1. Archive

Holder defends work for Sarasota vendor

Former police Chief Bennie Holder responded Friday to news accounts of his tie to a company that sold the police $2-million in equipment and services, saying he has done nothing wrong and he welcomes any inquiry.

"Bennie Holder is clean. So take your best shot," he said. "Take your best shot."

Holder defended himself during an interview televised Friday on WTVT-Ch. 13. The ex-chief is under scrutiny for agreeing to work as a consultant for GyroCam Systems, a company run by a Sarasota businessman that sold more than $2-million in surveillance equipment and maintenance work to the city while Holder was chief.

Holder lashed out at media reports.

"I never expected that they would go so far as to try to implicate that Bennie Holder is a crook," he said. "I'm not."

He has not responded to previous requests for an interview from the St. Petersburg Times.

While Holder was chief, the department bought more than $2-million worth of equipment and services from the company, and at one point, the chief posed in uniform for a company advertisement in an aviation trade publication, Rotor and Wing.

Holder said in the interview that he sees nothing wrong with appearing in the ad.

"What does this article say? "In Tampa, Florida criminals can run, but they can't hide,' " Holder said, holding up the magazine.

"It doesn't say a damn thing about GyroCam. I did it and I'm damn proud I did it."

The advertisement also includes a quote over Holder's name which says: "When we at the Tampa Police needed a turnkey surveillance package from airborne to ground vehicles, there was only one company who could provide it all . . . Aerial Films Inc."

Aerial Films Inc. is the company that sold the equipment to the police. It later filed for bankruptcy, and its president and CEO Ken Sanborn, continued to trade with the city through his new company, GyroCam Systems.

Ten days after leaving the Tampa Police Department, Holder signed a contract to perform consulting services for GyroCam Systems, a company which sells specialized police surveillance equipment.

Company officials said he has not been paid anything. Holder's contract with GyroCam prohibits him from doing business with the Tampa Police Department, the city of Tampa or Hillsborough County for two years after his retirement. That is in accord with the city's policy.

Holder and Sanborn have agreed that the former chief would work at trade shows, attend marketing meetings and make sales pitches on behalf of the Sarasota company.

The city's initial purchases were from a company run by Sanborn called Aerial Films. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September.

Sanborn is the principal director of both Aerial Films and GyroCam Systems, both of which have dealt with the Police Department.

Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder told the television station he would like the mayor to authorize an audit of the matter.

"An employee using their face on a piece of literature. I found that as a little disturbing," he said. "If something is there, the audit will find it, and if it's not there, the chief can continue on in his retirement and we'll wish him well."

Tampa's new police chief, Steve Hogue, has said he sees nothing wrong with Holder's consulting contract, although it may give rise to a "perception problem."

The cameras, which were installed in the Police Department's helicopters, are an important tool for the police.

They are free of vibrations and use thermal imaging for night surveillance.

Holder's relationship with Sanborn also is under scrutiny because the city awarded some purchases without bidding.

The initial purchase of camera gear, for $1.2-million, was bid competitively, but some later purchases were not.

Hogue said such procedures are not uncommon for police departments, especially when buying and maintaining such specialized equipment.

Sanborn and police officials say the company did no bidding because it was the only vendor that services the technology.

"If you look at the facts, this bid was done properly, above board. We've done nothing wrong," Sanborn told Fox 13.