Former Miami-School Board Member Lubby Navarro in still images from Walmart survelliance cameras. Prosecutors alleged Navarro fraudulently charged the school district $100,000 for personal items, trips and appliances. Her attorney has denied the allegations. (Photo/Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office)
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Only a month before stepping down as a Miami-Dade County school board member in late 2022, Lubby Navarro went on a major shopping spree — for herself and her then-boyfriend — spending $13,000 and billing taxpayers, officials said Thursday.

Over the course of her last year in office alone, the right-wing firebrand allegedly wracked up more than $100,000 in charges to school district-issued credit cards to pay for her own personal expenses.

She ran up bills for clothes, home appliances and beauty products, as well as trips to the Dominican Republic, Las Vegas and Disney World, according the investigation led by the office of Miami-Dade Inspector General Felix Jimenez and the office of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

The former Miami-Dade school board vice chair has been criminally charged on four counts of organized fraud and grand theft and faces the potential of five decades behind bars.

In her time in office, Navarro had been known as one of the board’s most outspoken conservative voices. Despite her work in the healthcare system, Navarro was the only MDCPS board member to vote against mandating masks in August of 2021.

According the investigation, Navarro allegedly wracked up the more than $100,000 charges between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2022 and she went undetected by “doctoring” receipts, whiting-out her name and explaining away the purchases to district staff.

“Every dollar stolen and spent by Ms. Navarro is a dollar taken from our school system, and therefore stolen from our children — and diminishing their possibility of a better future,” Fernandez Rundle said.

According to investigators, Navarro used her school district purchase cards — or “p-cards” — to rack up more than $92,000 in charges at retailers including Amazon, TJ Maxx, Home Depot and The Container Store. She also charged more than $9,000 to a travel p-card to pay for vacations for herself, her friends and family.

Navarro is maintaining her innocence, according to a statement issued on her behalf by attorney Benedict Kuehne, calling the prosecution “engineered” and a “brazen disregard for faireness and the Constitution.”

“Ms. Navarro fully intends to prevail in this case. This effort to ruin her well-deserved reputation as an honest, properly motivated community servant will be shown to be unjust. Ms. Navarro looks forward to her complete vindication and her resumption of working for the betterment of the community,” Kuehne’s statement reads in part.

Fernandez’s office released still images of Navarro from security cameras at Walmart with her shopping cart brimming with items. It also showed photos of some items, allegedly purchased fraudulenty, in Navarro’s home.

Miami-Dade County School Board Member Lubby Navarro when she was appointed co-chair of a national group that will oversee how Latinos are counted in the U.S. Census. She spoke during a panel discussion hosted by NALEO Educational Fund in Phoenix over the weekend. (Photo/NALEO)

Navarro got away with the alleged misuse of public funds, investigators say, right up until she resigned her seat on the board in December 2022. According to Jimenez, typically school board members are issued p-cards to purchase discretionary items for use within their district office and for school supplies to distribute to students in the district.

Board members are given “deference” in these purchases, Jimenez said, but they are required to do a “monthly reconciliation” with district staff. Previously, Navarro had explained away the expenses, investigators said, even removing her name from receipts to obscure their true nature.

According to investigators, after Navarro resigned, she wasn’t there to justify her monthly expenditures and it was then that the school district’s Chief of Staff and Chief Financial Officer determined the numbers weren’t adding up.

“With blatant disregard for public trust, Ms. Navarro siphoned away resources meant for the good of our children at a time when school funding is a challenge. It is important to note that it was the school administration that brought this matter to our attention. We have been working with them to determine why this happened and strengthening checks and balances to prevent it from happening again,” Jimenez said.

Audits will continue

The inspector general says the audits of school board members’ credit cards won’t end with Navarro.

“I have been advised that the district’s office of management and compliance audits has prioritized its scheduled audit of p-card usage within the district,” Jimenez said. “My office will be conducting a review of p-card usage by current and immediate past board members.”

A slide provided by the Miami-Dade State Attorney allegedly showing items purchased fraudently by former School Board Member Lubby Navarro. (Photo/Miami-Dade State Attorney)

Navarro was arrested early Thursday morning remained at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, facing a $3 million bond. Fernandez Rundle told reporters Thursday that as of now, Navarro could face between three and 55 years in prison. But she said more charges could be added, if investigators find additional evidence of improper purchases prior to 2022.

Navarro announced her resignation from her seat on the board overseeing the state’s largest school district on Dec. 30, 2022, one day before a new Florida law went into effect barring elected officials from also working as lobbyists.

Navarro is a registered lobbyist for the South Broward Hospital District. She previously worked as the executive director of intergovernmental affairs for MDCPS.

Navarro was first appointed to the board in 2015 by then-Gov. Rick Scott. She was elected to a full term in 2016 and again in 2020, and was chosen by her colleagues to be the board’s vice chair in 2022.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Navarro has lived in Miami for more than three decades, according to her campaign website, and has been “committed to serving our community” through public service for more than two decades.

Navarro prompted public outcry in April of 2022 when she suggested from the dais that the Christian God is the only God, during a lengthy discussion on whether the district should recognize a National Day of Prayer in schools.

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Kate Payne

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.

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Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.