Calhoun County building official charged with extortion, official misconduct in Hurricane Michael case

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UPDATE: CALHOUN COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – The former head of Calhoun County’s building services is facing more than 30 charges for allegedly running a pay-to-play scheme.

73-year-old Ellie Dowling Parrish is accused of giving contractors fake occupational licenses to work after Hurricane Michael.

He is now facing one count of organized scheme to defraud, nine counts of extortion, and 32 counts of official misconduct.

The investigation began in 2019 following the storm. 

Calhoun County officials received a public records request in January 2021 from the Florida Department of Building and Professional Regulations.

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County Attorney H. Matthew Fuqua said they wanted copies of licenses issued by Parrish and the building competency tests each of them supposedly passed.

“We didn’t have any test results,” Fuqua said. “There were a bunch of letters in our files that said this person made a 92 and a 97 on another section but no actual test.” 

According to the FDLE arrest affidavit, Parrish charged at least nine applicants a total of about $4.650 for so-called testing fees.

He’s also accused of providing fictional documents to at least 32 of the people who applied for occupational licenses and competency cards.  

In 2019, there were 534 licenses issued in the state of Florida. 142 or 25 percent of those were issued in Calhoun County. 

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“We did not know that that’s what Dowling was doing if that’s what he was doing,” Fuqua said. “We don’t have any test results and we basically told all the other counties that contacted us that we don’t have any test results.”

Officials say Parrish violated the trust of both the county and it’s residents who are still trying to rebuild from the monster storm. 

Parrish turned himself into the Calhoun County jail Thursday night. 

Our previous story:

CALHOUN COUNTY, Fla. – The former head of the Calhoun County building department is now facing more than 30 charges for allegedly running a “pay-to-play scheme,” with contractors after Hurricane Michael.

Ellie Dowling Parrish, 73, of Altha, is charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud, 32 counts of official misconduct and nine counts of extortion by officers of the state.

Ellie Dowling Parrish

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) found that contractors were given competency cards and/or occupational licenses in Calhoun County “based on fictitious examination scores and other related false information,” the FDLE said in a news release.

“Parrish charged at least nine applicants “testing fees” for illegal examinations and collected at least $4,650 from those applicants,” they added. “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.” 

The scheme was incredibly popular and in 2019, of the 534 licenses issued statewide, 142, or 25 percent, were issued from the Calhoun County Building Department, investigators said. Two of the contractors involved have previously been arrested.

“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.

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