Cape Coral city manager, former police chief accused of wrongdoings

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Cape Coral City Hall. Credit: WINK News.

We continue to look into the investigations at the City of Cape Coral. We obtained a letter written to the mayor of the city by an important employee inside the city’s finance department that targets the city manager.

Th letter contains allegations of corruption, dishonesty, mismanagement and neglect. All of this was directed at City Manager John Szerlag and Jay Murphy, the former Cape Coral police chief.

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello confirmed with us a letter from Victoria Bateman, the city’s financial director, sparked his call for an investigation into Szerlag and Murphy. Cape Coral City Council approved the investigation after a meeting Thursday afternoon.

In her letter Bateman, who is now on administrative leave, alleges Szerlag and Murphy pressured her for more than a year to agree to various plans that she claims violate city policies and wasted public money.

“Without a doubt, she’s a whistle-blower,” said attorney Benjamin Yormak, Bateman’s lawyer.

Bateman’s lawyer told us exclusively, because his client refused, Szerlag and Murphy retaliated against her.

“She’s brought these issues to light. After doing all those things, then, she’s put on administrative leave,” Yormark said. “We don’t believe that’s coincidental and certainly would explore any and all legal options available to her if the city ultimately decides to terminate her employment.”

Bateman, who before coming to cape coral says she worked for four presidents, also claims Szerlag refused to allow her to take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) after doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer.

“It scares all of us to get any kind of diagnosis like that,” Yormark said. “And to then have your boss essentially say, ‘I’m not approving your leave,’ is mind blowing.”

During Thursday’s meeting, the city revealed a payroll clerk failed to properly pay withholding taxes to the IRS, putting the city on the hook for more than $400,000 in penalties and interest.

A spokesperson told us, due to the confidential nature of Thursday’s meeting, no one on staff is able to talk about the investigation.

City council is back in its chamber for the regular meeeting.

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