By: Howard Altman
Army Brig. Gen. Michael Canzoneri has stepped down as the assistant adjutant general of the Florida National Guard in the wake of an investigation into allegations he covered up sexual misconduct. (Florida National Guard)
The embattled assistant adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, under investigation for allegations he covered up sexual misconduct in the ranks, announced Tuesday he was stepping down.
In a statement to Military Times, Brig. Gen. Michael Canzoneri maintained his innocence, but that he was stepping down to avoid distractions.
“I maintain my innocence in the allegations,” he said. “However, the investigation is a distraction to the force, our soldiers have a mission. So in order to support our soldiers, I have chosen to step down.”
Canzoneri, a 37-year veteran who was promoted to brigadier general in December, 2016, will be on administrative leave until May 31 before entering the retired reserve, according to the guard.
In March, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Guard — about 12,000 soldiers and airmen who deploy to combat zones and help at home in natural disasters — was facing ongoing investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and coverups that date back a decade.
Maj. Caitlin Brown, a Florida National Guard spokeswoman, told Military Times that while none of the allegations against Canzoneri have yet been substantiated, there is an ongoing investigation into him by Department of the Army’s Office of the Inspector General.
Some of the allegations against Canzoneri were detailed out in an email to a state lawmaker from south Florida written by Maj. Elliot Potter, a Tampa-based officer in the Florida National Guard’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Potter researched the allegations and forwarded them to his superiors. A copy of his email was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
According to Potter, Canzoneri and another officer “have actively concealed evidence of sexual misconduct and other violence committed against soldiers of the Florida National Guard.”
Potter sent his email to state Sen. Lauren Book, who told Gov. Ron DeSantis in a Jan. 16 letter that she was “inclined to believe” Potter. Investigations are underway at both the state and federal level, Book spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren told the Tampa Bay Times in March.
In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, outgoing commander Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, 65, declined to comment on specifics of any investigation but said, “We are deeply troubled by these allegations.”
The Tampa Bay Times reported that among the people whose complaints fueled the investigations is Shira Callahan, a 46-year-old former civilian contractor for the Guard who has filed sworn statements with the Guard’s Inspector General’s Office. Callahan alleges a pattern of sexual misconduct and other wrongdoing by Guard soldiers and leaders.
She said in an October 2017 sworn statement that Canzoneri, 56, came up to her during a break in a 2011 conference and “slowly ran his hand from one side of my bare shoulder to the other.”
She also said Canzoneri made sexual gestures to a female bartender during the same conference and ended a two-year affair he had with a female soldier. He then transferred the soldier after she refused to have sex with his friends.
Callahan also accused Canzoneri of covering up for another officer she named in her complaints — Lt. Col. Scott L. Taylor.
As a result of Callahan’s allegations, Taylor was found to have “created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” for her, according to a September 2017 letter from Army Col. Leslie F. Caballero, inspector general with the Florida National Guard.
Caballero called it “conduct that brings discredit to the Florida National Guard.”
Those findings, signed off on by Calhoun, also included recommendations for changes in policies. They include ensuring that everyone considered for key positions is thoroughly screened and that personnel pass along information to commanders about “problem soldiers.”
The investigation into Taylor is ongoing, Brown told Military Times.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Taylor vociferously denied allegations against him.
In early April, DeSantis named Air Force Maj. Gen. James Eifert to replace Calhoun, who was scheduled to retire before the Tampa Bay Times broke the news about the investigations.
At a press conference, DeSantis, a former attorney with the Navy Judge Advocate General, said Eifert is the right choice to deal with the investigation.
“I don’t have any basis to know how that investigation will shake out,” said DeSantis. “But I can tell you that if there are merits to the allegations, this is a guy that’s going to clean it up. This is not something that would be acceptable under his leadership.”
Eifert has yet to name Canzoneri’s replacement, said Will Manley, a Florida National Guard spokesman, adding that Eifert will serve as the guard’s Army commander as well in the interim.