Legacy of Corruption: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s unsettling history of extremely close ties to private prison operator Geo Group and the evident federal investigation into Florida’s private prison giveaway of more than $120 million.
(Top: Donna Arduin, Marco Rubio as Speaker of the Florida House, former Florida Rep. Ray Sansom mug shot. Bottom: Blackwater River CF, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Geo CEO George Zoley)
By Beau Hodai, July, 2010, through January, 2011
Newly minted U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was sworn in on January 5 with unfinished business back home.
Rubio, as former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (R-Miami, 2006-2008)—as well as other state GOP lawmakers and party contributors– are currently the likely subjects of multiple wide-ranging state and federal investigations conducted by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) into improper use of credit cards issued by the Republican Party of Florida, as well as tax evasion and improper budgetary appropriations.
One such set of appropriations/legislative actions reportedly being investigated by federal authorities are those which led to the development of the state’s largest private prison, the Blackwater River Correctional Facility (CF), which opened its gates for operation in November. The prison was designed and is operated by Florida-based Geo Group, the nation’s second largest private prison operator.
To date, investigations into members of the Florida Republican Party, as well into party donors, have resulted in multiple indictments. And, on November 2, 2010– election day– federal investigators subpoenaed the party’s financial records.
Perhaps the most notable individual charged to date is former Rep. Ray Sansom (R-Destin), who, while serving as Rubio’s budget chief, inserted language into the state’s 2008-2009 budget for what was to become Blackwater CF.
While Sansom has not yet been indicted or officially charged with any wrongdoing in relation to the development of Blackwater CF, in February, 2010, Sansom, while serving as successor to Speaker Rubio, resigned amid criminal and ethics investigations– chief of which is the allegation that he falsified the 2007-2008 budget by inserting a $6 million appropriation into the state spending bill for the construction of an aircraft hangar for Destin businessman and prominent Florida Republican Party contributor, Jay Odom.
Indicted on charges of lying to a grand jury, official misconduct, grand theft and conspiracy in relation to the Odom case, Sansom is currently awaiting trial.
Cash that rings the till
On March 30, 2010, Elva McCaig, a nurse employed at the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) Santa Rosa Correctional Institute, and treasurer of Nurses Behind the Gate, a prison nurse advocacy group, wrote a letter addressed to both United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Thomas Kirwin and State Attorney for Florida’s Second Judicial District Willie Meggs.
In essence, the letter laid out McCaig’s concerns that the development of Blackwater CF was yet another legislatively-mandated handout to yet another prominent Florida Republican Party contributor, Geo Group. Geo consistently reports annual revenue in excess of one billion dollars– all of which it earns through state, county and federal contracts for the detention of both criminal offenders and immigrant detainees.
And indeed Geo is a top Florida Republican Party contributor; through two political action committees (PACs), Florida Geo Group, Inc. PAC and Geo Group, Inc. PAC, the corporation gave $85,000 to the Republican Party of Florida from 2006 through 2009, along with tens of thousands of dollars in additional contributions to other state Republican Party PACs and campaigns of individual Republican candidates.
It is also worth noting that from 2005 through 2010, Geo, through its PACs, dispensed an additional $15,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, an additional $32,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and an additional $10,000 over 2009 and 2010 directly to the Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate PAC.
Geo’s PAC spending, however, is not the limit of their appreciation shown to Rubio.
On September 13, 2010, several top Geo corporate executives, along with Geo lobbyists and subcontractors, gave a total of $33,500 in individual contributions to the Florida Victory Committee, a PAC created for the benefit of three other PACS: Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Party of Florida.
All-in-all, the Florida Victory Committee received $113,500– all on September 13, 2010– during its most active period (August 20 through September 30, 2010). Of this amount, $51,735.90 was disbursed to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (which, in turn, contributed an amazing $2,509,644 to Rubio’s campaign throughout the 2010 election cycle), $13,305 was disbursed to the Republican Party of Florida, and $31,458.15 was disbursed to the Rubio PAC.
In addition, Geo Chief Executive Officer and founder George Zoley gave Rubio a further $4,800 in personal contributions over the course of 2009 and 2010– half of which Zoley gave to the Rubio campaign on September 13, 2010– putting his own personal disbursements to the Rubio campaign for that single day at $7,400.
It is worth noting that Geo was the most generous single-interest/corporate donor to contribute to the Florida Victory Committee during this period. It is also worth noting that, of the $33,500 contributed by Geo and its affiliates to this particular PAC, $10,000 came directly from Guy and Neel White, owners and chief executive officers of White Construction Company, the Geo subcontractor awarded the $114 million contract for the construction of Blackwater CF.
(It should also be noted here that Geo largesse is not, by any means, restricted to the Republican Party, though Republicans are by and large the corporation’s top beneficiaries.
One example of Geo showing its appreciation to a Democrat is that of former U.S. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) who, on March 16, 2009, received nearly $10,000 when several senior Geo executives, lobbyists and regional administrators decided to contribute to his campaign. It is worth noting that Rodriguez’s district, Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, contains the longest stretch of U.S./Mexico border to any one any district in the nation. Geo is the nation’s second largest private immigrant detention center operator.
Geo also supports independent candidates; on June 19, 2009, Zoley and his wife, Donna Zoley, both gave two checks for $2,400 each– the maximum individual contribution to a federal candidate per election allowable by law– to independent U.S. Senatorial Candidate, former Florida Governor (and former Republican) Charlie Crist. The grand total of this combined contribution was $9,600.)
The McCaig letter went on to lay out points of the legislative history and perceived “backroom transactions” behind the development of Blackwater CF, as well as the odd “relationships and conflicts” in the proximity of both Rubio’s economic consultant, Donna Arduin, and former Senate President Jeff Atwater’s Chief of Staff Robert “Budd” Kneip to lawmakers working to push the development of Blackwater CF.
Both Arduin and Kneip have deep ties to the Geo Group and its parent, Wackenhut Corporation.
Without going into too much detail on the claims and concerns outlined in the McCaig letter (for all the factual background provided in the letter, it contained a number of factual errors– including erroneous claims that Xe Services, LLC/Blackwater USA were involved in the deal), the point was essentially that budgetary provisos which called for $110 million to be appropriated as a giveaway to the Geo Group were inserted into the state budget under very questionable circumstances.
In any event, it seems the letter contained enough salient, solid information that it sparked the interest of federal investigators.
According to multiple sources in the area, federal investigators began making house calls in and around Santa Rosa County (home of Blackwater CF), and around the capital buildings of Tallahassee, during the summer of 2010, asking questions about the origins of Blackwater.
FBI spokesman Special Agent Jeff Westcott declined to either confirm or deny the reports of the bureau’s interest in Blackwater.
The origins of Blackwater in the Florida House of Representatives
In November, 2006, Donna Arduin, president of Arduin, Laffer and Moore Econometrics (ALME, incorporated in Florida, February, 2005), as well as of Arduin Associates, Inc. (incorporated in Florida, January, 2005), was hired as an economic consultant by former Florida House Speaker Allen Bense (R-Panama City) for work on the 2007-2008 House General Appropriations Bill under incoming Speaker Marco Rubio (Bense signed this contract in his last days as speaker, while Rubio was speaker-designate). The contract commenced December 1, 2006, and expired in May, 2007, with the finalization of the appropriations bill. Under this contract Arduin’s rate of pay was $10,000 per month.
Arduin was again contracted in September, 2007, as an economic consultant for work on the 2008-2009 House General Appropriations Bill under Speaker Rubio. The contract again ran through May of the following year, terminating with the finalization of the appropriations bill. Her rate of pay was again $10,000 per month.
At the time of Arduin’s initial contract under Rubio, as well as during her work over the course of 2006 on the Florida Property Tax Reform Committee, she was also a compensated trustee of Correctional Properties Trust (AKA CentaCore Properties Trust, CPT), a real estate investment trust (REIT) established by Wackenhut Corrections in 1998.
Wackenhut Corrections, a subsidiary of Wackenhut Corporation, spun off as a separate entity (Geo Group) following the purchase of Wackenhut by United Kingdom-based Group 4 Falck (currently G4S) in 2003.
It is worth noting that Arduin’s ALME partners, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, were both economic advisors to President Ronald Reagan, Moore serving on Reagan’s Commission on Privatization, which established policy resulting in the rebirth of the American private prison industry in the 1980s. Additionally, both Laffer and Moore are members of the American Legislative Exchange’s (ALEC) board of scholars. Both Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are ALEC member corporations.
On February 19, 2008, Geo Group Vice Chairman, President and Chief Operating Officer Wayne Calabrese, along with Geo Senior Vice President of North American Operations John Hurley, Geo Vice President of Business Development Cloid Shuler, and Geo lobbyist Damon Smith, delivered a presentation before the Florida Senate Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations.
The presentation was straightforward, with two primary objectives: 1.) Geo would take on more prisoners and would discount per diem rates of incarceration of state prisoners in exchange for longer contracts with the state, and 2.) Geo sought appropriations for two expansions to one of their existing private facilities, Graceville CF, in the form of one 384-bed expansion, coupled with the development of a 1,500-bed “special needs annex” (for the “chronically mentally ill”) to the facility.
To illustrate the scope of this proposal, the Geo executives were essentially seeking to sell the Florida Legislature on an expansion of the existing Graceville CF (which contained 1,884 “beds” at that time) by up to 1,884 additional beds. In exchange for this concession– as well as increased contract lengths at other existing facilities– Geo would offer the state a “discounted rate.”
Then-House Policy and Budget Chief Ray Sansom did not seem like a man happy in his work. Reports flied with the Florida House of Representatives for travel and other expense reimbursement by Sansom during this period are marked at the outset of each legislative session with the foreboding words, “session subsistence begins,” scrawled in Sansom’s hand over travel reports detailing his commutes from Destin to Tallahassee. A Florida state representative doesn’t make much– less than $30,000 per year. As such, Sansom filed meticulous reports seeking reimbursement for travel, copier toner and other office expenses.
One such report shows Sansom embarking, on March 27, 2008, for a rare trip out of his district in the Florida Panhandle (or outside of the capital) to Boca Raton, nearly 400 miles away at the southern tip of Florida, for “personal business.” Boca Raton is home to Geo Group’s corporate headquarters.
It should be noted that this single trip to Boca Raton is the only one of its kind found on travel reimbursement forms filed by Sansom (for himself or his staff) from 2007 to his resignation in February, 2010.
Neither Sansom, nor any representative of Geo Group responded to requests for comment.
While it is unclear what business Sansom had in Boca Raton, it is clear that he returned to Tallahassee and inserted a proviso in the initial draft of the 2008-2009 House General Appropriations Bill (filed with Policy and Budget Committee on April 4, 2008) which called for “$110,000,000 in non-recurring general revenue… for the planning, design, permitting, equipping and construction of a state-owned, privately operated 2,000 bed correctional institution… for the housing of 2,000 medium and close custody inmates as a stand-alone annex to the Graceville Correctional Facility in Graceville, Florida.”
On April 7, following the insertion of this proviso– which was never run by any committee for approval– Representative Curtis Richardson (D-Tallahassee) amended the budget to strike the proviso, as it was obviously a legislatively-mandated giveaway to Geo Group.
Sansom responded on April 8, 2008 with a revised proviso stripped of all Graceville-specific language. In other respects the new proviso was identical: $110 million for a new 2,000-bed private prison to be constructed somewhere in the state.
On June 11, 2008, the budget was approved by then-Governor Charlie Crist.
On July 15, 2008, the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) issued an “Invitation to Negotiate” (ITN) for the development of the proposed private prison. Responses to the ITN were due by September 9, 2008.
Interestingly, although no binding agreement had been reached between Geo Group and DMS, on November 26, 2008, Geo Group purchased 126 acres of land outside of Milton, Santa Rosa County, for $2.65 million– 59 acres of which Geo would go on to resell to the state of Florida through the Florida Correctional Finance Corporation (FCFC, an instrumentality of DMS) for $1.6 million on March 24, 2009, as the site of what would become Blackwater CF– after being awarded the development contract by DMS on March 18, 2009.
It is worth noting that, while DMS had issued a “notice of intent” to award the development contract to Geo on October 21, 2008, that Geo had apparently selected the prospective Blackwater acreage prior to the issuance of the July 15, 2008 ITN.
According to documents submitted to DMS as part of Geo’s ITN response, the corporation had already assessed the feasibility of using the selected land as early as July 7, 2008. The following month, the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution to provide $1.8 million in funding for additional infrastructure to feed the proposed facility.
Under the terms of the design/build agreement entered into between DMS and Geo, the corporation was awarded $115,364,828 in state project financing, along with another $2,081,984 for payment to Georgia-based “program manager” Carter Goble Lee.
Following the contract award to Geo, construction began on the facility– slated for completion in July, 2010.
Further exacerbating the appearance that the Blackwater deal had been sewn up long before the 2008-2009 General Appropriations Bill had been passed– let alone the issuance of the DMS ITN– according to documents released by TEAM Santa Rosa, the economic development arm of Santa Rosa County, Sansom and Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) had been discussing the idea of a new prison as a means of economic development (code name “Project Justice”) with TEAM members as early as February of 2008. Santa Rosa County was partially represented by both Sansom and Gaetz.
Strangely, Arduin denies that she ever worked with Sansom or his Policy and Budget Committee staff during the formation of the 2008-2009 budget, insisting that she only worked with Rubio.
Work invoices filed by Arduin pursuant to the terms of her September, 2007 through May, 2008 contract with the House tell a different story.
“ALME provided consulting services to the House as directed by the Speaker relating to property tax reform, economic development and budget issues,” reads the invoice for April, 2008. “Those services included participating in meetings, planning sessions and conferences with Legislators and staff of the Speaker’s Office and Policy and Budget Committee on economic development initiatives, spending reductions and policy development for the 2008 Florida Legislative session… ALME continues to provide ongoing economic and policy advice to the staff of the Speaker’s Office and Policy and Budget Committee on Florida’s budget and economy.”
Or, as stated by the “scope of services” section of Arduin’s contract with the House: “services include advisory services to the House, as directed by the Speaker of the House, to the Policy and Budget Committee, as directed by the Chairman of the Committee (Sansom), or as directed by the Chief of Staff.”
Nevertheless, public records requests submitted to the Florida House of Representatives for reports authored or submitted by Arduin, as well as for written communications between Arduin and her employers, Rubio and Sansom, turned up empty.
According to then-Florida House of Representatives Communications Director Jill Chamberlin (retired September, 2010), there simply are no records of work performed by Arduin (no reports, no audits, no presentations, no memos… nothing) during her time in the House under Rubio.
And Chamberlin, who served as spokeswoman for both Speaker Rubio and later for Speaker Sansom, says that it is not likely Arduin ever filed any reports of any kind as she was hired on as a consultant more for her connections in both the public and private sector. As such, said Chamberlin, most of Arduin’s consultations took the form of face time with those in her immediate circle.
Rubio did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Consummating Blackwater in the Senate, 2010
In early 2010, Arduin was contracted for work as an economic consultant in the Florida Senate under the purview of the office of then-Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach), tasked with “providing analytical review of state government agency operations, including overlapping agency jurisdictions and functions, the financial structure of agencies, sources and uses of agency revenue, and agency expenditure patterns that will aid in economic and budgetary decisions associated with the development of Florida’s budget.”
This laundry list was broken down into three key functions (as itemized in the 2010 contract): 1.) work with and advise the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee (Sen. J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales)). 2.) to coordinate with staff during development of the budget and during the conference committee on appropriations, and 3.) to serve as otherwise directed by Chairman Alexander and Senate President Atwater.
As such, Arduin was contracted for employment in the Senate from February 4 through June 30, 2010, not through ALME, but through Laffer Associates (a Tennessee corporation founded by partner Arthur Laffer in October, 2006). The rate of pay for the duration of this contract was $7,000 per month.
As a private consultant under contract with the office of Senate President Atwater, Arduin worked under Atwater’s Chief of Staff, Robert “Budd” Kneip.
Over the course of the past two decades, prior to becoming a public servant, Kneip served as “senior vice president of corporate planning and development” for Wackenhut Corporation, and as president and chief executive officer of several Wackenhut subsidiaries: Oasis Outsourcing, Oasis Outsourcing II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX, Oasis Outsourcing of Colorado, Oasis Outsourcing of Georgia, Oasis Outsourcing of Ohio, as well as of several other corporations operating under the banners of Oasis Outsourcing Benefits, Workforce Alternative and Wackenhut Resources, Incorporated (WRI).
While Kniep had been employed as chief of staff for the Office of the Florida Senate President from 2007 through 2010 (following Atwater’s election to the office of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer in November, Atwater appointed Kneip as his chief of staff in that office), incorporation papers for Oasis Outsourcing II on file with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission show that Kneip had been acting as president of this Wackenhut subsidiary as recently as December 31, 2005.
To further illustrate the cycle of influence between Wackenhut/Geo and the Florida Senate, it is important to note that nearly all of the Wackenhut subsidiaries corporations over which Kneip had control were offshoots of King Employee Services, Inc., as well as related companies, King Staffing and King Benefits, which were purchased in 1997 from former Florida Senate President (2002-2004), Jim King by Wackenhut for $16 million—reportedly King’s personal cut of this deal was $5 million. King died in July, 2009, still serving in the Senate.
In May, 2010, during the last week of the Florida Legislature’s conference to finalize the state budget bill, Ways and Means Chair Alexander slipped a proviso into the spending bill’s section on criminal justice and corrections appropriations.
The proviso called for a cut of over $24 million to FDOC in order to close an unspecified number of state facilities in order to fill and open Blackwater.
This $24 million cut to FDOC was essentially written in as compensation, or displacement of funds, for the additional $22 million written into the budget for the sole purpose of “the operation 2,224 adult male beds at Blackwater River Correctional Facility to be operational by November 1, 2010.”
The state budget bill also called for FDOC to identify some 1,350 male adult custody psychological and medical care “beds” for potential privatization. Additionally, the budget bill stated that FDOC was required to develop a plan to reduce the operating costs of 6,400 additional beds by five percent– using private beds if necessary.
And, just as the 2010-2011 budget bill was generous in its cuts to the state’s public prison system, it was equally generous in handouts for private prison operators.
All-in-all the 2010-2011 budget bill contained over $1.2 million in state funds to be paid to local government taxing authorities in lieu of property taxes for the state’s six existing private correctional facilities.
As such, the criminal justice corrections section of the 2010-2011 budget bill was met by stiff criticism– most audibly from FDOC and the Florida Police Benevolent Association (Florida PBA, the state’s prison guard union), and from Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
Dockery noted in her criticism of the Blackwater-related provisions that, as was the case with the 2008 Sansom proviso, the appropriations and mandates concerning FDOC and Blackwater had never been discussed or approved in any committee.
According to FDOC Communications Director Gretl Plessinger, the issue most difficult to reconcile with the 2010-2011 budget was the fact that the state’s prison system was actually running under capacity. Put simply, there was no need to push through the opening of Blackwater.
Whereas state inmate growth projections in 2008 had actually suggested that there may be a need for the facility by 2010, Plessinger said inmate growth had slowed to the point where construction/expansion projects underway on state-owned and operated facilities had ceased.
Regardless of the fact that there was no need on the part of the state to open Blackwater at the time, or the fact that by mandating the facility’s opening by November 1 through the closure of existing state facilities, lawmakers were in effect mandating the possible loss of thousands of state jobs, there was a very real need on the part of Geo Group to have Blackwater CF opened as soon as possible.
In April, 2010, DMS announced that it had awarded contracts for the management of both Moore Haven CF (985-beds) and Graceville CF (1,884 beds)– both of which had been operated by Geo up to that point– to CCA, thereby reducing Geo’s holdings in their home state to 1,861 beds at South Bay CF by the end of the year– unless Blackwater CF could be filled.
For her part, Arduin says that the idea of opening or building a private prison was never run by her in the House or the Senate in either 2008 or 2010.
When asked about the facility and the provisions of the 2010-2011 budget bill which called for its immediate opening, Arduin, who was paid $7,000 per month by the Senate as an economic consultant– who, as stated by the terms of her contract, was to know the business of the state of Florida inside and out, down to the last dime– responded: “was that something that was in the 2010 budget?”
Ghosts of private prisons past (cash that rings the till, part 2)
Beginning in January of 1999 through November, 2003, Arduin served as director of the Office of Policy and Budget under Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Prior to her appointment under Bush, Arduin had served in similar roles under Michigan Governor John Engler and New York Governor George Pataki.
From November 17, 2003 through October 15, 2004, Arduin served as director of the California Department of Finance under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. As director of finance, Arduin was Gov. Shwarzenegger’s chief fiscal advisor– with purview over 70 state boards and governmental authorities.
It is worth noting that, while Arduin has earned a reputation for herself as being a tough opponent of government spending– even referred to as an “ogre” by a California state lawmaker for her cuts to the state’s public health care system– this tough posture on governmental spending does not seem to apply to Arduin’s rate of pay.
For example, just as Arduin was paid $10,000 per month by both the Florida House under Rubio, and $7,000 per month in the Florida Senate under Atwater, Arduin was paid $10,248 per month at the time she left the administration of Gov. Jeb Bush. What’s more, the state of Florida disbursed an additional $25,913 to Arduin for 438 hours of vacation pay on December 8, 2003– at which time she was employed as director of the California Department of Finance.
Other sets of monetary disbursements surrounding the commencement of Arduin’s work under Gov. Schwarzenegger are equally interesting.
On October 10, 2003, three days following Schwarzenegger’s election and a little more than a month prior to Arduin’s appointment to the Schwarzenegger administration, Wackenhut Corrections paid out $5,000 to Californians for Schwarzenegger 2003 PAC.
On November 17, 2003, Arduin assumed her role as director of finance.
On November 20, 2003, Wackenhut Corrections paid out an additional $16,200 to Californians for Schwarzenegger 2003 PAC. Also on November 20, 2003, Wackenhut Corrections paid out $36,800 to Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall Committee, Vote Yes to Recall Gray Davis” committee, a PAC established by the Schwarzenegger campaign in 2003 and which remained active through 2005, which was intended to drive the 2003 ballot initiative to recall the election of former California Gray Davis.
During Arduin’s tenure as California’s director of Finance, two private prisons which had been decommissioned in 2003 by Gov. Davis, McFarland Community Correctional Facility (CF) and Mesa Verde CF, were re-appropriated and reopened– with no-bid contracts issued to the Geo Group and another private prison operator, Civigenics, for the operation of the facilities.
On October 28, 2004, 13 days after her resignation from the Schwarzenegger administration, Arduin was elected to replace George Wackenhut (co-founder of Wackenhut Corp. and Wackenhut Corrections, who had died earlier that year) on the board of trustees of CentraCore Properties Trust (AKA Correctional Properties Trust, CPT), the real estate investment trust (REIT) of Wackenhut/Geo.
CPT was founded in 1998 by Richard and George Wackenhut, along with several other Wackenhut Corrections directors and executives, including current Geo Group director and then-mayor of South Bay, Florida (which incidentally is the site of one of Geo’s South Bay CF), Clarence Anthony.
Additionally, Geo Group/Wackenhut Corrections president and CEO George Zoley was a founding CPT trustee, holding several tens of thousands of shares of common stock in the company.
Over the course of the REIT’s existence, Charles R. Jones served as CPT President and CEO. According to court documents, Jones—CPT founding trustee along with Zoley– was Wackenhut’s “investment banker” at the time of CPT’s inception.
As an REIT, CPT was essentially the entity which held all of Wackenhut/Geo’s real estate holdings.
While CPT was technically a separate independent entity outside the purview of Wackenhut/Geo, it is important to note that at the time its creation, the REIT’s holdings consisted solely of Wackenhut properties. At the time of its eventual merger back into Geo Group in 2007 (at which time it became Geo Acquisition II, a Delaware corporation governed by Zoley, Calabrese and Geo General Counsel John Bulfin), the REIT owned 13 properties, 11 of which it “leased” to Geo.
Due to this extremely close relationship to Wackenhut/Geo, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) auditors had questioned on at least one occasion whether CPT was in fact an entity independent of Wackenhut/Geo.
In 2006, following the announcement that CPT was set to merge with Geo (effective January, 2007), CPT shareholders filed class action suits seeking injunctions against the merger in Maryland and Florida courts, alleging that the merger was an inside deal beneficial to CPT trustees and Geo executives and that there were irreconcilable conflicts of interests between the two. As such, the shareholders alleged that the merger was in essence Geo bringing its real estate holdings back in-house—allegations which Arduin flatly denies.
Both cases were settled out of court in 2008 for an undisclosed sum.
At the time of Arduin’s appointment to the CPT board, as well as during her service under Schwarzenegger, McFarland CF was owned by CPT and leased to Geo.
In January, 2006, CPT finalized its purchase of Mesa Verde CF, operated by Civigenics, another CPT customer, which operated a CPT-owned minimum security prison in New Jersey.
Following Arduin’s appointment to CPT, the California State Auditor launched an investigation into the appearance of conflicts of interest in the McFarland/Mesa Verde deals.
According to the California State Auditor’s investigation report, issued on September 13, 2005, the Schwarzenegger administration had relied on misleading cost-benefit analysis which did not factor in other potential cost saving measures in awarding the no-bid contracts to Civigenics and Geo.
Additionally, the state found that there were indeed conflicts of interest on the part of Civigenics in that they did not report that two of their employees in the state were former high ranking California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employees who were still receiving annuities from CDCR.
However, the report found no evidence of wrong doing on the part of Arduin as per the odd timing of her appointment to CPT, because: “since the former Finance director is associated with the trust (CPT) and not with Geo, it does not appear that she has a conflict of interest in regards to the McFarland contract.”
The report made no mention of the business relationship between CPT and Civigenics, or of the fact that CPT was an offshoot of Geo.
What’s more, the report stated that the California State Auditor could find no evidence that Arduin had influenced CDCR’s decision to reopen the facilities.
However, the report failed to note that, just prior to her appointment as director of Finance, Arduin had been commissioned by the Schwarzenegger administration to perform and audit of California’s government and state finances.
Whether or not this audit recommended the reopening of the private facilities is unknown as there are no audit reports authored by Arduin on file with either the Department of Finance or with the Office of Governor Schwarzenegger.
While written communications in the form of emails and memos do exist between Arduin and Schwarzenegger, the administration refused (in July, 2010) to release any of these documents for public inspection.
When asked specifically for any written communications between Arduin and the Governor from the month prior to Arduin’s sudden resignation and appointment to CPT, Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary to the Office of the Governor Dan Maguire responded that while such documents do exist, any and all communications between Arduin and Schwarzenegger are exempt from public disclosure under California Government Code executive and deliberative process exemptions to the state’s open records laws.
When asked that the administration waive their legal right to withhold executive communications between Arduin and Schwarzenegger in the spirit of transparency and open government—- in that there is a definite public interest in documents demonstrating whether or not Arduin advocated for the Mesa Verde or McFarland re-appropriations, or whether Schwarzenegger had knowledge of Arduin’s imminent appointment to CPT– the administration refused, stating: “…there are strong policy reasons to protect the confidentiality of communications to and from the Governor’s Office. Disclosure of such communications could chill the candid discussion of critical issues, and deprive the Governor of information he needs to discharge his duties… Therefore we are not producing these documents to you.”
It is unclear at what point Arduin became involved in the private prison business.
A statement of financial interests filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics in 2000 may shed some light on this history. The document lists Arduin’s primary source of income as being First Clearing Corporation, simply described as a “brokerage.”
Documents on file with the Florida Secretary of State, Division of Corporations, reflect that First Clearing Corporation (a North Carolina corporation doing business in Florida) merged into Corestates Securities Corp (a Pennsylvania corporation) in 1998.
SEC documents show that in 1996 Corestates Financial Corp (a corporate relative of Corestates Securities Corp) purchased 12,000,200 shares, or 54.7055 percent, of Wackenhut Corrections. Under this ownership class, Corestates was considered to be a “parent holding company” of Wackenhut Corrections.
Corestastes subsequently merged with Wachovia, which in 2008 merged with Wells Fargo. As of January 20, 2011, Wells Fargo and Company owned 3,623,603 shares, or 5.62 percent of Geo Group.
Arduin says she has no knowledge of any personal financial interest in First Clearing Corporation or in Corestates and does not know why that entry was made on her 2000 statement of financial disclosure– outside the possibility of clerical error on the part of her assistant.
Strange appearances and strange bedfellows
On the evening of Monday, August 22, 2005, a party of high ranking Florida Department of Corrections personnel met up at a bar in Tallahassee. The bar was Clyde and Costello’s, an establishment known to cater to the Tallahassee lobbyist/mover-and-shaker crowd. The party that night consisted of FDOC Secretary James Crosby, Washington Correctional Institution (CI) Warden Rick Anglin, Gulf CI Warden Dale Hughes, and FDOC Region 1 Correctional Services Consultant Brad Tunnell.
According to documents obtained from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), sometime toward the end of the evening, Crosby took Tunnell to the side and told him, “You know, you need to talk to your dad. You need to get him off my boys.”
Brad Tunnell’s father is Guy Tunnell, who, at that time was FDLE Commissioner.
At the time of the August, 2005 meeting at Clyde and Costello’s, FDLE was investigating Crosby, FDOC Region 1 Director Allen Clark, and several other FDOC employees on a wide array of charges including assault, steroids distribution, misappropriation of state funds/resources, and a kickback scheme involving two private prison canteen service providers: Keefe Commissary Network and American Institutional Services (AIS).
According to FDLE records, Crosby continued in his threat, putting a fine point on his demands after Tunnell stated that he didn’t understand what Crosby was getting at: “AC (Allen Clark), they need to lay off AC. They need to leave him the fuck alone. You need to tell your dad.”
Brad Tunnell claimed that he responded by stating that he could not tell his father how to do his job, to which Crosby allegedly responded by threatening to open an administrative investigation into a brawl Tunnell had reportedly been a party to at a FDOC event earlier that year.
Subsequent events—namely the federal indictments and convictions of both Allen Clark and James Crosby in 2006 and 2007—shed some light on why Crosby was so eager that the FDLE investigation into Clark end.
Both Clark and Crosby had been involved in a kickback scheme in which two Gainesville area businessmen, Edward Lee Dugger and Joseph Arthur Deese, proprietors of AIS paid out approximately $130,000 to Clark and Crosby from October, 2003 through February, 2006, in exchange for Crosby and Clark’s facilitating and arranging a partnership between AIS and Keefe Commissary wherein AIS provided visitor canteen services at FDOC Region 1 facilities as a vendor under subcontract with the state through Keefe.
Crosby stated under oath to FDLE investigators looking into his alleged threat to Tunnell on the evening of August 22, 2005, that he had gone to Clyde and Costello’s that evening to meet with Clyde and Costello’s owner, David Ericks, and Ericks’ longtime girlfriend, Donna Arduin.
Ericks, aside from being the owner of Clyde and Costello’s, is owner of Ericks Consultants, a lobbying firm which has represented Wackenhut/Geo Group for over a decade. Ericks was also the chief lobbyist for Keefe Commissary in Florida from March, 2005 through 2009. What’s more, Ericks represented Arduin, Laffer and Moore Econometrics (ALME) in 2005.
Additionally, Ericks paid the bar tab of $143.25 for the 31 drinks consumed by the FDOC men that evening. It is important to note that all of the FDOC employees present at Clyde’s that evening, with the exception of Secretary Crosby, were high ranking officials in FDOC Region 1—the region for which all of the AIS/Keefe bribes were intended to facilitate business.
Court documents filed with the mysteriously late indictments (given the fact that both Crosby and Clark had already been convicted and sentenced for their roles in the kickback scheme) of Deese and Dugger in June, 2010, indicate that Keefe was also a recipient of the kickbacks reaped through the AIS/Crosby arrangement in that Deese and Dugger would also pay both monetary and non-monetary bribes to unnamed Keefe executives and representatives—most significantly the payment of a Keefe executive’s $5,000 credit card bill in October, 2005, about a month from the date of the Clyde and Costello’s meeting.
Furthermore, a federal civil case (seeking forfeiture of criminally-obtained revenue) based on the testimony of FBI Special Agent Jannet Pellicciotti, which is stayed pending the outcome of the Deese and Dugger cases, alleges that Keefe Commissary, along with AIS, Crosby and Clark, is guilty of mail fraud, in that the U.S. Postal Service was used to deliver the criminally-obtained proceeds of the canteen partnership to Keefe’s corporate offices in St. Louis, Missouri.
During the FDLE interview following the Clyde’s incident, Crosby stated that he, Ericks and Arduin, had spent a substantial amount of time that evening speaking privately outside Clyde and Costello’s on an undisclosed subject.
Oddly enough, while FDLE investigators had interviewed every person from an off-duty cocktail waitress who had been drinking with the men, to Ericks on the events of the night of August 22, 2005, they never interviewed Arduin.
Furthermore, it appears that then-Governor Bush recognized the significance of Clyde and Costello’s as the setting for this particular meeting. According to FDLE transcripts, then-Commissioner Tunnell recalled Bush’s dismay during his briefing on the investigation following the threats made by Crosby (click here to listen to full FDLE interview with Tunnel wherein Tunnell discusses Bush’s concern with Crosby’s activities at Clyde and Costello’s).
“The Governor was upset Crosby was back at Clyde’s again,” recalled Tunnell to investigators, suggesting that Crosby had ongoing business at Ericks’ bar of which Bush was aware.
Tunnell declined repeated requests for an interview, stating only: “I’m not interested in opening that painful chapter of my family’s life again.”
Bush could not be reached for comment.
For her part, Arduin, who was appointed by Bush to the Florida Property Tax Reform Committee the following year (2006, while still serving as a CPT trustee), denies the meeting ever took place, or that she ever had occasion to meet with Crosby outside of her role as an agency head of the Bush administration. Nor, says Arduin, did she ever have any business with Keefe.
“I never had a meeting with James Crosby. I mean, if he said he went over there to meet us, he might have been– he and Dave might have had something to talk about, but I never had a meeting with him,” said Arduin. “I never had any business with him after I left the state of Florida. We were—we both worked for the same administration for a while. I was consulting for Speaker Rubio, but I never did any work for Speaker Rubio that would have had me have a meeting with a corrections secretary… But obviously, he had reasons to be meeting with Dave.”
Interestingly, perhaps indicative of some shared business growth strategy, just as Ericks represented the interests of Keefe, Geo Group, and ALME (at a time when Arduin was a trustee of CPT) in Florida in 2005, this pattern of mutual representation was replicated the following year in Texas with Keefe, CPT, Atlantic Shores Healthcare (the entity which would become Geo Group’s prison medical service arm, Geo Care), all represented by Texas lobbyist and former chief of staff to Texas State Rep. Ray Allen, Scott Gilmore.
Crosby, who is currently incarcerated at a federal prison camp in Pensacola, turned down a request for an interview.
Ericks did not return multiple phone calls and emails requesting comment.
It is also worth noting that every single federal campaign contribution– except for one– recorded by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for Arduin over the past decade lists her place of residence as either Ft. Lauderdale or Tallahassee. The exception is a $1,000 contribution to then-Missouri Senator James Talent, credited to Arduin in 2005, the record of which lists her place of residence as being St. Louis, Missouri, home of Keefe Commissary and its parent company, Centric Group.
Arduin says that she has no recollection of any such contribution or any idea why her address would be listed as being in St. Louis.
And while Arduin claims that she never had any involvement with Keefe, FEC records show that Talent was the top pick above and beyond all other candidates for Keefe and Centric Group during the 2006 election cycle—with at least $35,950 in campaign contributions from Keefe and Centric Group executives and employees going to Talent from October, 2005 to June, 2006.
Of this nearly $36,000 campaign cash influx, $20,000 was paid directly into Talent’s two political action committees ($10,000 to each) by Keefe and Centric Group President Douglas Albrecht. Albrecht retired his post at the helm of Keefe and Centric Group following the Crosby and Clark indictments. He could not be reached for comment.
Arduin was not alone in her sudden interest in Missouri lawmakers in 2005. Ericks– who, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, has restricted his campaign finance spending solely to Florida lawmakers from 1998 to present– also broke with his pattern of generosity in 2005 with a gift of $600 to the campaign of Missouri State Senator Brad Lager.
While Ericks and Arduin are no longer romantically involved, it seems that their business relationship is alive and well; Arduin’s residential property in Ft. Lauderdale is jointly owned between herself and Ericks.
Incorporation papers on file with the Florida Secretary of State Division of Corporations from 2005 to present for ALME as well as Arduin Associates, list Arduin’s business address as 205 S. Adams, Tallahassee. 205 S. Adams is also the address for Ericks Consultants. The building located at 205 S. Adams is in fact owned by Ericks Consultants. In fact, Arduin’s office is the office of Ericks Consultants– the two share the same phone and fax numbers. The receptionist who picks up the phone when you call looking for Arduin says, “Ericks Consultants, how may I help you?”
FBI Special Agent Rick Dent declined to confirm or deny whether the FBI is investigating any other parties in conjunction with the June indictments of Deese and Dugger.
Steve Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville, the office which had prosecuted, and which continues to prosecute all cases involved with the Crosby/AIS kickback scheme, declined to comment on any aspect of any related cases—past or present—or whether further indictments are forthcoming.
As for Arduin, she says she does not know whether or not she currently has any financial interest in the Geo Group, or in any other private corrections interest.
“My investment guys have me in so many different mutual funds, I can’t… I have no idea,” said Arduin. “I don’t know.”
Over the course of the 2010 midterm election year, Arduin worked as an advisor to the campaign of U.S. Senator Rubio, as well as to the campaign of newly-elected Florida Governor Rick Scott. She currently heads Scott’s budget advisory team.
Subsequent events (added August, 2012):
The state of Florida dropped its prosecution of former Rep. Ray Sansom in May of 2011. Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs cited the court’s refusal to allow the testimony of a key witness as grounds for the dismissal. The state’s prosecution stemmed from allegations that Sansom had inserted a $6 million appropriation into the state’s 2007-2008 budget for the construction of a private aircraft hangar for GOP donor Jay Odom.
Nevertheless, on June 6, 2011, federal investigators subpoenaed records at the Florida House of Representatives pertaining to Sansom’s travel and legislative expenses drawn from excess campaign finances. Travel vouchers filed by former Sansom staffers– Melanie Phister, Eric Edwards, Dort Baltes and Samantha Sullivan–were also subpoenaed. Sullivan was ordered to appear for testimony before a federal grand jury.
It is worth noting that Phister, who had been hired by the office of Speaker Rubio in 2006 to work under Sansom, was hired as a lobbyist by the firm of Johnson and Blanton in January, 2012. Johnson and Blanton’s principals, Jon Johnson and Travis Blanton, along with Johnson and Blanton lobbyist Amy Christian, are longtime Geo Group/Geo Care lobbyists. Phister currently lobbies on behalf of both Geo Group and Geo Care, among other clients. (It is also worth noting that, according to Phister’s Johnson and Blanton staff biography, Phister had been employed by the firm in the years immediately preceding her work under Sansom. From 2004 through 2006, Phister worked for Johnson and Blanton as a lobbyist, a manager of “projects” and “special assignments,” and as a “marketing strategies” researcher.)
A month prior to the issuance of the House subpoenas, federal investigators subpoenaed records in the possession of TEAM Santa Rosa. The subpoenas specifically sought records pertaining to Sansom, Geo Group and “Project Justice.” (Read more about the June, 2011 subpoenas and view subpoenaed House and TEAM records here: https://dbapress.com/archives/1892).
Since the issuance of the June, 2011 subpoenas, members of the Florida press have asked Sansom about a March 27, 2008 trip to Boca Raton. This trip, and its proximity to events surrounding the legislative birth of Blackwater River CF were first reported by DBA Press in January of 2011.
As reported by DBA Press, House travel records show then-House Budget Chair Sansom taking a trip to Boca Raton, 400 miles from his north Florida district. Sansom reported, at the time, that the trip was conducted for “personal business.” Sansom has subsequently stated that the purpose of the trip was to meet with other unnamed lawmakers. The former lawmaker has consistently been unable to state the purpose of the trip or to name other lawmakers present.
Boca Raton is the site of Geo Group’s corporate headquarters.
Interestingly, Sansom returned to Tallahassee and, on April 4, inserted a proviso in the 2008-2009 House General Appropriations Bill calling for the $110 million expansion of a Geo Group facility. This proviso would eventually morph into the creation of Blackwater River CF.
Subsequent federal grand jury subpoenas issued in August, 2011 in Santa Rosa County, to both TEAM Santa Rosa and to the Santa Rosa County Commission, seem to focus on a Sansom-owned business, Ray Sansom, Inc., as well as Blackwater CF project manager, Georgia-based Carter Goble Lee.
Federal investigators also seized a Santa Rosa County Commission computer in August. The computer had formerly been used by former County Commissioner Gordon Goodin. Goodin was a leading proponent of “Project Justice.”
Rick Scott, Donna Arduin and a historic privatization attempt
On February 7, 2011 newly-elected Florida Governor Rick Scott unveiled his budget proposal to cut approximately $5 billion in state spending. The proposal was the actuation of Scott’s “7-7-7 Jobs” plan (“seven steps, seven years, 700,000 jobs”), much touted by Scott and supporters over the course of the 2010 campaign as the solution for the state’s deep fiscal woes.
The plan was Donna Arduin’s key contribution to the Scott campaign. And Arduin, as head of Scott’s transitional budget advisory team, was tasked with assembling the full budget proposal for presentation to the legislature.
According to documents released by the Executive Office of Governor Scott (EOG), this budget team was handpicked and led by Arduin. The team consisted of Tad DeHaven, Talmadge Heflin, Randall Holcombe, Art Laffer and Robert McClure.
DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Heflin is director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy. Arduin is a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Interestingly enough, 2010 Texas Public Policy Foundation tax records list a donation of $15,000 from Geo Group.
Laffer is, of course, Arduin’s business partner at Arduin, Laffer and Moore (ALME). Laffer and Stephen Moore (of ALME) are also on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Board of Scholars. Moore had served as director of fiscal policy and as a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and is founder of Club for Growth– yet another limited-government-free-market “conservative” ‘think tank.’
It is worth noting, given Arduin’s advisory role with the Rubio senate campaign, that the Club for Growth Political Action Committee (PAC) committed $10,002.45 in support to Rubio’s senate bid in just over two months– February 12 to April 16, 2010. This support was delivered in the form of independent expenditures for electioneering communications aimed both at supporting Rubio and at criticizing Rubio’s chief opponent, Charlie Crist. These expenditures occurred in the heated pre-primary election months leading up to Crist’s departure from the Republican Party (Crist announced he would continue to run as an independent on April 29, 2010).
McClure is president and CEO of the James Madison Institute.
Holcombe is a senior fellow at the James Madison Institute.
The Cato Institute is an offshoot of the Charles Koch Foundation. Charles and David Koch, the principal shareholders of Koch Industries, are the financiers of a network of “conservative” and “libertarian” not-for-profit organizations. Such Koch-funded groups have included Americans for Prosperity, the Reason Foundation, ALEC, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the James Madison Institute and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
A staple agenda item for these ‘think tanks’ has been the privatization of public services. And, according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, Koch Industries was fairly heavily invested in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)– owning tens of thousands of shares in the nation’s largest private profit prison/immigrant detention center operator– from 2002 through 2005 (to be fair, Koch Industries held hundreds of thousands of shares in a diverse set of corporate interests during this time). During the 1990s, the private prison industry enjoyed tremendous growth, thanks, in large part, to “tough-on-crime” legislation advanced by ALEC (of which CCA was a part), the National Rifle Association (another longtime ALEC member) and other “conservative” Koch-backed think tanks.
Not surprisingly, given the influence of Arduin’s budget advisory team, the 2011 Scott budget proposal took heavy aim at the state’s prison system and state prison health care.
Prior to the unveiling of the full budget proposal, the Arduin/Scott “7-7-7″ budget plan advertised a reduction in correctional costs by $1 billion simply by “paying competitive market-based salaries for correction’s staff, utilizing inmate labor to grow prison food, and competitively bidding health care contracts resulting in public prison costs that are as low as private prisons…”. In reality, as shown with the unveiling of the full budget proposal, the plan called for the elimination of nearly 8,700 state government positions– 1,690 of which would be eliminated from FDOC through $82 million in budget cuts.
Additionally, the proposed budget called for the privatization of all three of the Florida’s public mental hospitals– a gig which seemed ideally suited for Geo Group’s correctional/mental health care subsidiary, Geo Care, already the largest private provider of such services in the state.
As dramatic as the proposed cuts to FDOC were at the time of the budget’s unveiling, a proviso inserted into the budget called for the privatization of a full third of FDOC operations– 29 facilities in 18 south Florida counties. Not surprisingly, the proviso had been inserted into the budget by Senate budget chair J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales). Arduin had worked as a budget consultant to Alexander in 2010. This collaboration resulted in a proviso to that year’s budget that called for a $24 million cut to the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) budget in order to close existing state-run facilities so that Blackwater River CF could be filled and opened.
And, as was the case in 2010, the 2011 Alexander privatization proviso bore Arduin’ hoofmarks. In October of 2011, Alexander told the Tallahassee Democrat that the proviso calling for the privatization of the 29 FDOC facilities had been “suggested” by Arduin.
With the passage of this budget and the privatization proviso, the Florida legislature initiated one of the largest prison privatization plans in the history of the nation (comparable efforts had previously been attempted in Tennessee and Arizona). Nevertheless, in July of 2011, the Florida Police Benevolent Association (FPBA)– the union then representing the bulk of the state’s prison guards– filed suit to enjoin the privatization plan. Essentially, FPBA argued that the privatization plan violated extant state law governing prison privatization in that the privatization mandate had been passed as a budgetary proviso– not as a stand-alone bill.
In September, 2011, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fullford ruled in favor of FPBA.
“This Court concludes that if it is the will of the Legislature to itself initiate privatization of Florida prisons, as opposed to [FDOC], the Legislature must do so by general law, rather than ‘using the hidden recesses of the General Appropriations Act,’” opined Fullford in her ruling.
While the Scott administration had stated it would not appeal the ruling, in October, 2011, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an appeal to the Fullford ruling. In July, 2012, the appeals court struct down Bondi’s appeal, ruling that the Attorney General did not have standing in the case, as Bondi was not a party listed in the original circuit court case.
In January, 2012, lawmakers championing the prison privatization agenda, led by Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Melbourne) and Alexander, introduced SB 2038, which– like the budget proviso before it– called for the privatization of the entire southern FDOC region.
Despite intensive partisan and industry lobbying on behalf of the bill, SB 2038 was defeated in the Florida Senate on February 14, 2012 (dubbed the “St. Valentine’s Massacre” by opponents of the privatization plan). Interestingly enough, though many Republican senators had broken party ranks and joined with the Senate’s 12 Democrats in voting the bill down, Sen. Don Gaetz (who had been a staunch supporter, along with former Rep. Sansom, of Blackwater River CF and “Project Justice”), Sen. John Thrasher (who had introduced the Senate counterpart to 2011′s anti-public-emplyee-union “Paycheck Protection” bill– a bill with ALEC roots, heavily touted by such Koch-backed public policy groups as Americans for Prosperity) and Senate President Mike Haridopolos (whose “special counsel” Andy Bardos had worked closely with the Florida Chamber of Commerce in drafting the 2011 “Paycheck Protection” bill) all joined Alexander in voting for the bill. And, as in the death of the “Paycheck Protection” bill, a handful of moderate Republicans led opposition within the state’s GOP ranks. Namely, in the case of SB 2038, the Republican privatization resistance was led by Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland– Dockery had been an outspoken critic of Blackwater River CF as well) and Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater).
These Republican lawmakers, for whatever reason, simply could not be convinced that trading more than 3,500 state jobs for negligible savings though privatization– at a time when both the state prison population and economy were virtually static– was a good idea.
In a statement to the Miami Herald, one of the GOP senators who voted against the bill summed up what seemed to be the key to dissent on the issue:
“What’s wrong with state employees?” said Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole). “We should be taking care of them, rather than kicking them under the bus.”
Sen. Fasano, then-chairman of the Senate Civil and Criminal Justice Budget Subcommittee, had been one of the most outspoken legislative critics of the Scott privatization plan, questioning, since the unveiling of the 2011 Scott budget proposal, why the Governor would push for increased spending for prison privatization when existing state-run facilities contained thousands of unoccupied beds.
Following the introduction of the budget in 2011, Fasano called for key Scott budget staff to appear before his committee for questioning. Amazingly, members of Scott’s budget staff stated publicly that they intended to boycott the subcommittee.
For his criticism of the privatization plan, Sen. President Haridopolos removed Fasano as chair of the criminal justice appropriations subcommittee in February of 2012. And Fasano wasn’t the only casualty of the Scott privatization plan. In August of 2011, Scott forced the resignation of FDOC Secretary Edwin Buss. Buss, like Fasano, had been an ardent critic of the privatization plan.
Those seeking clarity in understanding Florida’s unprecedented slide into wholesale prison privatization under the Scott administration may need look no farther than the events of February 6, 2011– Super Bowl Sunday.
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Scott was a guest at a Super Bowl party at the home of lobbyist Brian Ballard the day prior to the unveiling of the budget proposal. According to Florida lobby disclosure records, Ballard is a longtime state legislative lobbyist for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and, as of January 14, 2011, an executive branch lobbyist for Geo Group.
According to the Sentinel, Ballard had helped to raise more than $3 million for Scott’s inaugural celebration (according to EOG documents, Ballard and his wife Kathryn actually served as “finance chairs” for the inaugural committee). Additionally, as reported by the Sentinel, Geo Group– in addition to the more than $400,000 in contributions paid out to the Republican Party of Florida during the 2010 election cycle– contributed $25,000 to the Scott debutante event.
It is also worth noting that Carrie O’Rourke, daughter of former Geo Group Chief Financial Officer John O’Rourke (1991 to August, 2009. It should be noted, however, that a Geo Group press release announcing O’Rourke’s retirement stated that O’Rourke would likely continue work for the private prison corporation as a “consultant” following his departure as CFO. In keeping with this, O’Rourke founded the consulting firm of J.G. O’Rourke and Associates, LLC. in August, 2009), served as finance director of the Scott inaugural committee. It is also worth noting that the Scott gubernatorial campaign employed the services of veteran Florida GOP fundraiser Meredith O’Rourke, Carrie O’Rourke’s sister.
As such, given these ties, it comes as no surprise that, according to EOG records, the Scott gubernatorial transition team considered and interviewed John O’Rourke for the position of FDOC secretary during these early months of the administration. While O’Rourke did not get the FDOC job, Scott did appoint O’Rourke to the Florida Prepaid College Board (Gubernatorially- appointed administrators of the state secondary education scholarship and savings programs) in February of 2011.
As reported by Politico (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/51039.html), the Romney presidential campaign retained the fundraising services of Meredith O’Rourke in March of 2011. Senatorial candidate Rubio had also retained the fundraising services of O’Rourke’s firm, Forward Strategies, during the 2010 election cycle.
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