TAMPA — Commissioner Ken Hagan is asking Hillsborough County attorneys to look into whether the county has grounds for a defamation lawsuit against a local TV news outlet.
It comes after a 10News WTSP story claimed that Hagan improperly coordinated with Darryl Shaw, the CEO of the BluePearl veterinary practice and the owner of six properties within the footprint of a proposed Tampa Bay Rays ballpark in Ybor City.
The story prompted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, in a series of tweets, to call for Hagan to be removed from his role in leading Hillsborough's efforts to bring the Rays to Tampa.
"He's gone rogue from his fellow commissioners throughout this process, and now questions have been raised related to potential unethical or criminal behavior," Kriseman said in a statement Tuesday. His office confirmed that the mayor hasn't spoken to the Rays, Hagan or Shaw about the story by 10News investigative reporter Noah Pransky, which aired Nov. 17.
Hillsborough County Attorney Christine Beck has been instructed to prepare a memorandum to be sent to other commissioners that Hagan said will refute the story based on data from public records.
"The idea that I somehow tipped (Shaw) off is beyond laughable," Hagan said.
When contacted, WTSP had no immediate comment.
Beck's research will include an email sent to her from Shaw this week detailing his land purchases and how he learned about the Rays' interest in his properties.
Since 2014, Shaw has acquired close to 150 properties in and around the historic district. He characterized the purchases as part of his "commitment to the revitalization of Ybor City," according to the email.
That includes at least three parcels in and around the ballpark footprint bought before January 2016, when the Rays won permission to look across Tampa Bay for a new home.
Shaw's email lists those three parcels and three others he says he bought before his sometime business partner Frank Capitano suggested that Shaw owned land might work for a ballpark. Sometime after July 13, 2016, he states that Capitano contacted Rays Chief Development Officer Melanie Lenz and Shaw then met with her.
Speaking to the Times, Shaw said he has also contracted to buy two more parcels inside the ball park footprint. These parcels are owned by FMF Real Estate, a New York-based firm. He said he plans to develop all of his Ybor parcels regardless of whether a ballpark deal is successful.
His first meeting with Hagan was not until September 2016, his email states. By then, the Rays had already identified the Ybor site as one of their top choices, he said.
"Ken (Hagan) did not select the site nor did he inform me of the site," Shaw said.
Capitano did not respond to a request for comment.
The Ybor site was among eight identified by the county in April 2016 as potentially suitable for a ballpark. County staff officials mapped the eight proposals and placed images of a stadium on each property to demonstrate to the Rays how a ballpark might fit. Hagan said Wednesday that an Ybor site north of Adamo was included at the request of the Rays.
Shaw in 2017 donated $7,000 to Hagan's re-election campaign, records show. Hagan raised more than $556,000 and narrowly beat Democrat Angela Birdsong in the District 2 contest.
Shaw is one of eight people who make up FBN Partners, a group that loaned the Times $12 million. Shaw's loan was $1.5 million.
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