Port Manatee fires CFO Armstrong

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 27, 2013 

MANATEE — Robert J. Armstrong, Port Manatee’s deputy executive director and chief financial officer, was fired Thursday.

Executive Director Carlos Buqueras wrote in a termination letter that he had "lost confidence" in Armstrong's ability to handle and control port policies.

The dismissal is effective immediately, Buqueras said.

In his letter to Armstrong, Buqueras wrote: “Simply put: I have lost confidence in your ability to effectively perform the duties of Deputy Executive Director and CFO, including the ability to properly handle and control Port property, act in accordance with Port policies, and act honestly and above reproach in the operation of the Port.”

Last week, Armstrong was put on leave pending an investigation of his ethical conduct and resolution of criminal charges lodged against his son. He had just been promoted April 6 from his job as the port's CFO and senior director of business, earning $127,587 annually, to CFO and deputy executive director with a salary increase to $149,510.

The port's law firm, Lewis, Longman & Walker of Bradenton, conducted an "administrative review" to see if Armstrong violated any of the port's rules and regulations involving alleged crimes that involved his son, Robert Benton Armstrong. The investigation has not yet been completed, Buqueras said Thursday.

Armstrong's son, 24, who also was a port employee, was arrested June 11 and charged with 24 counts of burglary, defrauding a pawn shop and dealing in stolen property, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

Robert Benton Armstrong remained in the Manatee County jail Thursday in lieu of $24,000 bond, according to the sheriff's office website.

Some of the items that were stolen were taken from the port, the Herald has reported. Those items are in the process of being returned, Buqueras said Thursday.

Armstrong's son was hired in late 2011 as a part-time laborer making $20,800 annually.

By May, he was a full-time employee working with computer-aided design software at an annual salary of $32,760, according to port records.

The elder Armstrong told authorities he went to Value Pawn in Palmetto and redeemed some stolen items in order to return them to the port.

Armstrong also told authorities his son had stolen and pawned many of his own personal items, including scuba gear, guitars and lawn equipment.

The port CFO said his son "had a pill problem," according to a police report.

“I know that people think we haven’t been doing anything, but we have been doing an internal investigation since Day One,” port authority Chair Carol Whitmore told the Herald Thursday.

Buqueras said a national search for Armstrong's replacement would not begin immediately.

"We will plan to fill the position," Buqueras added.

Corie Holmes, a former county commission candidate who last week had asked the port authority board to suspend Armstrong, said Thursday that he thought the dismissal was appropriate.

"This conclusion thus far is a good outcome to move the port forward, but there’s more to be looked at,” said Holmes, who is a former sheriff’s deputy and now works as a private investigator.

Holmes has questioned how Armstrong’s son, with a criminal record, could have qualified for a security clearance.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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