Thursday, January 18, 2018
Politics

Florida ethics commission investigating Rep. Jamie Grant's business venture

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Commission on Ethics is investigating allegations that Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, abused his position in getting more than $2.5 million awarded to his startup company, including sponsoring legislation that awarded a tax break to a company providing revenue for his enterprise.

Late last month, senior ethics investigator Robert Malone notified Grant and the complainant, a Hardee County resident named Henry Kuhlman, that the investigation had begun. Until the investigation is complete, the Commission on Ethics can't comment on the case or provide documents relating to it. The only ones with access to the records are the ones charged in the complaint and the person who filed it, which in this case is Kuhlman.

For the past two years, Kuhlman has spearheaded an effort to account for more than $2.5 million that Grant began receiving in 2011 after Hardee County officials awarded his then-unnamed company the money.

The money is from a pot of $42 million the phosphate giant Mosaic gave the county in exchange for mining rights. Hardee officials dole out the money to applicants in hopes they will produce jobs.

Grant promised he would create jobs through a company he would later call LifeSync, which he said would produce $26 million in sales by 2014. He called the product he would create Blue Water. Users would access sensitive personal information via a smartphone and carry a blue card that could be swiped to manage data or provide information to medical professionals.

Kuhlman says Grant hasn't delivered on his promises. His complaints helped spark two other investigations.

The State Attorney's Office in Bartow closed an investigation last year into Grant's business dealings and found no evidence of criminal misconduct. An auditor general's report, however, raised concerns over how Grant's company was awarded the money and the lack of oversight of it.

Based on Kuhlman's complaint to the ethics commission, the latest investigation could focus on whether Grant abused his position as a state lawmaker.

Kuhlman says that months after LifeSync Technologies was awarded the Mosaic money, Grant co-sponsored HB 7087, a 22-page bill that became law after the 2012 session and benefited the Mosaic company.

Tucked on page 13 of the bill was a tax exemption for equipment and machinery used in phosphate operations.

A Mosaic spokesman, Roberto Nelson, said the company has no control over how Hardee County awards the grant money.

Grant was one of 17 representatives to sponsor the bill, which Nelson said was necessary to remedy a glitch in the index to calculate the tax rate.

"Mosaic never discussed the issue with him," Nelson said in an email.

The complaint also alleges that Grant conspired with the Hardee officials who awarded the money and that he didn't cooperate with state auditors.

Kuhlman said he was encouraged that further investigation will be done by the ethics commission, which dismisses the vast majority of complaints it receives.

In an email, Grant said he will fully cooperate with investigators.

"All I have wanted since these allegations were first made was the opportunity to establish with finality that they are frivolous," Grant said.

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