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Investigator: Nienhuis Deceived Taxpayers to Receive $623K Pension Bonus, Attempts Coverup

HERNANDO – While the average citizen struggles to make ends meet, drug overdoses destroy families, and violent crime plagues our communities, an investigative researcher out of Collier County says Sheriff Al Nienhuis is busy finding ways to line his pockets with your tax dollars.

David Jaye investigates elected officials around Florida and publishes his findings on his website tripledippers.org.

Jaye contacted R News last month and revealed what he says is unethical and deceptive behavior by Sheriff Nienhuis. Jaye says Nienhuis is one of at least five Florida Sheriffs who took advantage of a loophole in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), allowing them to receive a taxpayer-funded salary and retirement bonus at the same time.

According to Jaye, on December 14, 2015, Nienhuis signed the DROP application to receive a pension bonus of $623,145. As part of the requirement, Nienhuis promised to resign from his post no later than January 1, 2016. But that was a "lie" says Jaye because Nienhuis had just won an election to serve another four years as Hernando County Sheriff.

In addition to an annual salary of $198,960, Jaye alleges that Nienhuis receives an additional $79,000 per year in benefits, accrues interest on the $623,145 bonus, and doesn't have to pay 3% of his salary into the Florida Pension system – placing the burden on the taxpayers. Non-elected public employees cannot break their contract and must continue paying 3% of their salary. Additionally, Nienhuis can wait until he actually retires to cash in on his unused vacation, sick, and personal days, giving him the highest possible rate – not what their value is during the time earned.

When he made his initial public records request with the Sheriff's Office, Jaye says the staff rejected his inquiry and told him it was exempt from disclosure. Knowing this was not the case, Jaye filed a complaint with the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office, which prompted a response from ASA Mark Simpson who contacted Nienhuis and forced him to comply with the request. Simpson writes, "Based on your complaint, I contacted the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and spoke to them about your complaint. I told them we believed they were interoperating the exemption under F.S. 121.4501 (19) too broadly..." Jaye says, "Just because Sheriff Al Nienhuis is worried that he will lose votes in the 2024 election after taxpayers learn about his $675,947 Pension cash out bonus, he does not have the authority to hide his public documents."

Jaye estimates that "Triple Dippers" like Nienhuis create a $39 Billion liability in Florida and says if lawmakers put an end to triple dipping, the taxpayers would save $910 million and create nearly 30,000 new jobs.

Jaye contacted candidate for Sheriff Joe Puglia and asked if he was willing to sign a pledge not to apply for a pension cash bonus if elected. Puglia swore the oath and a signed copy of the document was notarized and submitted to Jaye for his records.

Nienhuis responded to our request for comment by vaguely insinuating that publishing this article may result in a civil action against R News and or David Jaye. Nienhuis writes, "Since you claim to be the only truthful journalist in Hernando County, I have to assume you are going to correct all the misinformation contained in that blog." Nienhuis blames the DROP program form stating, "The form did not have an option for elected officials who may, or may not, stay in office at the end of their term." DROP form (DP-11) was modified in 2023 to allow elected officers to defer termination after employment.

Nienhuis refuted Jaye's claims stating, "Since an elected official's DROP is unavailable (and does not earn interest) until he/she leaves and since he/she does NOT get a retirement check, an elected official staying beyond his/her drop can hardly be accused of double dipping (much less triple dipping)."

When asked why he attempted to conceal the information from Jaye, Nienhuis replied, "The record is exempt under FSS 119. I was not aware it was requested until just prior to its release and told our records section to release it (the State's Attorney agreed it was exempt, but I elected to release it anyway, once I found out it was an issue)."

 

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