Tampa, Florida --Our 10 News Investigation is getting action.
The Investigators' first broke the story about three state legislators who got millions to bring jobs to a local county. But today, there is little to show for it.
Our story aired on Monday, and now state ethics investigators are involved.
All while the man at the center of the deal tries to spin the story.
All the while people who can't find work, like a woman we are calling Teresa, are fed up.
"It's discouraging, it is disheartening, it's just despicable," she says.
Teresa has been out of work for more than a year and a half. That's why she was so upset to learn that Tampa State Representative Jamie Grant engineered a deal with two other state reps to get $2.6 million taxpayer dollars to create jobs in Hardee County.
But as we reported Monday, a scathing Auditor General's report found the legislator's company, LifeSync, brought just 10 jobs to the county- several of them for relatives of people connected to the deal.
Testifying about the LifeSync deal in front of the Florida Joint Legislative audit committee, The General Counsel for the Auditor General John Tenewitz said "We tried to look for good things, but at the end of our field work, it is our belief this created no employment in the county."
The Auditor General also said the politicians never should have received the money, because they applied for it without having a company or product.
After our report aired, Representative Grant complained bitterly to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times about our investigation, saying that we "misrepresented things in a way [he's] never seen."
But let's look at the facts.
When we finally tracked down Grant in Tallahassee after he had been ducking us for weeks, he said he didn't want to talk to us because we were talking to people who criticized the deal.
"What about the auditor general? The auditor general said you should not have gotten the grant the way it was given out," we asked Grant.
Grant replied, "Mike, I think your understanding is off and that process is still running its course."
Grant is wrong. The Auditor General's report is not a preliminary, but a final audit.
And that's not all Grant is wrong about. He told the newspapers, "At the end of the day, it wasn't a taxpayer grant. It's private money."
Not true. Page three of the audit talks about the grant and says "Board of County Commissioners may expend public funds", and talks about the grant being public funds several times throughout the report.
And then there is the status of his business partner- Orlando State Rep Jason Brodeur- who avoided commenting to the 10 News Investigators for weeks.
When we tracked Brodeur in his Tallahassee office we finally asked what he could be trying to hide.
After telling us," I'm not trying to hide anything," Brodeur wouldn't answer any more questions- keeping to the company line that we are talking to critics of the deal, so he doesn't want to talk to us.
While Brodeur says he isn't trying to hide anything, Grant seems to be hiding Brodeur's involvement in the company. Grant told the newspapers Brodeur is a consultant for LifeSync. But state records list the politician as a director of the company.
Finally, Grant complained to the papers "We never violated the agreement."
He told us, there is nothing we have ever done that has not been fully transparent."
Not true again. Page 7 of the auditor general report says that, contrary to the provisions of the grant agreement, the company did not obtain prior written approval to assign the grant agreement- and in effect, sell the deal to another company.
The bottom line?
A lot of money was handed out to Grant and his colleagues to help bring jobs to Hardee County.
But to people like Theresa, it wasn't worth it. She says she will do any kind of work from cleaning toilets to working on a road gang, but can't find job.
As we reported, ethics complaints have been filed, and state investigators will now look into the allegations regarding these public officials.
But the legislators may have more cause for concern: we also asked Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, who is pushing ethics reform, to take a look at our report, and the 10 News Investigators will stay on top of this to see what he plans to do about it.
We contacted Grant's Office today for a response and Thursday evening one of his business partners in LifeSync, frequent companion, and Lobbyist, Jennifer Lux sent us a statement:
As I have maintained from the outset of your "fact-finding", I would have been more than willing to detail LifeSync Technologies' role in the Hardee County Tech Park if you were not actively collaborating with individuals who are intentionally working against economic development in Hardee County, if you were not publicly coordinating with those individuals about their testimony at public hearings, and if I had any reason to believe you were interested in reporting news, not creating it.
Your initial "report", the selective manipulation of the more than 8 minutes of footage you have from our conversation, and the misrepresentation of this story have only further confirmed what has been known from the very outset of your "interest"; you have an agenda that will not be derailed by the facts. So long as that is the case and until informed otherwise, you may assume that both my company and myself are consulting with lawyers and exploring every potential recourse.
James W. Grant