Less than three weeks before Florida's primary election, questions about CareSync are trailing Rep. James Grant's campaign for reelection — all the way from Hardee County.
At a candidate forum at Northdale Park on Friday night, the Republican race between Grant, 35, and his opponent, Terry Power, 60, for the Florida House District 64 seat became even more contentious.
Much of Power's campaign has been based on accusations that Grant, the Tampa-native up for reelection, had a hand in corruption within the medical tech company that shut down two months ago. Power is a first-time candidate, a businessman running a Trump-like campaign, who uses social media to address his opponent and ends many of his tweets with "#MAGA."
When the healthcare tech company unexpectedly shut down and left 292 employees in Tampa and Wauchula in the lurch, Power rallied behind confused and frustrated CareSync employees as part of his platform.
During his candidate speech on Friday, Grant said he's focused on his work with several health care subcommittees in the House, and that he hopes to continue his work "to put the patient first."
But one member of the audience traveled almost two hours from Wauchula to call out Grant's business role with healthcare.
Grant co-founded CareSync in 2011 with a $7.25 million grant from the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority, based on a performance-based contract. When the company shut down two months ago, questions from years of audits, investigations and lawsuits resurfaced: what happened to the public funding that was poured into the company's development?
Henry Kuhlman of Wauchula was the first to the microphone after the candidates gave their forum speeches, echoing the previous questions regarding Grant's role in CareSync.
Since 2015, Henry Kuhlman has been involved in a lawsuit over public records against Lambert and the Hardee County IDA, CareSync Inc. and the accounting firm that initially audited the company in 2014 and questioned its finances.
Grant mounted the stage and accused Kuhlman of working with his opponent, Power, on a smear campaign.
“I was fired from a company I built,” Grant said to the crowd of mostly seniors and campaign staff, and those tuned in to Kuhlman’s Facebook live broadcast on his phone. “Not fun, not a proud thing to say. I lost every bit of equity I had in the company.”
In a recent interview with the Times, Grant blamed the company's demise on a "hostile takeover." CareSync's board of directors removed Grant as senior solutions architect in early June.
Grant, who has collected at least $270,000 from CareSync and its predecessor companies since 2012, says he doesn't have to pay back the money because the company lived up to its original agreement and performed.
Grant referenced Power's mailers, that have accused Grant of corruption with Caresync and referenced earlier ethics investigations. He said it was unfounded.
"So folks, in an era where truth no longer matters and people can stand up and they can deny a judgment that's standing against them… I think we deserve better," he said, to growing applause. "I think we ought to be talking about the issues."
Grant ended by saying he would happily defend himself and tell voters the truth.
"If the voters don't respond to that, that's what the republic is for," he said. "I'm going to tell you who I am, what I believe in, what I'm going to continue to do in Tallahassee."
Many constituents in the crowd jumped to their feet in applause, the first of them Grant's parents. His father, John Grant, is a former Florida senator.
After the forum ended, constituents started leaving and campaign staff began to pack up their booths, Kuhlman wasn't finished. He lined up six meme-like posters he had printed about his accusations of Grant.
Grant's father took pictures with his phone camera of the posters.
“I just want to see how many lies they collected here,” he said. “This is just absolute garbage.”
The husband of a circuit court candidate, Cissy Boza Sevelin, was among the small group of people left at the event to read the posters. Ralph Sevelin jokingly asked, "How can I get two million dollars?"
"When you have that much money batting around, it's kind of dangerous," he said.
Before the event started, Kuhlman plopped himself on the first row, directly in front of Grant's campaign booth. He took pictures of Grant and his campaign team, including his campaign manager Jennifer Lux who signed off on the original contract with Grant. He held blown up copies of what appeared to be CareSync checks made out to Lux, signed by Lux.
During Power's candidate speech, he pledged to give away his salary to local charity if elected to the House seat. Grant accused him of lying about his net worth and pledging this because of a court order that would garnish all assets associated with his account.
Grant also he accused Kuhlman and Power of "working with the Tampa Bay Times."
"Ask the friends at the Tampa Bay Times to keep it straight," he said. "Which one is it? Is there seven and a quarter million dollars that were missing, or did 292 people tragically lose their job? Do you think that 292 people, including myself, that lost their job were working for free?"
At the beginning of August, the Times editorial board endorsed Power for the primary race.