Feds Eyeing Public Corruption Throughout Florida

 

Seventh Avenue, Ybor City

 

By Jim Bleyer

The guilty pleas entered last week by former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox and a confidante is not the end of public corruption investigations in Florida.

That’s the word from Lawrence Keefe, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, and sources at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith have agreed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities about other possible misdeeds in Tallahassee and Leon County.

A sentencing date for the pair has been set for Nov. 19.  They could receive up to 25 years in prison on fraud and income tax charges for their role in helping ride share giant Uber get a favorable ordinance in exchange for cash and accepting payments from a developer that turned out to be an FBI front company.

But Keefe declared the Maddox investigation should put all Florida public officials on notice.

“A public office is a sacred trust,” Keefe told the Tallahassee Democrat in the wake of the Maddox and Carter-Smith plea deals.

The FBI never discusses its ongoing investigations but the agency should look at Hillsborough County if it isn’t already.   

In his 2018 re-election campaign, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan solicited and accepted donations from real estate interests that stand to benefit from construction of a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City.

St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, considered antiquated by 2019 standards, has been the home of the Rays since they first took the field in 1998.  Despite recent success,  attendance has perennially stood at or near the bottom of the 30 major league baseball teams.

 

 

Hagan persists in promoting Rays stadium in Ybor City.

Owner Stuart Sternberg has maintained that a new stadium will solve the team’s attendance woes and found a ready and more-then-willing ally in Hagan.  Talks between the Rays, Hillsborough County, and the City of Tampa  struck out last year when it was determined no public funding existed to finance a $850 million stadium in Ybor, even with Sternberg willing to chip in $200 million.

Ybor City as the site for a new Rays home has always been puzzling. Low and middle income families would be displaced.  One of the country’s iconic historic districts would be destroyed. And the rationale for any projected attendance increase never has been documented.

But Darryl Shaw, who acquired thousands of acres around Ybor, and Jeff Vinik, whose Water Street Tampa project is in nearby Channelside, would reap benefits from the increased traffic generated by a new ballpark.

Sternberg’s latest canard—sharing the franchise with the city of Montreal—has not being taken seriously by most observers.  St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman did not disguise his disdain for the scheme.  His initial response:

“The Rays cannot explore playing any Major League Baseball games in Montreal or anywhere else for that matter prior to 2028, without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding with the City of St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said. “Ultimately, such a decision is up to me. And I have no intention of bringing this latest idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly.”

The City of St. Petersburg continues to investigate whether or not Sternberg violated the terms of his lease agreement which decrees he must get permission to discuss relocation with representatives of other geographical entities.

As for Hagan, he continues to promote Ybor City for a Rays Stadium, despite  the fanciful prospect of sharing a split season with Montreal.  Hagan and Sternberg, at least publicly, are a minority of two in that respect.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the Maddox plea deal, federal law enforcement authorities have put Florida politicians on notice that violations of that “sacred trust” will be prosecuted.

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