Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: The incredible shrinking seed money

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If Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford ever decides to create a Select Committee for Cronyism, Three-Card Monte Schemes, Misdirection and Obfuscation, he has the perfect candidate to tap as chairman: young master Rep. Jamie Grant, R-It's Good To Be Me.

It's not very often a young lad gets elected to office and so immediately embraces the political motto of Chicago, "Ubi est mea?" or "Where's mine?" with all the robust gusto of the Three Stooges finding themselves locked in a custard pie factory.

In 2011, Grant had spent all of 20 minutes serving in the Florida House when he pitched an idea to the Industrial Development Authority of economically beleaguered Hardee County to create a mobile application that could link medical, insurance and legal records for family and first responders.

Everything was going to be just ducky. The new company making the application software would eventually serve 400,000 subscribers and generate $26 million in sales practically overnight, while creating badly needed jobs in Hardee County.

But first, the Donald Trump of Tallahassee needed the authority to approve a lousy, stinking $2.4 million in seed money to get everything going. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh sure, Grant had about as much private sector business experience as a North Korean orchid farmer. And the rest of his stealth company included House colleague Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and Grant's campaign manager, Jennifer Lux. Not quite a gathering of high-finance eagles.

It also probably didn't hurt Grant's prospects in getting the $2.4 million that a member of the IDA board just so happened to be Joe Albritton, a Hardee County insurance agent, who is also the brother of Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula. How tidy.

While Joe Albritton recused himself from voting on Grant's application, it probably wasn't lost on the rest of the IDA board they were being asked to approve a deal involving members of the Republican-controlled House.

There was just one itsy-bitsy problem with the grant Grant was hustling. The lawmaker hadn't even created his company, LifeSync Technologies, at the time the Hardee County IDA approved the grant application, a violation of state law. If we start insisting lawmakers actually follow the law, where does it end?

For LifeSync Technologies, it ended pretty quickly.

It seems about the only thing Grant's company created was paperwork. In 2012 he sold the rights to one company and the remainder of the grant moolah to another concern, whose owner worked for LifeSync. In all Grant walked away with about $70,000 and Brodeur hauled in between $48,000 and $65,000.

And what did Hardee County get except for Jamie Grant's heartfelt appreciation for being some of the finest chumps he ever canoodled out a lot of cash? Bupkes.

The fact that no company ever existed before Grant applied for the $2.4 million deal raised red flags for state auditors who investigated the Hardee County mobile app-gate.

But there is much more. Auditors could find no evidence Grant ever delivered on his promises to develop and market the product with Hardee County workers, which is sort of the whole idea when you have something called the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority.

Nor could auditors find evidence there was any oversight by the IDA of the $2.4 million grant. No detailed invoices or other documentation could be found. In government circles this is called Christmas.

So what happened to the $2.4 million that went to the Katzenjammer Kids of Tallahassee? When WTSP-Ch. 10 reporter Mike Deeson, who first broke the saga of the stealth mobile apps, tried to talk to Grant, the legislator went into Greta Garbo-esque seclusion.

When the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler eventually caught up with the lad, Grant made the ridiculous assertion the LifeSync grant was funded with private money, just like a loan from a bank.

A state legislator applies for a $2.4 million grant from a public agency subject to state scrutiny since it involves the issuance of public funds, yet he claims it is no different than getting a loan from Bank of America?

And this guy is an elected official — with a law degree, no less.

Grant has promised inquiring reporters he will open LifeSync's books to explain how the $2.4 million disappeared. But so far, nothing.

In the meantime, financial disclosure statements show that since he entered the Florida Legislature two years ago, Grant's net worth has grown from $1,000 to $100,000. That's no doubt a testimony to his acumen in making keen business investments.

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