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Riviera Beach council member among people questioned by FBI about charity

Friends of The Riviera Beach Schools previously had nonprofit status revoked
Posted at 2:42 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 18:33:06-04

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — The FBI is in Riviera Beach asking questions about a charity co-founded by a city council member.

Riviera Beach City Council member Julia Botel confirmed she spoke with the FBI about the Friends of The Riviera Beach Schools (FORBS) charity she co-founded in 2018.  

"I'm not worried at all because when you have a clean slate. When you've got a clean spirit, you do things for the right reasons, you sleep well at night," Botel said.  

The charity said it helps underprivileged kids who do good deeds in Riviera Beach. The group's volunteers handed out Christmas gifts to students who took part in a 2019 essay contest.

Riviera Beach City Council member Julia Botel
Riviera Beach City Council member Julia Botel explains why she is confident that her charity was not involved in any wrongdoing.

The IRS recognized the charity as a tax-exempt organization in January 2019.  

At that time, the Florida Commission on Ethics investigated that Botel listed the charity's address as 600 West Blue Heron Blvd., which is the same address as Riviera Beach City Hall.  

Botel said the city attorney told her that was OK to do.

Contact 5 Reporter Dave Bohman asked her if she received bad legal advice.

"No, no. Who knew that this was going to become something that my enemies would try to use against me?" Botel replied. "And this is all because when you get to be a public figure, you make enemies."  

But the state ethics commission found Botel violated ethics rules.

She was cited for using her address at City Hall, her public office Facebook page and her official email to solicit donations for the charity.  

Friends of Riviera Beach Schools
Friends of Riviera Beach Schools had its nonprofit status revoked in 2021.

Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly censured and reprimanded Botel in January 2021.  

The charity's nonprofit status was revoked four months later, according to IRS records. 

Small charities are required to file a financial statement with the IRS every three years.

Contact 5 looked on the IRS's home page to see the financial records of FORBS, however, no statements were filed.  

The president of the charity, Marybeth Coffer, resigned in December. 

Coffer told Contact 5 that an FBI agent interviewed her for 3 1/2 hours in February, asking about the charity and donors.  

Coffer would not talk on camera but said the IRS revoked the charity's nonprofit status.

FORBS co-founder J.B. Dixson
FORBS co-founder J.B. Dixson says she has not been contacted by the FBI.

She claims it was a paperwork mistake and sent in an amended report, but the IRS's web page still lists FORBS' tax-exempt status as "revoked." 

"Our books are very simple: Money comes in. Money goes out. There's nothing to look at," said FORBS co-founder J.B. Dixson.  

Dixson said she and the three current board members of the charity have not been contacted by the FBI.  

"We know nothing about this investigation," Dixson said. "We really haven't been asked anything."  

"Historically, Riviera Beach has had its problems with respect to public corruption," said former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan.  

He said the FBI is likely looking at the charity to see if any current or former members or donors of FORBS are involved in wrongdoing.  

"Even though we started out with just an ethics violation," Kaplan said. "Things must have come to light, that made it apparent that the FBI wanted to dive into this a little more deeper."  

The FBI would not comment on the situation.  

Botel does not believe she is the target of an investigation and said she initiated a meeting with the FBI after learning the agency was asking about FORBS. 

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