Police officer found dead in car with children

Building Department Official In Florida Arrested For Pay-To-Play Scheme

Ellie Dowling Parrish, 73, of Altha, a former Building Department official in Calhoun County, turned himself in late last week pursuant to an FDLE warrant for engaging in a pay-to-play scheme with building contractors during post-Hurricane Michael recovery efforts.

He has been charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud, 32 counts of official misconduct, and nine counts of extortion by officers of the state.

The investigation began in January when FDLE agents met with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to discuss information about a possible fraudulent scheme to license contractors.

The investigation found that applicants seeking registered contracting licenses were given competency cards and/or occupational licenses in Calhoun County based on fictitious examination scores and other related false information.

Parrish charged at least nine applicants “testing fees” for illegal examinations and collected at least $4,650 from those applicants. The “tests” were used to obtain an occupational license and/or registered contracting license.

Parrish provided fictitious official documents to at least 32 applicants for occupational licenses and competency cards, which the candidates then used to obtain employment or a registered contractor’s license. In addition, he collected fees greater than the amount he was entitled to charge for his own personal benefit. 

In 2019, of the 534 licenses issued statewide, 142, or 25 percent, were issued from the Calhoun County Building Department. DBPR officials are working to address the issue of individuals who obtained contractor licenses as a result of this scheme.

“This investigation revealed Parrish violated his position of trust as a county building official by victimizing some contactors and many citizens who were already struggling to recover from Hurricane Michael,” said Chris Williams, FDLE Pensacola Special Agent in Charge. “We appreciate DBPR alerting us to this case and their partnership in investigating Parrish’s actions.”

“Floridians deserve to have confidence and trust that a contractor license represents a valid measure of qualifications and competency to perform the repairs needed on their homes, especially in the aftermath of a devastating storm,” said DBPR Secretary Julie I. Brown. “I am proud of our investigators for taking action quickly to involve our law enforcement partners, and I appreciate the efforts FDLE has invested in pursuing this case to ensure accountability on these matters of public trust. We will continue to expend any resource needed to deter fraud that undermines the integrity of Florida’s licensing system and the welfare of Floridians who rely on the enforcement of its standards.”

Parrish turned himself in to the Calhoun County Jail last night. The Office of the State Attorney, 14th Judicial Circuit will prosecute this case. 

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