New report details complaints about DeSantis’ ‘tyrant’ of a former housing director

Before Gov. Ron DeSantis chose him to be Florida’s affordable housing director, Mike DiNapoli oversaw a $700 million pandemic housing fund at the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

But he was so hostile and condescending to the contractors managing the program that he was banned from contacting some of them, according to an inspector general’s report focused on DiNapoli’s time at the Florida Housing Finance Corp. The investigation was quietly posted on the corporation’s website recently and has not previously been reported.

DiNapoli’s history at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, now known as the Department of Commerce, predated the turmoil and abuse employees said they experienced during DiNapoli’s nine months overseeing the housing corporation. DiNapoli resigned last month, a day before the organization’s board of directors was set to meet to discuss his employment.

The inspector general’s report concluded that DiNapoli created a hostile work environment and violated multiple corporation policies at the housing corporation. Employees described an unprofessional boss who would explode in anger over previously routine activities. He repeatedly threatened to fire people, and two employees told investigators that his behavior affected their mental health.

“I don’t want to give my talent to this tyrant,” the corporation’s data management director told the inspector general, according to the report.

The saga over DiNapoli’s hiring set up an unusual public clash between DeSantis and the corporation’s board of directors, most of whom are appointed by DeSantis but who lead an entity that is supposed to be independent from his administration. The corporation is effectively a state-created bank that manages billions in bonds and affordable housing dollars.

In July, the board placed DiNapoli on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the inspector general investigation. In August, DeSantis reinstated him, with a spokesperson saying the investigation “found nothing to justify the placement of Mr. DiNapoli on administrative leave.”

After Inspector General Chris Hirst released his findings to the board, the board placed him on leave a second time. DeSantis’ press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, then blasted the board as members of the “deep state” who lacked the “ability to sort fact from fiction.”

New Details

Hirst’s report provides details about the allegations against DiNapoli.

DiNapoli was a longtime financial adviser in New York City until 2015, when he lost his job with the financial services firm UBS. Weeks later, a woman claiming that DiNapoli was her brother filed a complaint alleging he stole money from her account and forged her name on a check.

He then fell into a series of financial hardships. His Ocala home went into foreclosure, creditors garnished his bank accounts and he filed for bankruptcy.

DiNapoli then took a mid-level job at the Department of Economic Opportunity and was promoted to oversee Florida’s Homeowner Assistance Fund, a federal program to help people afford their homes during the pandemic.

Florida hired the contractor Horne to administer the program. Hirst interviewed two former Horne employees, both women, who said they quit the company because DiNapoli was unprofessional, condescending and made one of them feel uncomfortable.

DiNapoli was “banned” from contacting some members of the Horne team, a fact that DiNapoli “had to be constantly reminded” about, one of them told Hirst, according to the report.

That employee also reached out to a partner at Horne, who “traveled to Tallahassee to have a meeting with unknown DEO management,” Hirst’s report states.

DiNapoli told Hirst that he did not hear of the complaints and was never talked to about his behavior. DiNapoli said an information technology employee at the Department of Economic Opportunity filed a complaint about a comment DiNapoli made, but he apologized, according to the report.

In February, DeSantis appointed him to lead the housing corporation.

Hirst interviewed 17 current and former employees, including numerous top managers, with more than 183 combined years of experience with the corporation. All of them said they had either been on the receiving end of unprofessional behavior or witnessed it.

Several described a desire by DiNapoli to control information sent to people outside the corporation. He adopted a change to slow down the release of public records and didn’t want information in writing, one of the corporation’s general counsels said.

Two people said he threatened to fire them — one after she communicated with board members, and another after she sent a routine email to outside stakeholders.

DiNapoli also made comments to employees that some found offensive, including comments about weight. One person reported that DiNapoli said his wife quit her job because she “got hurt lifting f**king 400-pound fat people off the toilet,” according to the report. The report does not say what DiNapoli’s wife’s job was.

DiNapoli told the inspector general that he didn’t recall making that exact statement, but did remember “stating his wife gets hurt from picking people up and pushing them around on wheelchairs.”

The corporation’s chief financial officer told Hirst that DiNapoli also compared “managing staff to training a horse, by convincing or tricking people into doing something without them knowing they are doing it.”

In his resignation letter, DiNapoli blasted the “vicious attacks” by board members and “career bureaucrats that have been in control of the organization for many years.”

“Given the timing and the groundless accusations of the investigation, I believe it is part of a desperate and coordinated attack to discontinue my reform efforts,” DiNapoli wrote. “This level of corruption should not be tolerated.”

Three people who were interviewed for the investigation said they hadn’t seen DiNapoli be abusive, although one said the corporation purchased white noise machines for DiNapoli’s office “because he could be heard down the hallways.”

All three were hired during DiNapoli’s tenure, including Amanda Prater, who has since left and is now chief of staff at DeSantis’ Department of Education, according to her LinkedIn page.