West Melbourne Deputy Mayor John Tice arrested on fraud-related charges
Brevard sheriff's news conference on charges against West Melbourne deputy mayor John Tice; Video by Rick Neale, FLORIDA TODAY Posted March 29, 2018
West Melbourne Deputy Mayor John Tice was arrested Thursday morning on fraud-related charges, accused of diverting a $7,000 check written to the Liberty Bell Memorial Museum and spending the money on Miami Dolphins season tickets, pro football memorabilia, restaurants and personal debt payments.
Tice, 65, faces charges of scheme to defraud under $20,000, communications fraud, depositing an item with the intent to defraud, and grand theft.
“There’s a difference between making a mistake and doing something with absolute intent. When you’re taking money that was meant for a charitable organization, and you’re using it for personal gain or to go to watch a football team play, there’s no explanation for that," Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said during an afternoon press conference announcing Tice's arrest.
Detectives are investigating circumstances surrounding a controversial roofing-repair job at the city-owned Liberty Bell Memorial Museum. Wochit
"It’s just absolutely despicable," Ivey said.
Tice served as the Melbourne museum’s executive director from May 2013 until he was fired, effective February 2016. He also is founder and president of the Brevard Hall of Fame, which was housed inside the museum library during his tenure there.
A warrant for Tice's arrest was issued Wednesday, and he turned himself in about 11:30 a.m. at the Brevard County Jail Complex, Ivey said. His bond was set at $20,000.
Tice was first elected to the West Melbourne City Council in 2011. His current term expires in November.
Ivey said Tice’s activities did not involve his duties as West Melbourne deputy mayor.
"It's never an easy time when we have to arrest an elected official of any capacity, regardless of what they're assigned to do. But it certainly makes it worse when that individual took proceeds that were meant for a charitable organization and used those for their own personal gain," Ivey said.
Melbourne city officials alerted law enforcement last May of possible fraud involving roofing repairs — which Tice oversaw, Ivey said — at the city-owned museum on Oak Street.
Ivey said the roofing contractor wrote the check to the museum, but Tice told the company to rewrite the check and make it payable to his Brevard Hall of Fame instead.
Melbourne Police Det. Wolfgang Kermer is also an agent on the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Economic Crimes Task Force. He said he interviewed about 20 current and former museum officials and obtained bank records during the joint investigation.
"The investigation's ongoing, but right now we feel like we have the only person responsible," BCSO Sgt. Jackie Hearon, who heads the Economic Crimes Task Force, said of Tice.
Hearon said Tice has made "some admissions" in the case.
Shortly after the announcement of Tice's arrest, state Rep. Randy Fine asked Gov. Rick Scott to immediately remove Tice from office.
"The charges against Tice are serious and merit his immediate removal. He simply cannot be allowed to have any political power over the people of West Melbourne, let alone serve as the next-in-line in the event of an issue with the Mayor," Fine stated in an accompanying press release.
The Liberty Bell Memorial Museum is operated by Honor America, a struggling nonprofit that traditionally organizes Melbourne’s Veterans Day and Fourth of July parades. Melbourne City Councilwoman Betty Moore, who was Honor America's president at the time, closed the Oak Street patriotic museum last November, citing fiscal woes and a staffing shortfall amid the ongoing criminal investigation.
The Honor America board had not met since last August. That changed Tuesday: A dozen members called a special membership meeting and elected a new board led by President Greggory Overton, President-Elect Jeannie Hammond, Vice-President Brenda Hoffman and Secretary Stephany Eley.
Eley said the reformed board plans to soon reopen the military museum, on a limited basis. A sign will be posted directing visitors to schedule tours by calling a volunteer docent.
Next, Eley said the board plans to "straighten out" Honor America's finances, dating to the second half of 2015. The organization is no longer registered to solicit contributions in Florida: Last August, state officials suspended the group's registration as a charitable organization because a required financial statement had not been filed.
Eley said the board hopes to permanently reopen the museum with regular hours of operation.
Overton, the new president, served 12 years in the Air Force as a flight medic/technical sergeant. He previously helped organize Honor Flight send-off breakfasts, and he is a VFW Post 3991 board member in Eau Gallie.
"We are looking to go forward. It's an honor to our fallen veterans, our active-duty veterans, and most importantly to our seniors in the community who would like to volunteer at such a fantastic museum," Overton said.
"It is history for our students and our schoolchildren in this county, and other counties if they choose to come in for a tour," he said.
In June 2016, Honor America board members sent Tice a letter requesting that he repay $8,493 to the nonprofit. That sum included $7,300 in alleged salary overpayments, $448 in unauthorized meals, and a $237 transaction at Target.
The West Melbourne City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Veterans Memorial Complex.
"I'm truly saddened by these events," West Melbourne Mayor Hal Rose said. "The citizens should have full faith in elected officials. But I want to make it perfectly clear that these allegations have nothing to do with his office serving West Melbourne.
"Stealing is bad enough. But allegedly stealing from a nonprofit veterans group is really hitting below the belt," Rose said.
Melbourne City Manager Mike McNees and City Attorney Alison Dawley await the final results of the ongoing museum investigation, said Cheryl Mall, city spokeswoman.
Previously, Tice worked on and off for 27 years at Brevard Christian School, coaching sports teams and serving as athletic director.