Clearwater, Florida -- Shocking emails have been uncovered by 10 Investigates showing the PSTA plotted to misspend a federal grant to promote its upcoming transportation ballot issue Greenlight Pinellas, and now Congressman David Jolly is calling for Homeland Security to investigate.
Pages and pages of emails we obtained through a public records request show that instead of using hundreds of thousands of dollars of Homeland Security money to make the buses safer, PSTA had a plan to advance its transportation initiative that goes to the voters in November.
When we showed the emails to U.S. Congressman David Jolly, (R)-Pinellas County, he told us," It is a bit shocking."
The emails 10 Investigates discovered show PSTA CEO Brad Miller lied when he explained how the agency used a $350,000 grant from Homeland Security.
Miller told us earlier this year, when we asked him how the agency was using the grant money, "It's about this general idea of making the transportation system safe and secure."
That was before Miller was forced to return the money to the federal government because our previous stories pointed out PSTA used the money for TV ads to promote Greenlight Pinellas.
Although Miller and the board including Chairman Ken Welch blasted our initial reports, after being forced to return the money, Welch told his board and the public, "This organization made a mistake with the handling of that grant."
While Welch tried to pass off the misuse of federal money as an honest mistake, the emails show it was intentional.
In one email Director of Marketing Janet Recca stated, "We were able to leverage our federal grant dollars and further Greenlight efforts."
EMAILS: Here are the emails
In another, Miller says of the ads they must have the Greenlight logo. "I insist on this and won't approve payment on anything else."
And another Miller again says, "And I know you [referring to Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers] and Janet have heartburn about how this grant is being used[...] we can easily add some stuff about your beloved security."
When we told Jolly it appeared the emails show they knew they were using the taxpayer dollars to do that, he said, "In their words, they leveraged the grant money -- essentially taxpayer dollars -- they leveraged taxpayer dollars to promote Greenlight, that's wrong."
And earlier this year when the controversy erupted, Welch said of the ads and the misspent money, "This was last year, this is not tied to the Greenlight effort that is underway right now."
However, Greenlight is exactly what it is about and Jolly is calling for DHS to open an investigation. He agreed that the emails are the "smoking gun" people are always looking for and says, "Listen, this should be looked at."
Although PSTA returned the money to the federal government, in this letter Homeland Security tells PSTA even if the debt is paid in full, the United States does not waive its right to pursue any applicable civil or criminal penalties. And that's what could happen if an investigation is opened.