Port Richey dissolution is power grab by Rep. Amber Mariano’s father, city alleges

Port Richey contends Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano is behind effort to disband city.
State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and Port Richey City Manager Vince Lupo
State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and Port Richey City Manager Vince Lupo [ Times ]
Published Oct. 7, 2019|Updated Oct. 7, 2019

PORT RICHEY — State Rep. Amber Mariano’s effort to dissolve Port Richey is a power grab by her father, Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, city officials alleged Monday.

Commissioner Mariano also was part of a bidding-irregularities scheme involving planned dredge work at city canals, City Manager Vince Lupo charged in a statement issued Monday afternoon in advance of a Tuesday morning press conference.

"Port Richey has the natural assets, location, access to the Gulf and resources desired by the county, all falling within Jack Mariano’s jurisdiction as county commissioner,'' the statement said, adding, "a piggyback scheme related to dredging was developed to circumvent the bidding process in furtherance of this power grab.''

Commissioner Mariano said his only involvement with the city was to try to help it get a canal at Quist Drive dredged for better stormwater drainage. He also appeared at three Port Richey City Council meetings to try to advance other city dredging work.

He said he is not involved in the legislative push to disband the city, which is part of his commission district. His daughter also has said the commissioner is not part of her planned bill to revoke the city’s charter and turn governance over to Pasco County.

Port Richey said it was notified of potential bid irregularities in April 2018 by Curtis Franklin, Pasco’s manager of the federal program disbursing money to coastal governments for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Franklin told the city that actions by then-Mayor Dale Massad and bidding irregularities meant the city would lose its federal reimbursement if the bid was awarded. The allegation came because a company called Titan Dredging contacted Franklin and then put Massad on the phone so he could quiz Franklin about the city’s bid documents.

"The mayor indicated to Mr. Franklin that Pasco County (Jack) wanted to use the city’s bidding documents to piggyback for their own dredging project. Mr. Franklin indicated his deep concern about the potential for and appearance of potential bidding irregularities for the city’s dredging project,'' according to an email sent to Lupo from Jocilyn Martinez, Port Richey’s assistant city manager.

City officials also documented their concerns from an August 2018 encounter with Justin Grimsley, listed as the head of Titan Dredging and another company, Aquacrete Technologies. During that meeting at Port Richey City Hall, Grimsley sought information about bidding on a city canal dredging project and said he had "worked with Jack Mariano to put a $12 million deal together for all the dredging (in the county) and had investors lined up for the job, but was later told that the deal fell through,'' according to notes recorded by Lupo and others attending the meeting. Grimsley also said “he was going to submit a super low bid for our (Port Richey’s) project,” according to Lupo’s notes.

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"That’s just a guy shooting his mouth off,'' Commissioner Mariano said Monday afternoon. "We haven’t gone to bid. We don’t even have any numbers. Nothing’s been bid. Nothing’s been promised.''

Efforts to reach Grimsley Monday afternoon weren’t immediately successful. His cell phone voicemail box was full and not accepting messages, and he did not respond to a text message seeking comment.

The allegations released Monday are the latest in the volatile political issue that surfaced Sept. 30 when Rep. Mariano, R-Hudson, and state Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, revealed their planned legislation to disband the city.

On Friday, Lupo and City Attorney James Mathieu asked the state to charge Rep. Mariano with filing a false police report to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. She told investigators in May that she suspected the city had inappropriately refinanced a $3 million bond and had misspent redevelopment money. The city’s complaint to the state said Mariano "provided false information to the FDLE and (was) done for political and wrongful purposes.''

The legislators’ push comes after a series of high-profile scandals earlier this year.

Then-Mayor Massad was arrested in February on a charge of practicing medicine without a license and multiple counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer after he was accused of firing two shots at Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies executing a search warrant. Later, both Massad and his successor, then-Acting Mayor Terrence Rowe, were accused of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. A jury convicted Massad on those latter charges. The case against Rowe is pending. Both resigned their public offices.