Pitch Black Sunshine

A post of mine from Florida Viewpoint. I should have posted it here.

How Rick Scott Used Taxpayer Money to Avoid Scrutiny of Illegal Activity

This is old news to many, but it wasn’t very well covered by the mainstream press, and like many issues of grave importance to common Floridians, it went away far too quickly.

The Miami Herald broke the story on August 7, 2015. Right-leaning Washington Timesalso published a story  a couple of weeks later about the governor’s scandalous flouting of the Florida Sunshine Law.

Breaking Down Rick Scott’s Brigandage

Essentially, the governor was able orchestrate a precedent-setting agreement to settle seven public records lawsuits that alleged that he and several members of his staff violated state law by creating private email accounts to hide their communications from the public. Scott and his cronies attempted to circumvent open-government laws through the use of private email accounts to conduct government business. 

All together, the settlement came in at a whopping $700,000 cost in taxpayer cash. There are several striking aspects of the settlement that should make just about everyone sick to their stomachs.  This is classic malfeasance in state government, and so far, Scott has gotten away with it.

Origins of a Hornswoggling

Back in June of 2015, “Scott and the Cabinet agreed to pay $55,000 to St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew Weidner, open government advocacy groups, and several media organizations, including the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, who accused Scott and the Cabinet of violating the state’s open meeting laws when they allowed staff to use back channels to oust former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey with no public discussion or vote.” (From The Miami Herald.) The case was ultimately settled the next month.

The seven lawsuits settled in August of 2015 were all filed against Scott by Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, who had been suing Scott since 2012. Initially he sued the Governor for violating a land contract involving the building in Tallahassee where Andrews’ law firm is located. That case morphed into multiple open-records lawsuits when Andrews uncovered evidence of email hanky panky by the governor and his cronies while he was attempting to obtain emails and documents related to the real estate case.

Andrews had discovered that Scott and some of his staff had set up Gmail accounts, which they then used to conduct government business. Obviously, government business is public business, and is subject to open-records laws. It was a clear attempt by Scott and his minions to get around the law by hiding their communications from the public eye.

What is absolutely unacceptable is the fact that Scott and his band of treasury burglars have been allowed to use public money to settle lawsuits that contend that he and his staff have been hiding their activities from the public

Backing a Rather Slippery Governor into a Corner

According to the Herald, Andrews had to individually sue each former member of Scott’s staff against whom he had discovered evidence of impropriety. Andrews also had to get a California judge to order Google to turn over the IP addresses of emails sent to or from Scott’s Gmail account. After the California judge issued the order, a trial date was set, and Scott’s arm was sufficiently twisted. He suddenly decided he wanted to strike a deal.

That fact alone is prima facie evidence that Scott was indeed afraid of losing in the courtroom, which in turn provides more than a mere supposition that he knew he had done things that would get him in big trouble.

Well, Andrews smelled the cash and took it. He agreed to end his quest for the governor’s records. For a fistful of dollars, he agreed to “permanently abandon and forgo any and all rights to access those records.”  That’s directly from the language of the settlement. It doesn’t read, “alleged rights;” it reads, “rights.” He essentially allowed the governor to bribe him to surrender his rights. He also agreed to relinquish any right to depose anyone on the governor’s staff about those records.

A Smug Rick Scott

Andrews, to date, hasn’t commented on the settlement. The governor, however, has. According to the Herald,  When reporters asked him if he or his staffers used private email accounts to discuss public business privately, Scott categorically denied doing so. Said Scott, “Absolutely not. We follow the law.”  He referred to Andrews as “just an individual that sues the state; tries to cause problems.” So, Florida citizens, remember: If you try to make the governor adhere to open records laws in the performance of his duties as chief executive, you’ll be trying to cause problems.

The Very Troubling Truth

There are numerous facts surrounding the settlement that are deeply troubling. The first is the notion that Andrews could abnegate a very solid case during what may have been its  eleventh hour. It sure seems as though he had the governor tied securely over a barrel. Why would he quit? Money? Apparently so.

Another very disturbing fact is that open government advocacy groups, as well as the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, were parties to the lawsuit settled in June of 2015 and they all agreed to settle for $55,000 rather than to continue to pursue the man behind the curtain. The case itself had already run up a bill to the tune of $225,000 in legal fees, “not including the legal fees from the governor’s office.”

It is unfortunate that so many people depend on organizations such as the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times for relevant and truthful discovery of fact when those same publications are so quick to abandon the pursuit of truth for any amount of public cash.  

Yet another extremely unsettling detail concerning Scott’s misgovernance is that it is the first time in Florida history that a sitting governor and attorney general have been sued successfully for violations of Florida’s public records laws. It was the third legal defeat in a few months for the governor, and the second time he used public funds to settle a lawsuit against him. His faithful minion, Attorney General Pam Bondi, also signed the settlement.

Where Are the Investigative Authorities?

The single biggest, most excruciatingly stupefying element to all this is the utter lack of follow-up by law enforcement.

Here we have a governor who came into office after overseeing the the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, basically doing the very same thing to Florida taxpayers that he did to Columbia/HCA shareholders: He’s leaving us holding the bag for his misdeeds while in the driver’s seat. Rick Scott was CEO of Columbia/HCA when the hospital company was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud. Now he’s run up legal bills well in excess of a million dollars fending off lawsuits that attempt to pull down the curtain that he operates behind.

So where is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement? Where is the FBI? It would seem to me that there is enough evidence to warrant a thorough investigation by one or both. Indeed, the FDLE should be investigated by the FBI for not investigating the Governor.

There is, in fact, a perfect explanation for why the FDLE hasn’t investigated the Governor and his crock of crooked cronies and crackpots: The Commissioner of the FDLE is appointed by the Governor and his cabinet. Attorney General Pam Bondi sits on the cabinet. That ridiculous arrangement is a banana republic setup from start to finish if I’ve ever seen one. How can we expect the commissioner of the FDLE to take a serious look at Rick Scott’s conduct when he all but answers to Rick Scott and his cabinet in the first place, and in the second, when the attorney general, a bona fide Scott stooge, sits on that cabinet? Well, it’s obvious that we can’t. Add to that the fact the legislature has pretty much become nothing more than an extension of the far-right, and we get a vivid picture of a one-sided government that is just about completely out of control. 

Rick Scott should be investigated, indicted, tried, convicted, and incarcerated, for the good of all Floridians.

Don’t hold your breath.


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