Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Carlton column: Anticorruption prosecutor for a Hillsborough scandal? Great idea

Robert “Bobby” O’Neill, former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, is helping Hillsborough sort out the scandal surrounding the Go Hillsborough transit plan. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2012)] 

Robert “Bobby” O’Neill, former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, is helping Hillsborough sort out the scandal surrounding the Go Hillsborough transit plan. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2012)] 

What will investigators looking at allegations of cozy relationships in the awarding of a fat Hillsborough County contract ultimately find? Were any actual crimes committed?

And what sort of person would have to be part of that investigation for everyone who's closely watching to trust the answers we expect any day now?

More on that mystery man in a minute in what's as close to a cliffhanger as local politics gets.

By now you know the scandal — or at least the allegations, depending on your perspective, and believe me, everyone involved in this has a perspective.

In the Go Hillsborough initiative to let voters decide on a sales tax for transportation — if county commissioners agree to put it on the November ballot — critics question whether savvy and connected public relations consultant Beth Leytham helped steer a $1.35 million contract to an engineering firm that was her client. That firm then hired her as a subcontractor for a public outreach campaign.

What an insinuation to drop into the laps of vocal antitax and anti-Go Hillsborough activists, even if it has not a whit to do with the actual need to improve roads and transit around here. Nothing distracts like the possibility of scandal.

Even when the county administrator brought in no less than Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee to investigate and determine if there was wrongdoing here, critics sniffed that the well-regarded sheriff was not independent enough, that he was too tied to the county.

So. Who might they want to see in this investigative mix?

Someone with experience as a federal anticorruption prosecutor weighing in, maybe? A former U.S. attorney, perhaps?

Done, as it turns out.

Bobby O'Neill, once the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, was brought in by the Sheriff's Office as a consultant in its investigation — a smart move in a case that involves both public trust and actual fact.

Think: former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, who went to prison for taking a bribe. Or Audley Evans, accused of misappropriating Tampa Housing Authority funds. Or Steve and Lynne LaBrake, who went to prison in a city housing department scandal.

O'Neill prosecuted them, and he also ran a 35-county district before he left two years ago to work for a risk-management company run by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

The Sheriff's Office also brought in an independent auditor from a CPA firm on the Go Hillsborough matter.

"We had various independent reviews that took place aside from HCSO personnel," says sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.

What sounds like an exhaustive investigation — if you ask people interviewed in it — is now in the hands of the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office pending its review. Barring further investigation or glitches, it could be released within a few weeks.

We'll have to see what it says about what did and did not happen regarding Go Hillsborough, if politicians blurred lines and if lobbying rules are woefully lax. (Actually, commissioners addressed that one in their recent scramble to put some bite to those rules.)

But already, investigators deserve some credit for moves that could go a long way toward shoring up public trust and moving ahead to what's next.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

Carlton column: Anticorruption prosecutor for a Hillsborough scandal? Great idea 02/02/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2016 8:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Woman dead in St. Petersburg shooting

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Woman fatally shot Saturday night

    A 31-year-old woman was shot and killed Saturday night, police said.

  2. Jones: Rather than criticizing anthem protests, we should be asking about the reasons for them

    Bucs

    MINNEAPOLIS — They are football players. They are teammates. They are Tampa Bay Bucs.

    Bucs wide receivers Mike Evans (13) and DeSean Jackson (11) kneel during the national anthem. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Here kitty, kitty ...

    Blogs

    In a toned down version of the annual rookie dress-up day based on MLB's new anti-hazing policy, Rays rookie players and staff - plus second-year LHP Blake Snell - donned DJ Kitty onesies for the trip to New York.

    Rays rookie players and staff - joined here by Alex Colome - sporting their DJ Kitty onesies before the flight to New York.
  4. Pasco residents affected by Irma invited to town hall meeting

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Representatives from Pasco County Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will play host to a town hall-style meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in the first-floor boardroom of the West Pasco Government Center, 8731 Citizens Drive, New Port Richey

    Sandra Cunningham assesses the damage a water oak did to her Church Avenue home when it crashed into her bedroom roof during Hurricane Irma.
  5. Lightning's Nikita Kucherov has a lot to say — about moving on to a much better season

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Nikita Kucherov sits back in his stall and smiles.

    Laughs a little, too.

    Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) prepares for a faceoff during the first period of Friday's  (9/22/17) preseason game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.