10 Investigates what happened to money given to local lawmaker

Wauchula, Florida --Imagine dozens and dozens of jobs promised in a community for a startup business paid with taxpayer dollars and, years later, nothing.

10 Investigates a company formed by Tampa Representative Jamie Grant to help revive one of the poorest areas in the state, Hardee County.

A major part of the problem is there is no paper trail of what the money is being used for.

We tried to ask the man who was supposed to keep track of the money, Hardee County economic development director Bill Lambert, but he ran away from us. When we asked questions, he started reciting the Pledge of Allegiance saying, "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America."

Lambert was behind a seven million dollar grant given to a company founded by Tampa Representative Jamie Grant and other lawmakers. The company was supposed to bring jobs to, and have a huge economic impact for, Hardee County, but people like Don Samuels, who is now on the committee that awarded Representative Grant the public money, asks, "Where's the money going and what are we getting for it?"

Although the company founded by Grant is supposed to have 36 employees by years-end, and 40 next year, it has never had more than 15 and it has been losing employees. The company says it has 11 or 12 people working for it in Hardee County.

Many people in Hardee County are asking similar questions. Retired Air Force Colonel Hank Kuhlman says, "We requested the records and they said they didn't have it."

Kuhlman has filed a suit to find out where the money went. He says he was forced to file the suit. "After two and half million dollars went out the door to Mr. Grant, Representative Grant, we started asking questions."

And, according to Kuhlman, they couldn't get answers.

Meanwhile, as part of the conditions of the grant, the head of the Hardee County Economic Development Commission, Bill Lambert, is supposed to monitor how the funds are spent. However, instead of inspecting the records at his office or Representative Grant's office, Lambert testified under oath he inspected the records in a parking lot while sitting in a pickup truck.

During the deposition, when Kuhlman's attorney asked Lambert where the pickup truck was when he reviewed the files, Lambert said, "I don't recall."

When Lambert was asked if he thought it was unusual to review the records in his pickup truck, he said, "I do. I do."

Kuhlman says, "It cannot be explained. There is no answer for what they did."

"I don't think they met," he says.

Even though Lambert is required to give detailed reports on this project, there aren't any. He says it would take three days to explain. When we tried to confront him about another time and record him on our iPhone, Lambert grabbed out phone, gave it back, and then ran.

We asked Kuhlman, "More than $7 million in public money have flowed out of this county. What do you have to show for it?"

He told us, "Zero."

But last year, Grant told 10 News his company would do good things for Hardee County despite an auditor general report to the contrary.

We said to Grant, "The auditor general's contention [was] they couldn't find any jobs or economic impact to Hardee County?" He responded that that was completely laughable.

However, Kuhlman says the accounting is laughable as well, saying, "So Representative Grant has taken a boatload of money out of this county, made unbelievable promises about what he is going to do for this county, and the money is gone and the promises are broken."

The hopes for many new jobs don't appear to be on the horizon and the man who is supposed to account for the money either can't or won't say where it went.

But despite the lack of accounting of the money, Representative Grant has been tweeting he is doing innovative stuff by the product developed by his county, and we've been told it was one of the most innovative technological products of the year. But he would not say how that is benefiting Hardee County or would not confirm that he passed the financial records to Bill Lambert in a pickup truck.

In addition, Grant continues to insist that the money his company received from the county is not public money because it was given to the county by Mosaic Phosphate in return for mining rights.

However, the Auditor General says the money is from the taxpayers -- and now the company is asking for another $2 million.


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