MANATEE -- A forgery investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement of State College of Florida president Lars Hafner found he did not break the law when he signed the name of a former board chairman on a school document.
"The FDLE has found insufficient evidence to establish a basis for a criminal charge," said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger on Thursday morning.
Plessinger said the case will close and the results sent to the Department of Education.
Hafner released a statement to the school and the media Thursday afternoon, but would not directly speak to the Herald.
“While I was always confident that there would be vindication, there is no denying that this has impacted all of our College family...” Hafner said in his statement. “With this behind us, I stand ready to reach out to all Board members to work together for a greater good, and the greater good is focusing on the education of our students and prosperity of our community.”
The investigation began in June after board Chairman Carlos Beruff provided evidence that Hafner forged the signature of former board chairman Steve Harner on a 2010 state grant application for SCF's Collegiate School, a charter school that helps first-generation college students graduate. Hafner has maintained repeatedly, and in an affidavit, that he did sign the name with Harner's permission.
Harner told the Bradenton Herald in June that he did give Hafner permission to sign his name in certain occasions, but Harner didn’t document or remember which ones.
“This would certainly qualify as something I would give him permission to sign...looking back it wasn’t the smartest idea,” Harner said then.
Hafner survived a 4-4 vote of no-confidence at the August trustees meeting, where the board argued about his financial judgment and decision to sign Harner’s name.
Another vote of no-confidence was postponed at the September meeting by trustee Craig Trigueiro because board member Charlene Neal was absent.
Chairman Beruff said he was not surprised Thursday at the results of the investigation, and that the forgery investigation was a smaller part of bigger concerns about Hafner’s financial management.
“It’s not about the criminal aspect. It’s about the ethics,” Beruff said. “Fiscal management isn’t what it should be. That has always been our concern.”
Trustee Ed Bailey said Thursday that regardless of the state's ruling, Hafner's behavior was unacceptable for a college president.
"That behavior is frowned upon in the private sector and the government sector," Bailey said. "I still stand behind my ground that it was unethical and unnecessary."
Bailey indicated that another vote of no-confidence will most likely occur at the next Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 30.
“The board is still at a standstill.” Bailey said. “To me that’s unfinished business. There needs to be a vote of confidence or a vote of no confidence.”
Beruff echoed the promise of another vote.
“Leadership of the college needs to be completely addressed,” Beruff said. “It will be in due time.”
Bailey indicated that another vote of no-confidence will most likely occur at the next Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 30. “The board is still a standstill.” Bailey said. “To me that’s unfinished business. There needs to be a vote of confidence or a vote of no confidence.” Beruff echoed the promise of another vote. “Leadership of the college needs to be completely addressed,” Beruff said. “It will be in due time.”