Tampa councilman’s paycheck garnished for unpaid business debt

A court ruled that Tampa should hold 25% of Joseph Citro’s paycheck— which is funded by taxpayers—until the debt is paid back to a bank

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click to enlarge Councilchair Joe Citro at a Jan. 5 Tampa City Council meeting. - City of Tampa
City of Tampa
Councilchair Joe Citro at a Jan. 5 Tampa City Council meeting.

Court documents show that a bank is garnishing the wage of Tampa’s city council chairman for unpaid loans used for his personal business.

As of August 2022, Councilman Joe Citro owed $20,035 to Bank of America, Hillsborough County court documents show. The lawsuit says that Citro took out loans for his hairdresser business and didn’t pay them back.

A bank statement from 2018, which was included in the documents, shows that the bank was trying to collect the past owed debt from Citro before taking legal action. But when none of it was paid, the bank filed a lawsuit against him in 2019.

Now, the bank is garnishing his city councilman wage—which is paid for by Tampa taxpayers—and the City of Tampa is named as a garnishee in the case.

Citro, who is running for District 1 reelection in March, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay he would’ve paid the loans sooner and using the income from his personal business if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID hit me and my business very hard,” Citro said. “I had to shut down for months. And I did not get any relief from any type of state, federal, county or city programs. This is not something that I'm proud of, but it's something that I'm getting through.”

Citro said that he’s almost paid off his debt through his councilman paycheck and that he was going to call the collections company to see if he could pay off the rest of it today.

But after this story was published, the City of Tampa confirmed that only $11,325 has been garnished by his paycheck thus far.

But court documents show that as of last August, Citro had paid none of the sum that he owed. He said that since then, he’s paid off nearly all of the owed amount.

When asked if he thought if it was proper that his councilman wage should be used to pay off loans taken out for his private business, Citro said that he wasn’t the one who decided on that. He said that the plaintiff and the judge decided where the funds would be garnished from. CL has asked Lavin & Solis, PLLC, the firm representing Bank of America, to confirm this. CL also asked for confirmation on how much money Citro still owes.

Tampa's city attorney's office said that Citro didn't decide on where the garnished wages would come from. The legal team said it was the creditor, Bank of America, that chose to garnish his city wages.

"Neither Citro nor the city had any control over that," Tampa's Communications Director Adam Smith wrote in an email.

Last year, when city council voted on a potential pay raise for themselves, Citro argued against a raise and said, “Heck no!” during a vote on the issue. The motion failed.

Citro was appointed to council chair last year, after allegations from a former employee of councilman Orlando Gudes surfaced, and the position of chair was passed from Gudes to Citro. The lawsuit against Gudes was later dismissed in Hillsborough County court, but not before the City paid the former employee $200,000.

According to the city charter, if Mayor Jane Castor were ever unable to serve in her position, Citro, the council chair, would step in to fulfill mayoral duties.

So far, Citro has three opponents running against him for his council seat: Sonja P Brooking, Alan Clendenin and Chase Harrsion.

When asked for any other thoughts on his wages being garnished, Citro said that this kind of thing can happen to anyone.

“Nobody's life is perfect,” Citro said. “We're all human.”

UPDATE: Updated on 01/10/2023 with the exact amount that Citro has been garnished from Citro's paycheck so far via City of Tampa records.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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