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Embattled Lakeland contractor pulls out of Hillsborough ethanol project

GIBSONTON — Just like that, he was gone.

John Jones — the Lakeland contractor who racked up a lengthy record of complaints from customers, who was arrested on felony theft charges related to his work and who then brought a plan to build a massive ethanol plant to Hillsborough County — has withdrawn his application for the project permits.

Jones didn't offer a reason for pulling out, said Jason Waters, who handles permits for the county's Environmental Protection Commission. Jones' one-paragraph letter, which the commission received Thursday, only asks for a refund of the fees he paid and thanks the department for its efforts.

County Commissioner Sandy Murman sent out a letter soon after to constituents who had asked to be updated on the plan, saying: "We are pleased to announce that the ethanol plant has withdrawn its application for a permit for the facility in South County. I know you will be pleased with this announcement and congratulate all of you for your advocacy for your community."

It was not clear as to what advocacy Murman was referring. She did not return phone calls Friday afternoon.

The ethanol plant, dubbed Sunshine Way, was supposed to be one of the biggest in the country, churning out 200 million gallons of fuel each year and creating at least 400 jobs. In an April interview with the Times, Jones said private investors would pick up the $325 million tab. He declined to name those backers.

As Jones and his partners shared the vision with Hillsborough County, trouble simmered for him in Polk County.

In February, sheriff's deputies led Jones away in handcuffs from a Polk County contractors licensing board meeting. He's accused of bilking subcontractors and citizens out of more than $100,000 and contracting without a license for about a year.

Out on bail, Jones is still awaiting trial on those charges and scheduled to be in court in early July to issue a plea, said the Polk County State Attorney's Office.

He could not be reached for comment Friday.

Jones' business partner, Carlos Macho, did not return a call for comment.

Todd Pressman, a local consultant who at one point served as Jones' spokesman on the ethanol project, said he hadn't heard from Jones in months.

"I haven't talked to him, haven't worked for him, and I'm not going to be working for him," Pressman said.

He said Jones never paid him for his services.

Reach Kim Wilmath at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Embattled Lakeland contractor pulls out of Hillsborough ethanol project 06/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 27, 2011 11:18am]
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