Newly obtained Orange County grand-jury records detail a sophisticated political-fundraising operation run out of Central Florida's toll-road authority and appear to place the agency's director in the middle of it — an allegation he flatly denies.
The records — including a two-page memo and a fax — appear to support the grand jury's conclusion that the director, Mike Snyder, knew about what grand jurors termed an "organized shakedown" of companies that worked for the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority between 2002 and 2006.
The grand-jury report, released in February, cited a "culture of corruption" at the agency and said then-Chairman Allan Keen worked with two longtime agency consultants to raise more than $468,000 for 18 candidates in a five-year span.
But Snyder, who recently received a five-year contract extension that pays him more than $246,000 annually, asserted in an interview what he also has testified to under oath — that he knew nothing of Keen's fundraising operation.
"I was not aware of it and therefore could not have done something about it," said Snyder, who runs the daily operations of the authority and will oversee a controversial 25-cent toll increase that takes effect today.
Snyder said he is "sick and tired" of dealing with fallout from the report, which was completed in 2006 but delayed 16 months by legal appeals by Keen, who resigned in 2007.
"This is 3 years old already. It's been looked at by everybody.... It's time to move on," Snyder said.
The documents, released by State Attorney Lawson Lamar's office in response to a public-records request, also help explain how the grand jury totaled the amounts vendors gave to Central Florida politicians. One of the biggest recipients was Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, who ran for re-election in 2006 while he sat on the authority's board.
The documents include communications among Keen, a Winter Park developer and major Republican fundraiser; Ron Pecora, the authority's former marketing consultant; and Bob Paulsen of PBS&J, the authority's general engineering adviser since 1982. The grand jury identified Pecora and Paulsen as Keen's key go-betweens with agency vendors.
A February 2006 memo by Pecora — written to members of the fundraising group — summarized its "fundraising strategy meeting."
"Ken Wright [the agency's legal counsel] explained that Chairman Keen, [then-board member] Orlando Evora and Mike Snyder will be the individuals from the Expressway Authority who are asked to assist with fundraising," Pecora wrote.
Wright, an Orlando attorney, could not be reached for comment, nor could Keen. Pecora would not comment. Snyder said he never saw the memo and was never asked to raise money.
"I was not involved," he said.
Just a month later, in March 2006, Keen had an invitation to a fundraising reception and luncheon for then-U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, that would feature Vice President Dick Cheney. Keen wrote a note on it, apparently to his secretary: "Fax to Mike S. Ask to call me pls."
Snyder recalls discussing the fax with Keen. "He said, 'The vice president is coming to town. Do you want to meet him?' And I said, 'No,'" Snyder said.
Crotty, who succeeded Keen as authority chairman, would not comment on the new records related to Snyder. He said he would await the conclusions of a task force he created last month to review Snyder's status and other agency issues.
But board member Tanya Juarez, who had called for Snyder to resign, said that even accepting the director's insistence he knew nothing of the fundraising shows he's unfit to hold the job.
"If he was oblivious to this, do I want somebody who is not aware of what's going on beneath him?" said Juarez, a utility lobbyist. "How could he not know what was going on? That's what I question."
The authority's three other board members were generally supportive of Snyder, adding they believed his denials.
The newly released grand-jury documents offer the clearest glimpse yet of the fundraising operation run by Keen, Pecora and Paulsen.
Pecora's memo says key contractors — himself, Wright and Paulsen, as well as PBS&J executive Tom Pellarin and Marios Cecchi of Florida Toll Services — "will work together to compile an extensive list of vendors and consultants to use when making phone calls requesting donations."
The memo says donation solicitors should "ensure they create a sense of accountability for the donor." It closes with a call for a Crotty campaign event "sponsored by the Expressway Authority to kick-off the fundraising initiative."
Other records show how investigators attempted to track those donations by matching up names on vendor lists — and publicly available employee rosters — with names on campaign finance records.
Crotty continues to dispute the grand jury's claim that his 2006 campaign pulled in nearly $63,000 in vendor donations. That number, he said, is vastly inflated.
"Many of the people on their list are long-time supporters who would have contributed to my mayoral campaign whether I was on the expressway authority board or not," Crotty said in a statement. "Any claims to the contrary are preposterous."
For example, the mayor pointed to$500 donations from the Embassy Suites Hotel and the Akerman Senterfitt law firm, both named by the grand jury as expressway-authority vendors.
But Crotty said the contributions are tied to his campaign co-chairmen, hotelier Skip Dalton and attorney Pat Christiansen, who would have given regardless of any business ties to the agency.
However, the donation-tracking documents show that the grand-jury report understated the number of Crotty's vendor-related contributions.
For instance, investigators did not include at least $3,750 raised by Consensus Communications of Orlando, which lobbies for the authority. One possible reason for the omission: The firm did not have a contract with the agency, even though it was paid $6,000 a month.
A Sentinel analysis also found that investigators also did not include a total of $7,050 in other contributions from lawyers, engineers and contractors with business at the toll agency.
Investigators who testified before the grand jury also identified other politicians who received large sums of vendor-related contributions:
•U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., collected $179,800 in his 2004 campaign from various authority vendors. An additional $6,850 had arrived through 2006, records show.
•Keller received $84,880 from authority vendors over three campaigns from 2002 to 2006.
•Former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, received $58,525 from individual donors related to the toll agency.
When reached for comment, the politicians or spokesmen for them said they were unaware of specific fundraising efforts done for their campaigns by agency-related donors.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times