House will subpoena records of TV executive’s Visit Florida deals

Bipartisan probe targets C. Patrick (Pat) Roberts’ TV production firm.<br>
Florida Association of Broadcasters president Pat Roberts
Florida Association of Broadcasters president Pat Roberts
Published Oct. 12, 2017|Updated Oct. 12, 2017

A state House committee took the extraordinary step Thursday of using its subpoena power to compel records from a long-time Florida broadcast executive and political figure who had TV contracts with Visit Florida.

The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee voted unanimously to subpoena records from C. Patrick (Pat) Roberts, president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters, and his production company, MAT Media LLC of Tallahassee. FAB is the influential trade association on behalf of Florida radio and TV stations.

Roberts, a Tallahassee political fixture for decades, finds himself in House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s crosshairs as part of his long-running focus on the spending practices at Visit Florida, the state’s taxpayer-funded tourism promotion agency.

Thursday’s action at the state Capitol follows a report in the Naples Daily News that Visit Florida agreed in 2012 to pay Roberts’ company $2.8 million to create and produce a TV program promoting the state as a fishing destination. Under the deal, the newspaper reported, Roberts’ firm also kept all advertising and sponsorship revenue.

The newspaper reported in May that as part of the deal, Roberts got a boat worth $175,000 from one of the program’s sponsors, but a Visit Florida spokesman said the agency had no role in that transaction. Roberts was quoted as saying the vessel was in exchange for advertising and promotion, which he said is a standard TV industry practice.

The newspaper reported that Visit Florida also paid Roberts’ firm $11.6 million to produce a cooking show featuring the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

Roberts, 66, has close ties to St. Petersburg and Republican politics. He first came to prominence in Florida in the 1970’s as an assistant to Jack Eckerd, the drugstore magnate, philanthropist and Republican candidate for governor. Two weeks ago, Roberts donated the maximum $3,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Roberts led separate statewide ballot initiative drives on both sides of casino gambling, and in 2002 used the power of his member stations to arouse opposition to an overhaul of the state’s tax code that was being pushed by then-Senate President John McKay.

A closer look at Roberts can be found here.

Specifics of the subpoenas’ contents were not available to lawmakers or the public before the vote. During Thursday’s meeting, Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, asked that draft subpoenas be made available to lawmakers beforehand.

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said drafts are available for review at the committee office. “It’s a team effort,” Metz said, “but we don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen when we’re trying to get a subpoena out the door.”

Speaking to reporters, Metz said the subpoenas are required because Roberts did not respond to informal requests for information. Roberts did not respond to a request for comment.