in a whistleblower complaint of allowing men but not women in his division to stay overnight at the state's logistics response center in Orlando — a move he insists he made "for the privacy and safety of female senior staff."

Employees also allege that Almaguer made questionable purchases on items including airfare and technology "gadgets" while circumventing state and federal rules for hiring and contract bids.

"In my brief tenure . . . I have personally witnessed numerous practices which violate state and federal statute," division bureau chief Gwen Keenan wrote to Gov. Charlie Crist on Nov. 23. The governor's office Monday did not provide specific information on how much money Almaguer is alleged to have misspent.

Almaguer, 45, denied any wrongdoing in a memo sent to Crist's office early Monday morning and initially refused to resign.

"I am confident that any allegations against me are baseless," Almaguer wrote to chief of staff Shane Strum and deputy chief of staff Kathy Mears. "Resigning my position would only reward those few who may be maneuvering against me for ulterior personal motives."

By late Monday, Almaguer reconsidered and submitted his resignation, insisting "my conscience is clean."

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