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David Straz says city department rife with 'graft and corruption' but isn't talking to authorities

The mayoral candidate expanded on recent comments about graft and corruption during an interview with the
David Straz Jr. says he has a letter detailing graft and corruption in a city department. But he’s not divulging details.
Published Jan. 25

TAMPA — David Straz says he knows about graft and corruption in a Tampa city department but he won't divulge details and hasn't alerted law enforcement.

The retired banker and philanthropist, one of seven candidates for Tampa mayor, has made non-specific references to "graft and corruption" at recent mayoral forums. But he expanded on the subject during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board this week.

He said he has a five-page letter "that's single-spaced and tells me about the graft and corruption that's going on in a certain department and there's names in it.''

"That kind of thing needs to be investigated," Straz said during the meeting, bringing up the subject when asked how he planned to address the city's budget. Straz declined to name the department or provide more details.

"Because I've got sources that have called them to my attention and I don't want to divulge those sources," Straz said.

When asked if he thought the alleged activity was criminal, he said: "I don't know. I'm not a lawyer."

When asked if it should be reported to law enforcement, Straz replied: "Probably should."

Jarrod Holbrook, Straz's spokesman, emailed a statement the next day indicating Straz would wait until he was elected mayor to conduct an audit of the unnamed department. The statement also defined corruption as inefficient use of tax dollars.

"David did receive a letter outlining poor business practices in one city department that, if true, would be robbing the taxpayers of the efficient use of their tax dollars. Wasting the taxpayers' money is a form of corruption which will be discovered in the full audit of city government," Holbrook wrote.

When asked why the statement didn't describe any graft, which is commonly understood to be public officials illegally enriching themselves through public money, Holbrook responded: "Statement stands."

Mayor Bob Buckhorn reacted to the Straz charges by stating that if there is "credible evidence," the mayor welcomes it and the Tampa Police Department stands ready to investigate.

"If he has no evidence, then I would suggest he or any candidate not traffic in innuendo, conspiracy theories and hearsay for the purpose of scoring political points," Buckhorn texted from a mayors' conference in Washington, D.C., that he is attending.

City Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, who have both served for nearly eight years, said their mayoral opponent should take his concerns to law enforcement.

"If you believe anything is going on, you have an obligation to turn it over to the proper place. In this case, turn the information over to the mayor or police department," Cohen said.

Suarez said he would have acted on the information as a council member and also said Straz should release the information to the proper authorities.

"I'm a little shocked he wouldn't say anything about it," Suarez said.

After this story posted Friday, Cohen's office received a seven-page letter detailing alleged misbehavior and abuses in a city department. Cohen turned the letter over immediately to Buckhorn's chief of staff Dennis Rogero.

Buckhorn's spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said the administration will look into it.

"We'll investigate this claim as we would any other," she said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

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