State strikes bargain with butterfly advocate

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Nancy Ambrose was recognized in 2013 by Lauren Dorsett of ABC 7-TV at the Sarasota station’s awards for local volunteers. Islander File Photo

Fraud charges against a perennial Anna Maria Island volunteer will be dismissed if the subject completes a pretrial-diversion contract signed Jan. 3 with the 12th Circuit State Attorney.

Nancy Ambrose, 59, of Bradenton and formerly of Holmes Beach, turned herself into authorities in May 2017 after being advised of a warrant for her arrest.

Several months later, the state charged two felony counts: Failing to register as a charity and unlawful charitable solicitation.

The charges stem from complaints to city officials in 2014 and 2015 and a Holmes Beach police investigation into Ambrose’s activities for the North American Butterfly Association beginning in October 2014.

HBPD’s investigation concluded Ambrose failed to maintain the Anna Maria Island Butterfly Park adjacent to city hall pursuant to a 2008 city contract, hadn’t been authorized to operate the local NABA chapter after 2011 and failed to deliver memorial bricks ordered for placement in the park.

Ambrose’s plea includes a 12-month, court-supervised deal with monetary obligations, requiring her to forfeit and permanently close a NABA bank account she opened Aug. 8, 2007.

Ambrose was the sole signatory on the SunTrust account, which was allegedly used for some personal expenses.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Van Sickle wrote in a Jan. 10 email that the account closed Dec. 11, 2017.

Before closing the account, Ambrose was required to send certified checks for $17,017.88 to Holmes Beach to restore the park and the remaining $28,725.43 of the $45,743.31 balance to NABA, according to Van Sickle.

Van Sickle confirmed Jan. 10 both payments were made.

Payment of funding for personal items from the account was not required.

The city took over the garden in February 2016 and “completely renovated it with new shrubs, planting and pavers,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said, adding the park, now called the Memorial Garden, is being “very well maintained” by the city.

Holmes Beach Parks and Beautification Committee member Dennis Groh said the committee, with Mayor Bob Johnson, redesigned the park. Public works removed old plants and installed sod, native and Florida-friendly plants, benches with pads, a fountain and irrigation lines.

Tokajer said Jan. 11 two boxes containing about 10 bricks ordered by Ambrose were delivered during the investigation — and, according to the pretrial diversion contract, Ambrose was required to pay $1,000 to Holmes Beach to install the bricks.

And that’s been received, according to the chief.

The brick installation will probably be up to the parks and beautification committee and public works, Tokajer added.

Ambrose and Connie Hodsdon of Bradenton started the butterfly park in 1999 on city property on the south side of city hall. Fundraising for the park included the sale of $50-60 engraved bricks.

Ambrose also maintained an ongoing fundraising project to build a gazebo at the park.

Part of the diversion contract also requires Ambrose to pay $200 to the HBPD and $100 to the state attorney as well as $30 a month for probation and $2 monthly correction training costs.

Other terms of the contact require Ambrose not to act as a fiduciary for any charity, to step down from any board or charity advisory position and take an eight-hour seminar on fundraising, or regulatory compliance, for a 501(c)(3) charity.

According to HBPD’s investigation, Ambrose allegedly failed to register as a charity while soliciting funds.

The investigation also revealed Ambrose allegedly organized fundraising events each year for NABA and other charities, including craft shows at the city field in Holmes Beach city field and at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, sometimes with an event company that required nonprofit beneficiaries for events on public property.

The principal of the event company told police the company would not have given money to Ambrose had it known it was not a legitimate nonprofit.

Ambrose also has contracted with Manatee County for ongoing markets at Coquina Beach, where she solicited donations. The use of the county-run park requires a charity organization be a beneficiary of the event.

County parks and natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker did not return Jan. 11-12 emails requesting the status of the contracts.

Ambrose is widely known for volunteering on Anna Maria Island, including for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, Island Players and the Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra and the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

She was an employee of The Islander newspaper in sales and as a community ambassador, sometimes part-time 2003-08,  according to publisher Bonner Joy.

Her pretrial agreement may end after six months if all conditions are met.

“I have nothing to say,” Ambrose said when asked about the plea agreement.

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