A year after authorities began questioning a county employee's close ties to private contractors, prosecutors have formally closed the investigation without filing criminal charges.
Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson said the actions of Bill Busch, the county's pavement management coordinator, did not meet the statutory obligations necessary to file charges.
He said the laws in this area are unclear.
"Every door that is open to use is closed," said Simpson, the chief prosecutor in the public integrity division. "It's probably more of an issue that is a sense of impropriety."
It represents a significant shift from six months ago when the St. Petersburg Times revealed the investigation. At that time, detectives at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office strongly believed they had enough evidence to make an arrest.
Investigators began looking at Busch in February 2007 after county officials learned he worked for a private pavement contractor, KMS and Associates Inc., while working part time for the county's Public Works Department. The Times obtained records indicating that before Busch retired in January 2007, he negotiated his KMS job using his county e-mail account. Meeting minutes also showed Busch strongly advocated for KMS-affiliated products while working for the county.
The relationship led to Busch's firing and the reprimand of Public Works director Charles Mixson.
It also highlighted deficient county policies for dealing with potential conflicts of interest and prompted county officials not to renew contracts with KMS, an Ohio-based paving company.
In a November interview, Busch broke his silence and rebuffed any suggestion of impropriety. He also said his bosses, Mixson and Assistant County Engineer Gregg Sutton, misled the public when they said they knew nothing of his dual arrangement, as they initially said when the investigation came to light.
Reached at home Friday, Busch maintained, as he has from the start, that his relationship with KMS was not a conflict of interest and he "didn't do anything wrong."
He didn't linger on the fact investigators tarnished his name. "I'm more thankful," he said, "that it's all over and that the truth has come out."
Busch said the investigation was based on a competing contractor's sour grapes and an internal county power struggle.
"I was the victim of some department head backstabbing," he said.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.