Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Politics

State House Speaker Will Weatherford makes $122K a year, but what does he do?

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TALLAHASSEE — For the past six years, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has reported that his largest source of personal income is from an outfit called Breckenridge Enterprises.

When asked about Breckenridge, which hasn't been registered in Florida since 2007, Weatherford says he doesn't actually work for the company.

Breckenridge, he says, handles payroll services for the company he does work for, a construction firm out of Mount Pleasant, Texas. That company is Diamond K Corp., but in Florida it's called T. King Construction Inc.

Florida has what's called a "Citizen Legislature," where state senators and representatives serve what are considered part-time jobs. They are required by law to disclose what they earn from other jobs so the public has a better understanding of their qualifications and connections.

But it's no easy task understanding how Weatherford, one of the most powerful politicians in the state, earns the majority of his money or who pays him. His speaker job pays $29,714, so the vast majority of his income — more than 75 percent — comes from other sources.

In recent years, it's become the norm for a Florida House speaker's income to raise questions. Ray Sansom resigned as speaker in 2009 after he was charged with channeling more than $25 million to Northwest Florida State College — where he had taken a $110,000-a-year job as the chief fundraiser. Marco Rubio saw his income jump once he was on track to be speaker, climbing from $90,000 in 2001 to $414,000 in 2008.

Weatherford's income has remained steady since he joined the Legislature. But he has continued to report his income in a confusing fashion.

His 2012 financial disclosure, made public Tuesday, continues to raise questions. In it, Weatherford reported a net worth of $288,075 and total income of $122,814. For the highest amount of income, $52,000, Weatherford listed Breckenridge Enterprises/Diamond K Corp. He reported making an additional $31,500 from Red Eagle Group, a company he said he formed in 2011 for tax purposes and because he wanted to be the owner of a small business. Red Eagle's income is paid entirely by Simpson Environmental Services, a Pasco County asbestos removal company that's owned by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

"When you look at the pay that he gets for the work he does, he's being fairly compensated," said Simpson, his direct supervisor.

Yet it's unclear what exactly Weatherford does for Simpson or Diamond K, where his uncle, J. Michael Nolan Jr., is an investor.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, would only answer written questions about his employers and his private-sector work.

"I have gone above and beyond the spirit and the letter of the financial disclosure law," Weatherford, 33, wrote in an email. If he had any conflicts, he would report them, he said. He did not answer questions about how many hours he works, where he does his work and what his duties are.

"I am accountable to those organizations for my hours, productivity and services," he wrote.

In previous interviews, Weatherford said he did business development for both companies but didn't elaborate. His supervisors explained his jobs only in general terms. Both confirmed he has considerable leeway in shaping his work schedule.

"He has a lot of autonomy," Simpson said. "He doesn't punch a time clock."

"He is not in a position where he is 'supervised,' " Nolan said in an email.

When pressed for more information about Weatherford's accomplishments, Nolan declined.

"This is beyond what I feel comfortable discussing," Nolan said. "Will is a consultant for us and has been since 2007. I hope you understand."

Simpson Environmental Services is a small brown stucco building across a narrow driveway from the senator's egg farm off U.S. 98 south of the Pasco-Hernando county line. A woman in the front office said from the call box Thursday that Weatherford was not at that location. After letting a Times/Herald reporter on the property, she said he does have an office there but was not there at that time. Simpson said Weatherford often works from home or on the road and would only say he works at the office "multiple times" a year.

T. King Construction lists only a Gainesville P.O. box as its physical address in Florida.

In financial disclosures filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics, Weatherford has continually reported that Breckenridge has been his No. 1 source of income, paying an average of $54,800 a year. On his 2007, 2008, and 2009 disclosures, he identified working only for Breckenridge. It wasn't until his 2010 financial disclosure that Weatherford began listing Breckenridge/Diamond K Corp. as his largest primary income stream.

"It's all very hard to follow, and when it's hard to follow, there's probably a reason," said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which reviewed Weatherford's financial disclosures. "I think he's doing everything he can to hide the true source of his income and conceal the fact that he isn't doing anything for the money."

A professional employer organization serving the construction industry, Breckenridge is a Dallas company owned by Charles David Wood, a part owner of the Texas Rangers. Since 2006, Florida has denied Wood an insurance license because of doubts he would adequately cover workers' compensation claims. In a 2008 denial, the state's Office of Insurance Regulation found Wood to be "untrustworthy" based on a history of his businesses running afoul of regulators.

Earlier this year, the mention of Wood's company's on Weatherford's financial forms caught the attention of Sloan's nonprofit because of its potential to pose a conflict.

"When you're the speaker of the House, you're not just passing bills, but you're making phone calls," said Sloan. "Who knows who he's calling and why?"

Weatherford said he originally listed Breckenridge on his 2007 and 2008 forms because he believed they were Diamond K's DBA, or "doing business as." Florida corporate records, however, don't show Breckenridge ever was listed as a DBA.

His office now says Breckenridge provides payroll services to Diamond K — meaning it would issue checks and handle federal and state tax obligations for the company — and doesn't employ the speaker.

In a February interview with the Times/Herald, Weatherford said he introduced Diamond K to his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense. Weatherford worked as a legislative aide for Bense. Bense owns a road building company, GAC Contractors, and reported a 2011 net worth of more than $15.6 million.

"I'm helping them build relationships," said Weatherford, who graduated from Jacksonville University in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in international business. "I brought them to (Bense). I said, 'Hey if you ever need to have some work you need a partner on, that GAC needs, here's a good company.' "

The president of Diamond K, Tommy King, said his company operates in Florida as T. King Construction because someone else was using the Diamond K name. He said T. King Construction also operates in Florida under the name CYMI DK. None of those names were on Weatherford's disclosure form.

King said CYMI DK does mostly underground utility work and is currently working one job in Florida, for Florida Power & Light in West Palm Beach. At first, King said Weatherford helped get that job for CYMI DK but later corrected himself.

"Regarding Will's participation in the present project for FPL, there was none," King said. "His father-in-law helped us get our credentials to the right people."

King couldn't provide other specific jobs Weatherford secured for CYMI DK.

"He's a good man," King said. "He's astute. He has the capabilities. It's a matter of knocking on doors, making the introductions."

Asked what type of time demands he puts on Weatherford, King would only say: "Minimal."

Times researcher Natalie Watson and staff writer Lisa Buie contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or [email protected]

     
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