St. Petersburg, Florida -- The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority which criticized 10 Investigates for raising questions about improperly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money is now backpedaling. The PSTA is returning the money to the federal government.
Two weeks ago, Rep. David Jolly said he thought the issue: "Is very important that it be looked at."
The issue revolves around PSTA "feel good" ad paid for with money from the Department of Homeland Security.
According to PSTA internal documents, the money was supposed to be used to encourage transit patrons to alert authorities if they see anything suspicious and promote awareness of security issues.
After looking at the spots, 10 Investigates asked PSTA executive director, Brad Miller, "I don't understand how the TV spots do that?"
Miller said: "I understand your question. The DHS program, the public outreach is much more than bombs and terrorism and police force."
The PSTA returns federal grant money after 10 Investigates raised questions about how the money was spent.
And critics of a proposed transportation tax called Greenlight Pinellas, like Dr. David McKalip, insist the ads that have a tag line, "To learn more visit Greenlight Pinellas.com," were a front for promoting the tax.
"In my opinion they've crossed the line, they've abused taxpayer dollars," McKalip said.
After the first story by 10 Investigates, the PSTA board and Miller blasted the report for being off-base. He told the board, "And I've circled what the Department of Homeland Security approved the spending of those funds for."
But in the email to the PSTA board, Miller admits Homeland Security never approved the ads, it was threatening to demand repayment and PSTA voluntarily reimbursed the federal DHS $354,000 that funded the program.
McKalip says it was the right thing to do because, "This money was supposed to be used to stop bus bombings instead PSTA abused it so they could promote their Pinellas Greenlight rail boondoggle."
Meantime, in the email Miller continues to defend the TV spots and admits somewhere down the road Homeland Security would force the agency to return the money. There is speculation Miller didn't want that happening at the same time voters were going to the polls deciding on a transit tax.
Background on his story: