Tampa, Florida -- In a stinging rebuke to Tampa Representative Jamie Grant and several other politicians, a Hardee County grand jury has released a report saying more than $7 million of public money was misused, unaccounted for and the public has nothing to show for it.
The 23-page report which was released on Saturday looked like Hardee County's largest single investments in what was supposed to be a job producing boon for the county, however, the grand jury called it a disaster.
[To view the Grand Jury Presentment on a mobile device, CLICK HERE]
It not only slams Grant, but Orlando Rep. Jason Broudeur, Hardee County Rep. Ben Albritton and his brother Joe who helped broker a deal to give Grant's company millions in a public grant.
When we first broke the story two years ago, Grant tried to avoid our cameras, but when we tracked him down in Tallahassee as he was going to a fundraiser for his reelection campaign, he told us, "Your facts are off Mike. Joe Albritton has no equity in my company [and] has never had any equity in my company."
Grant went on to say, "The allegation that anybody who was related to a legislator and the allegation that anybody involved in the grant process received equity or was related to a legislator is completely offensive."
What the grand jury found offensive is the fact that Joe Albritton, the brother of Hardee County Rep. Ben Albritton, had behind-the-scene maneuvers to ensure the approval of the grant that would directly benefit his family's business venture.
The grand jury says when Jamie Grant received the first $2.5 million of the $7.25 million grant, he was 28, brought no equity, no start-up capital, no business track record, and no credibility to the table.
Jerry Hill, the state attorney for the 10th Judicial District who led the grand jury, agrees with the findings, "I think that is clearly what the evidence shows. I think it is inescapable that there were some folks with influence and in positions of power that made the initial pitch, and that had an impact on those decision makers that were going to spend this money."
Grant, who has maintained all along, "there is nothing we have ever done that has not been fully transparent," issued a lengthy statement saying:
"Although the success of this project has been blatantly and purposefully misrepresented, the facts remain that this project currently employs 34 people in Hardee County and growing, has created an annualized payroll in excess of $1.125 million in Hardee County alone, has raised more the $4 million in additional private sector investment subsequent to the initial funding, and continues to do business with healthcare providers and health systems across the country. We have and will maintain our focus on the continued growth of this project and refuse to engage those with a political or financial agenda to kill economic growth in Hardee County."
With no monitoring, Grant and his cronies were able to spend money on items including Godiva chocolates, hundreds of dollars on sushi, a $500 bill from The Olive Garden, and thousands of dollars in airline tickets totaling almost $50,000 of exposes on the public dime.
The grand jury also blasted Hardee County Official Bill Lambert, who was supposed to monitor how the money was to be used, but instead acted like the "fox protecting the hen house" so the individuals involved were living large off Hardee County's money.
Lambert issued a 14-page written statement blasting the grand jury findings with a point-by-point defense of what he did.
"I don't apologize for anything we've done or intend to do," he says.
[To view Lambert's response to the Grand Jury Presentment on a mobile device, CLICK HERE]
However, Hill says that is an example of the position Lambert has been taking all along, "That tiger won't change his stripes."
Hill, meanwhile, stands by the grand jury findings that there have been no tangible results, the projections have proven to be mere smoke and not even close to being met, and there is no documentable progress towards creating long-term jobs in Hardee County.
Meanwhile, because of an election procedural challenge, Grant is out of the Legislature until April when he runs in a special election against a write-in candidate and sure to win. However as a result of the Grand Jury report, sources say there may be a call for Grant to step aside and have someone else run for the seat.