Over a decade, a telecommunications company owned by state House candidate Yvonne Fry received more than $120,000 in public money working for government agencies in Hillsborough County — including about $30,000 from the office of her longtime romantic partner, former State Attorney Mark Ober.
Fry speaks openly on the campaign trail about her work for local governments, saying she gets satisfaction helping save taxpayers' money by revamping voice and data communications systems.
She dismisses any suggestion that she got taxpayer-funded work through her connection with Ober while he held elective office from 2001-2016.
In an interview, Fry said her company has worked for government agencies "all over the state," and that until it ended this year, the work made up 10 percent to 20 percent of business for her company, Lines of Communication.
Fry said the company was eligible to perform the work because it earned a spot on a list of state-certified vendors for phone and information technology services. Ober's office was not the first agency she worked for, she said.
But his office was among the first to hire her company in Hillsborough, where it eventually did work for county government, Plant City, the clerk of court, property appraiser, elections supervisor and public defender, agency documents show.
And the State Attorney's Office provided the company a strong recommendation to a state agency in 2012, according to the documents. What's more, the company's website includes praise for its work from Ober and another executive in his office, and a company bid to do government work lists the office as a reference.
Fry, who is divorced and has two children, said she and Ober have been a couple for about 10 years. She sometimes refers to him as "my better half."
But Ober had nothing to do with her contracts, she said.
"I never dealt with Mark on this," she said.
"The work was about results. We made our pitch on the merits, and every one of them has valid results."
Fry faces Lawrence McClure in a special Republican primary vote Tuesday to fill the District 58 House seat of Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City. The winner will be a favorite in the Dec. 19 general election.
Direct payments to the company from county agencies since 2011 total $125,000, according to records and officials' estimates.
Ober, a Republican, left the State Attorney's Office after losing his re-election bid to Democrat Andrew Warren in November. At about the same time, the state contract list expired, and Florida now uses a different process for choosing vendors.
Fry said her company hasn't done government work since then because the new procedure is difficult for a small contractor and she's busy with private sector work.
Ober said he never helped Fry obtain government contracts.
"Yvonne's work speaks for itself," he said in an email message to the Tampa Bay Times. "Her work with the State Attorney's Office was initiated and managed by my executive director. As I recall, she completed all contracted work and produced a cost savings for our office."
Fry's company also saved money for the Hillsborough Property Appraiser's Office — $15,000 to $16,000 a year on phone bills, said Warren Weathers, chief deputy. Ober wasn't a part of the hiring decision, Weathers said.
The company did about $23,000 to $24,000 worth of work for the office in 2013, soon after Democrat Bob Henriquez took over as property appraiser, Weathers said.
"You get pitched by a lot of vendors, and I was pretty skeptical, but it worked," he said. "It was an overall good experience."
Invoices provided by the Clerk of Court's office, which serves as comptroller for local government agencies, show the State Attorney's Office under Ober paid Lines of Communication $31,205 from 2011 through 2016 for an audit and to manage systems.
Other records suggest the office worked with the company several years earlier, too.
In 2012, W.E. Donahoe, then executive director of the State Attorney's Office, wrote a recommendation for the company to the state Department of Management Services, saying Lines of Communication had worked with the office since February 2009.
"Would highly recommend . . . to any organization seeking assistance with their data and communications needs," Donahoe wrote.
In addition, on its website, Lines of Communication published a "case study" of the work it did for Ober's office, which quoted Donahoe and Ober praising the company.
And in a February 2012 proposal by Lines of Communication for work in the Clerk of Court's office, references were included from three local government agencies — the State Attorney's Office, the Election Supervisor's Office and the city manager of Plant City.
Contact William March at [email protected]il.com