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Analyst who blew whistle is fired, jailed

David Yurus, who complained about state Treasurer Bill Nelson's handling of investments, is called a "political prisoner.''

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- A former state analyst who complained that employee savings were being invested in all the wrong places says he was fired, committed to a mental institution and arrested after he complained about the way Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson was handling the money.

David R. Yurus, 35, "is a political prisoner of the Department of Insurance," his lawyer Steve Andrews said during a two-hour bail hearing Wednesday.

Yurus was held for 72 hours under the state's Baker Act after an attorney who works for Nelson told Capitol police that Yurus had threatened suicide. Mental health officials declared him stable last week and released him, but he was then arrested on charges of threatening a public official and making harassing telephone calls five months ago.

Yurus then spent five days in the Leon County Jail, held on the criminal charges in lieu of $500,000 bail. He was ordered released Wednesday by Circuit Judge George S. Reynolds III after the judge heard from Yurus, police and Yurus' former co-workers at the Department of Insurance.

Yurus has never been arrested or previously treated for a mental illness. In December, agents for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated his background after getting a complaint from Nelson's office, but assessed him a "low threat risk."

However, FDLE profiler Dale Hinman testified Wednesday that she took a second look at him after hearing he had threatened suicide last week and determined there was a safety issue.

The criminal charges stem from his firing in October.

Kandi Hicks Winters, the supervisor who fired Yurus, said he threatened "to get me and get my children" on the day he was fired, but has never contacted her again. But she was aware he had filed complaints and was repeatedly contacting others at the department.

Yurus, hobbled by leg irons and shackles during Wednesday's courtroom hearing, denied threatening suicide.

He said his trip to a mental hospital and his subsequent arrest unfolded a few hours after he told Phil Payne, an attorney at the state agency where he used to work, that he had talked to state Comptroller Bob Milligan about the failure of Nelson's office to properly invest the money. At issue is $1.2-billion deposited by 61,000 state employees who participate in the deferred compensation savings program.

Yurus said that 31 of the 123 funds available to state employees did not meet basic performance standards and should have been eliminated from the investment mix.

Yurus said he has called Payne and others at the state agency several times a week since he was fired in October. He was trying to regain his job and prompt an investigation of the way funds were being managed.

Payne, called as a witness by prosecutors, said he did not recall hearing Yurus mention Milligan's name during the telephone call, but insisted that Yurus threatened to kill himself.

"I'm a little frustrated with the process," Yurus testified. "It was taking a long time, but they were letting 61,000 state employees invest some of their money in funds where they shouldn't be invested."

Yurus said he "dressed up in a suit" and tried to take his complaint to Nelson in person, but was never allowed to speak to him. Instead his calls were directed to Payne.

Milligan, who serves as the guardian of the state's treasury, was not in court, but he told the Times that he has talked to Yurus and has ordered an investigation by his own staff.

Milligan said he was disturbed that no one at the State Board of Administration ever gave copies of the report to his staff or Gov. Jeb Bush. The board reviewed Yurus' original complaint and found no "criminal wrongdoing" at the Department of Insurance.

"I have an interest in making sure that we are providing individuals with the best investment opportunities we have," Milligan said. "They should not be investing in opportunities that are doomed to failure."

A spokesman for Nelson said Yurus, hired in April 1999, was fired in October while still on probation because he was not adequately performing his duties and not because of any complaint he made about the way the department was making investments.

Don Pride, communications director for Nelson, said Yurus' October 1999 report was taken seriously and referred to the State Division of Administration for an investigation. The investigation found no criminal wrongdoing in Nelson's office.

Yurus said he determined that some of the low-performing funds where state employee money was invested had made campaign contributions to Nelson.

Pride said he was unaware of any contributions and denied any connection between contributions and any of the department's investments.

"Nelson wasn't even aware of this situation until the last few days," Pride added.

In court, Assistant State Attorney Lee Jantzen didn't try to defend the $500,000 bail set for Yurus but did ask the court to keep him away from his former co-workers.

"So many times we read about former employees getting violent," Jantzen said.

Andrews, Yurus' attorney, questioned the long lapse of time between the October threats and the mid-March arrest, suggesting that Yurus was pursued by police only after he threatened to go to Milligan with his complaints.

"He's a political prisoner," Andrews said. "It's sad. This kid is scarred for life now and poor hard-working state employees were investing in funds that are in the bottom 5 percent. That's a breach of fiduciary duty."

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