MIAMI — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek is proud of his resume: state trooper, state legislator, member of Congress.
But there's one job always left out of stump speeches and campaign ads: his nine-year stint selling security contracts for Wackenhut Corp., which also employed his wife and mother as lobbyists.
The reason Meek would not highlight his ties to Wackenhut are obvious. The Palm Beach Gardens-based corporation was accused of overbilling Miami-Dade County for security at transit stations and agreed to a $7.5 million settlement earlier this year.
Meek's chief rival in the Democratic primary, Jeff Greene, has pointed to Meek's work for Wackenhut as a prime example of the "pay-to-play" culture in politics. Wackenhut's political arm gave Meek the maximum campaign donation allowed under the law — $5,000 for the primary and another $5,000 for the general election.
"It is time to send Meek and his lobbyist cronies a wakeup call that the hard-working people of Florida have had enough of their politics as usual," said Greene, a billionaire bankrolling his campaign without special interest money.
In a brief interview Monday after voting early in Miami, Meek denied that he had ever given Wackenhut, which contracts for prison services, preferential treatment. As a state senator in 2000, he voted against a bill largely favored by the prison industry that established guidelines for bringing out-of-state inmates into Florida.
"I've been against privatization of prisons," Meek said. "Wackenhut had no undue influence over me whatsoever."
Meek's mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, quietly withdrew as a lobbyist for Wackenhut in November, just four months after Miami-Dade County commissioners cleared her of any conflicts in her dual representation of the county and the security company. At the time, the county and Wackenhut were at loggerheads.
Miami-Dade claimed the company bilked taxpayers out of between $3.3 and $5.8 million by doctoring time sheets and leaving county transit stations unguarded. Wackenhut countered with a lawsuit seeking $20 million in damages.
The two sides reached a settlement in February, around the same time Carrie Meek stopped lobbying for the county and her son's Senate campaign was getting under way.
Under the deal, Wackenhut agreed to pay $3 million to the county and $4.5 million to a former Wackenhut employee and her lawyers who filed a whistle-blower suit alleging bogus billing practices. In return, Wackenhut got permission to compete for Miami-Dade government contracts again.
The dispute with the county emerged after Meek joined Wackenhut in 1994. He won a Florida House seat that year and remained with the company until he was elected to Congress in 2002. He earned as much as $68,500 per year with the security firm.
Meek's wife, Leslie, picked up the Wackenhut lobbying contract from 2004 to 2006. His mother, Carrie, registered to lobby for Wackenhut in 2007.
Meek's ties to Wackenhut and a Miami developer charged with fraud were cited by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which put him on a list of 12 "crooked candidates" in 2010. The three other major candidates for Florida's open Senate seat also made the list: Greene, Republican Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent.