Newly minted U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was sworn in on January 5, 2011 with unfinished business back home.
Rubio, as former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (R-Miami, 2006-2008) – as well as other state GOP lawmakers and party contributors – are currently the likely subjects of multiple wide-ranging state and federal investigations conducted by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) into improper use of credit cards issued by the Republican Party of Florida, as well as tax evasion and improper budgetary appropriations.
One such set of appropriations and legislative actions reportedly being investigated by federal authorities are those which led to the development of the state’s largest private prison, the Blackwater River Correctional Facility (Blackwater CF), which opened its gates for business in November 2010. The prison was designed and is operated by Florida-based GEO Group, Inc., the nation’s second-largest private prison firm.
To date, investigations into members of the Florida Republican Party, and into party donors, have resulted in multiple indictments. And on November 2, 2010 – election day – federal investigators subpoenaed the party’s financial records.
Perhaps the most notable individual charged to date is former Rep. Ray Sansom (R-Destin), who, while serving as Rubio’s budget chief, inserted language into the state’s 2008-2009 budget for what was to become Blackwater CF.
While Sansom has not yet been indicted or officially charged with any wrongdoing relative to the development of Blackwater CF, in February 2010, Sansom, while serving as successor to Speaker Rubio, resigned amid criminal and ethics investigations – chief of which is the allegation that he falsified the 2007-2008 budget by inserting a $6 million appropriation into the state spending bill for the construction of an aircraft hangar for Destin businessman and prominent Florida Republican Party contributor Jay Odom.
Indicted on charges of lying to a grand jury, official misconduct, grand theft and conspiracy in connection with the Odom case, Sansom is currently awaiting trial.
Cash that Rings the Till
On March 30, 2010, Elva McCaig, a nurse employed at the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) Santa Rosa Correctional Institute, and treasurer of Nurses Behind the Gate, an advocacy group for prison nurses, wrote a letter addressed to both U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Thomas Kirwin and State Attorney for Florida’s Second Judicial District Willie Meggs.
In essence, the letter laid out McCaig’s concerns that the development of Blackwater CF was yet another legislatively-mandated handout to yet another prominent Florida Republican Party contributor, GEO Group. GEO consistently reports annual revenue in excess of one billion dollars – all of which it earns through state, county and federal contracts for the detention of both criminal offenders and immigrant detainees.
Indeed, GEO is a top Florida Republican Party contributor; through two political action committees (PACs), Florida GEO Group, Inc. PAC and GEO Group, Inc. PAC, the corporation gave $85,000 to the Republican Party of Florida from 2006 through 2009, along with tens of thousands of dollars in additional contributions to other state Republican Party PACs and campaigns of individual Republican candidates.
It is also worth noting that from 2005 through 2010, GEO, through its PACs, dispensed an additional $15,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, an additional $32,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and an additional $10,000 over 2009 and 2010 directly to the Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate PAC.
GEO’s PAC spending, however, is not the limit of the appreciation the company has shown to Rubio.
On September 13, 2010, several top GEO corporate executives, along with GEO lobbyists and subcontractors, gave a total of $33,500 in individual contributions to the Florida Victory Committee, a PAC created for the benefit of three other PACS: Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Party of Florida.
All-in-all, the Florida Victory Committee received $113,500 – all on September 13, 2010 – during its most active period (August 20 through September 30, 2010). Of that amount, $51,735.90 was disbursed to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (which, in turn, contributed an amazing $2,509,644 to Rubio’s campaign throughout the 2010 election cycle); further, $13,305 was disbursed to the Republican Party of Florida and $31,458.15 was disbursed to the Rubio PAC.
In addition, GEO Chief Executive Officer and founder George Zoley gave Rubio $4,800 in personal contributions over the course of 2009 and 2010 – half of which Zoley gave to the Rubio campaign on September 13, 2010 – putting his own personal disbursements to the Rubio campaign for that single day at $7,400.
Notably, GEO was the most generous single-interest/corporate donor to contribute to the Florida Victory Committee during this period. It is also worth noting that, of the $33,500 contributed by GEO and its affiliates to this particular PAC, $10,000 came directly from Guy and Neel White, owners and chief executive officers of White Construction Company, the GEO subcontractor awarded a $114 million contract for the construction of Blackwater CF.
It should also be noted that GEO largesse is not, by any means, restricted to the Republican Party, though Republicans are by and large the corporation’s top beneficiaries.
One example of GEO showing its appreciation to a Democrat is that of former U.S. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), who, on March 16, 2009, received nearly $10,000 when several senior GEO executives, lobbyists and regional administrators decided to contribute to his campaign. Rodriguez’s district, Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, contains the longest stretch of U.S.-Mexico border of any district in the U.S. GEO is the nation’s second-largest private immigrant detention center operator.
GEO also supports independent candidates. On June 19, 2009, George Zoley and his wife, Donna, both gave two checks for $2,400 each – the maximum individual contribution to a federal candidate allowable by law – to independent U.S. Senatorial candidate, former Florida governor (and former Republican) Charlie Crist. The grand total of this combined contribution was $9,600.
Prison nurse Elva McCaig’s letter went on to lay out points of the legislative history and perceived “backroom transactions” behind the development of Blackwater CF, as well as the odd “relationships and conflicts” in the proximity of both Rubio’s economic consultant, Donna Arduin, and former Senate President Jeff Atwater’s Chief of Staff Robert “Budd” Kneip to lawmakers working to push the development of Blackwater CF.
Both Arduin and Kneip have deep ties to the GEO Group and its parent company, Wackenhut Corporation.
Without going into too much detail on the claims and concerns outlined in McCaig’s letter (for all of the factual background provided in the letter, it contained a number of errors – including erroneous claims that Xe Services, LLC/Blackwater USA were involved in the deal), the point was essentially that budgetary provisos which called for $110 million to be appropriated as a giveaway to the GEO Group were inserted into the state budget under very questionable circumstances.
The letter apparently contained enough salient, solid information that it sparked the interest of federal investigators.
According to multiple sources, federal investigators began making house calls in and around Santa Rosa County (home of Blackwater CF) and around the capitol buildings of Tallahassee during the summer of 2010, asking questions about the origins of the Blackwater prison project.
FBI spokesman Special Agent Jeff Westcott declined to either confirm or deny reports of the agency’s interest in Blackwater CF.
Origins of Blackwater in the Florida House of Representatives
In November 2006, Donna Arduin, president of Arduin, Laffer and Moore Econometrics (ALME, incorporated in Florida, February 2005), as well as of Arduin Associates, Inc. (incorporated in Florida, January 2005), was hired as an economic consultant by former Florida House Speaker Allen Bense (R-Panama City) for work on the 2007-2008 House General Appropriations Bill under incoming Speaker Marco Rubio (Bense signed this contract in his last days as speaker, while Rubio was speaker-designate). The contract commenced on December 1, 2006 and expired in May 2007 with the finalization of the appropriations bill. Under this contract, Arduin’s rate of pay was $10,000 per month.
Arduin was again contracted in September 2007 as an economic consultant for work on the 2008-2009 House General Appropriations Bill under Speaker Rubio. The contract again ran through May of the following year, terminating with the finalization of the appropriations bill. Her rate of pay was again $10,000 per month.
At the time of Arduin’s initial contract under Rubio, as well as during her work over the course of 2006 on the Florida Property Tax Reform Committee, she was also a compensated trustee of Correctional Properties Trust (AKA CentaCore Properties Trust, CPT), a real estate investment trust (REIT) established by Wackenhut Corrections in 1998.
Wackenhut Corrections, a subsidiary of Wackenhut Corporation, spun off as a separate entity (GEO Group) following the purchase of Wackenhut by Denmark-based Group 4 Falck (currently G4S) in 2003.
It is worth noting that Arduin’s ALME partners, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, were both economic advisors to President Ronald Reagan; Moore served on Reagan’s Commission on Privatization, which established policy resulting in the rebirth of the American private prison industry in the 1980s. Additionally, both Laffer and Moore are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) board of scholars.
Both GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are ALEC corporate members. [Ed. Note: ALEC and private prison companies have been tied to legislation that resulted in the expansion of prison populations in the U.S., and more recently to a controversial Arizona law that would increase the number of immigrant detainees, which would benefit private prison firms. See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.1].
On February 19, 2008, GEO Group Vice Chairman, President and Chief Operating Officer Wayne Calabrese, along with GEO Senior Vice President of North American Operations John Hurley, GEO Vice President of Business Development Cloid Shuler, and GEO lobbyist Damon Smith, delivered a presentation before the Florida Senate Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations.
The presentation was straightforward, with two primary objectives: 1) GEO would take on more prisoners and would discount per diem rates of incarceration of state prisoners in exchange for longer contracts with the state, and 2) GEO sought appropriations for two expansions to one of their existing private facilities, Graceville CF, in the form of a 384-bed expansion coupled with the development of a 1,500-bed “special needs annex” (for the “chronically mentally ill”).
To illustrate the scope of this proposal, the GEO executives were essentially seeking to sell the Florida legislature on an expansion of the existing Graceville CF (which contained 1,884 beds at that time) by up to 1,884 additional beds. In exchange for this concession – as well as increased contract lengths at other existing facilities – GEO would offer the state a “discounted rate.”
Then-House Policy and Budget Chief Ray Sansom did not seem like a man happy in his work. Reports filed with the Florida House of Representatives for travel and other expense reimbursements by Sansom during this period are marked at the outset of each legislative session with the foreboding words “session subsistence begins,” scrawled in Sansom’s hand over travel reports detailing his commutes from Destin to Tallahassee. A Florida state representative doesn’t make much – less than $30,000 per year. As such, Sansom filed meticulous reports seeking reimbursement for travel, copier toner and other office expenses.
One such report shows Sansom embarking, on March 27, 2008, on a rare trip out of his district in the Florida Panhandle (or outside of the capital) to Boca Raton, nearly 400 miles away at the southern tip of Florida, for “personal business.” Boca Raton is home to GEO Group’s corporate headquarters.
Notably, this single trip to Boca Raton is the only one of its kind found on travel reimbursement forms filed by Sansom (for himself or his staff) from 2007 to his resignation in February 2010.
Neither Sansom nor any representative of GEO Group responded to requests for comment.
While it is unclear what business Sansom had in Boca Raton, it is clear that he returned to Tallahassee and inserted a proviso in the initial draft of the 2008-2009 House General Appropriations Bill (filed with the Policy and Budget Committee on April 4, 2008) which called for “$110,000,000 in non-recurring general revenue ... for the planning, design, permitting, equipping and construction of a state-owned, privately operated 2,000 bed correctional institution ... for the housing of 2,000 medium and close custody inmates as a stand-alone annex to the Graceville Correctional Facility in Graceville, Florida.”
On April 7, following the insertion of this proviso – which was never run by any committee for approval – Representative Curtis Richardson (D-Tallahassee) amended the budget to strike the proviso, as it was obviously a legislatively-mandated giveaway to GEO Group.
Sansom responded on April 8, 2008 with a revised proviso stripped of all Graceville-specific language. In other respects the new proviso was identical: $110 million for a new 2,000-bed private prison to be constructed somewhere in the state.
On June 11, 2008, the budget was approved by then-Governor Charlie Crist.
The following month, on July 15, the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) issued an “Invitation to Negotiate” (ITN) for the development of the proposed private prison. Responses to the ITN were due by September 9, 2008.
Interestingly, although no binding agreement had been reached between GEO Group and DMS, on November 26, 2008, GEO Group purchased 126 acres of land outside of Milton, Santa Rosa County, for $2.65 million – 59 acres of which GEO would later resell to the state of Florida through the Florida Correctional Finance Corporation (FCFC, an instrumentality of DMS) for $1.6 million on March 24, 2009, as the site of what would become Blackwater CF – after being awarded the development contract by DMS on March 18, 2009.
It is worth noting that while DMS had issued a “notice of intent” to award the development contract to GEO on October 21, 2008, GEO had apparently selected the prospective Blackwater acreage prior to the issuance of the ITN on July 15, 2008.
According to documents submitted to DMS as part of GEO’s ITN response, the corporation had already assessed the feasibility of using the selected land as early as July 7, 2008. The following month, the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution to provide $1.8 million in funding for additional infrastructure for the proposed facility.
Under the terms of the design/build agreement entered into between DMS and GEO, the corporation was awarded $115,364,828 in state project financing, along with another $2,081,984 for payment to Georgia-based “program manager” Carter Goble Lee.
Following the contract award to GEO, construction began on the facility – slated for completion in July 2010.
Further exacerbating the appearance that the Blackwater deal had been sewn up long before the 2008-2009 General Appropriations Bill had been passed – let alone the issuance of the DMS ITN – according to documents released by TEAM Santa Rosa, the economic development arm of Santa Rosa County, Sansom and Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) had been discussing the idea of a new prison as a means of economic development (code name “Project Justice”) with TEAM members as early as February 2008. Santa Rosa County was partially represented by both Sansom and Gaetz.
Strangely, Arduin denies that she ever worked with Sansom or his Policy and Budget Committee staff during the formation of the 2008-2009 budget, insisting that she only worked with Rubio.
Work invoices filed by Arduin pursuant to the terms of her September 2007 through May 2008 contract with the House tell a different story.
“ALME provided consulting services to the House as directed by the Speaker relating to property tax reform, economic development and budget issues,” reads the invoice for April 2008. “Those services included participating in meetings, planning sessions and conferences with Legislators and staff of the Speaker’s Office and Policy and Budget Committee on economic development initiatives, spending reductions and policy development for the 2008 Florida Legislative session.... ALME continues to provide ongoing economic and policy advice to the staff of the Speaker’s Office and Policy and Budget Committee on Florida’s budget and economy.”
Or, as stated by the “scope of services” section of Arduin’s contract with the House, “services include advisory services to the House, as directed by the Speaker of the House, to the Policy and Budget Committee, as directed by the Chairman of the Committee [Sansom], or as directed by the Chief of Staff.”
Nevertheless, public records requests submitted to the Florida House of Representatives for reports authored or submitted by Arduin, as well as for written communications between Arduin and her employers, Rubio and Sansom, turned up empty.
According to then-Florida House of Representatives Communications Director Jill Chamberlin (who retired in September 2010), there simply are no records of work performed by Arduin – no reports, no audits, no presentations, no memos ... nothing – during her time in the House under Rubio.
And Chamberlin, who served as spokeswoman for both Speaker Rubio and later for Speaker Sansom, says that it is not likely Arduin ever filed any reports of any kind as she was hired on as a consultant more for her connections in both the public and private sector. As such, said Chamberlin, most of Arduin’s consultations took the form of face time with those in her immediate circle.
Rubio did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Consummating Blackwater in the Senate, 2010
In early 2010, Arduin was contracted for work as an economic consultant in the Florida Senate under the purview of the office of then-Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach), tasked with “providing analytical review of state government agency operations, including overlapping agency jurisdictions and functions, the financial structure of agencies, sources and uses of agency revenue, and agency expenditure patterns that will aid in economic and budgetary decisions associated with the development of Florida’s budget.”
This laundry list was broken down into three key functions, as itemized in the 2010 contract: 1) work with and advise the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Senator J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales); 2) coordinate with staff during development of the budget and during the conference committee on appropriations; and 3) serve as otherwise directed by Chairman Alexander and Senate President Atwater.
As such, Arduin was contracted for employment in the Senate from February 4 through June 30, 2010, not through ALME but through Laffer Associates (a Tennessee corporation founded by partner Arthur Laffer in October 2006). The rate of pay for the duration of this contract was $7,000 per month.
As a private consultant under contract with the office of Senate President Atwater, Arduin worked under Atwater’s Chief of Staff, Robert “Budd” Kneip.
Over the course of the past two decades, prior to becoming a public servant, Kneip served as “senior vice president of corporate planning and development” for Wackenhut Corporation, and as president and chief executive officer of several Wackenhut subsidiaries: Oasis Outsourcing, Oasis Outsourcing II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII and IX, Oasis Outsourcing of Colorado, Oasis Outsourcing of Georgia, Oasis Outsourcing of Ohio, and of several other corporations operating under the banners of Oasis Outsourcing Benefits, Workforce Alternative and Wackenhut Resources, Incorporated (WRI).
While Kniep had been employed as chief of staff for the Office of the Florida Senate President from 2007 through 2010 (following Atwater’s election to the office of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer in November 2010, Atwater appointed Kneip as chief of staff for the CFO office), incorporation papers for Oasis Outsourcing II on file with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission show that Kneip had been acting as president of that Wackenhut subsidiary as recently as December 31, 2005.
To further illustrate the cycle of influence between Wackenhut/GEO and the Florida Senate, it is important to note that nearly all of the Wackenhut subsidiary corporations over which Kneip had control were offshoots of King Employee Services, Inc., as well as related companies King Staffing and King Benefits, which were purchased in 1997 from former Florida Senate President Jim King (2002-2004) by Wackenhut for $16 million. King’s personal cut of this deal was reportedly $5 million; he died in July 2009 while still serving in the Senate.
In May 2010, during the last week of the Florida Legislature’s conference to finalize the state budget bill, Ways and Means Chair Alexander slipped a proviso into the spending bill’s section on criminal justice and corrections appropriations.
The proviso called for a cut of over $24 million to FDOC’s budget to close an unspecified number of state facilities in order to open and fill Blackwater.
This $24 million cut to FDOC was essentially written in as compensation, or displacement of funds, for an additional $22 million written into the budget for the sole purpose of “the operation [of] 2,224 adult male beds at Blackwater River Correctional Facility to be operational by November 1, 2010.”
The state budget bill also called for FDOC to identify some 1,350 male adult custody psychological and medical care beds for potential privatization. Additionally, the budget bill stated that FDOC was required to develop a plan to reduce the operating costs of 6,400 additional prison beds by five percent – using private beds if necessary.
And, just as the 2010-2011 budget bill was generous in its cuts to the state’s public prison system, it was equally generous in handouts for private prison operators.
All-in-all the 2010-2011 budget bill contained over $1.2 million in state funds to be paid to local government taxing authorities in lieu of property taxes for the state’s six existing private correctional facilities.
As such, the criminal justice corrections section of the 2010-2011 budget bill was met by stiff criticism – most audibly from FDOC officials and the Florida Police Benevolent Association (Florida PBA, the state’s prison guard union), and from Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
Dockery noted in her criticism of the Blackwater-related provisions that, as was the case with Sansom’s 2008 proviso, the appropriations and mandates concerning FDOC and Blackwater had never been discussed or approved in any committee.
According to FDOC Communications Director Gretl Plessinger, the issue most difficult to reconcile with the 2010-2011 budget was the fact that the state’s prison system was actually running under capacity. Put simply, there was no need to push through the opening of Blackwater CF.
Whereas state prisoner growth projections in 2008 had actually suggested that there may be a need for the facility by 2010, Plessinger said prison population growth had slowed to the point where construction/expansion projects underway at state-owned and operated facilities had ceased.
Regardless of the fact that there was no need on the part of the state to open Blackwater at the time, or the fact that by mandating the facility’s opening by November 2010 through the closure of existing state facilities, lawmakers were in effect mandating the possible loss of thousands of state jobs, there was a very real need on the part of GEO Group to have Blackwater CF opened as soon as possible.
In April 2010, DMS announced that it had awarded contracts for the management of both Moore Haven CF (985 beds) and Graceville CF (1,884 beds) – both of which had been operated by GEO up to that point – to CCA, thereby reducing GEO’s holdings in its home state to 1,861 beds at South Bay CF by the end of the year, unless Blackwater CF could be filled.
For her part, Arduin says that the idea of opening or building a private prison was never run by her in the House or the Senate in either 2008 or 2010.
When asked about the facility and the provisions in the 2010-2011 budget bill which called for its immediate opening, Arduin, who was paid $7,000 per month by the Senate as an economic consultant – and who, as stated by the terms of her contract, was to know the business of the state of Florida inside and out, down to the last dime – responded, “was that something that was in the 2010 budget?”
Ghosts of Private Prisons Past (Cash that Rings the Till, Part 2)
Beginning in January of 1999 through November 2003, Arduin served as director of the Office of Policy and Budget under Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Prior to her appointment under Bush, Arduin had served in similar roles under Michigan Governor John Engler and New York Governor George Pataki.
From November 17, 2003 through October 15, 2004, Arduin served as director of the California Department of Finance under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. As director of finance, Arduin was Gov. Shwarzenegger’s chief fiscal advisor – with purview over 70 state boards and governmental authorities.
It is worth noting that, while Arduin has earned a reputation for herself as being a tough opponent of government spending – even referred to as an “ogre” by a California state lawmaker for her cuts to the state’s public health care system – this tough posture on governmental spending does not seem to apply to Arduin’s rate of pay.
For example, just as Arduin was paid $10,000 per month by the Florida House under Rubio, and $7,000 per month in the Florida Senate under Atwater, she was paid $10,248 per month at the time she left the administration of Governor Jeb Bush. What’s more, the state of Florida disbursed an additional $25,913 to Arduin for 438 hours of vacation pay on December 8, 2003 – at which time she was employed as director of the California Department of Finance.
Other sets of monetary disbursements surrounding the commencement of Arduin’s work under Gov. Schwarzenegger are equally interesting.
On October 10, 2003, three days following Schwarzenegger’s election and a little more than a month prior to Arduin’s appointment to the Schwarzenegger administration, Wackenhut Corrections paid out $5,000 to the Californians for Schwarzenegger 2003 PAC.
On November 17, 2003, Arduin assumed her role as director of finance.
Three days later, Wackenhut Corrections paid out an additional $16,200 to the Californians for Schwarzenegger 2003 PAC. Also on November 20, 2003, Wackenhut Corrections paid out $36,800 to Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall Committee, Vote Yes to Recall Gray Davis,” a PAC established by the Schwarzenegger campaign in 2003 that remained active through 2005, which was intended to drive the 2003 ballot initiative to recall the election of former California Governor Gray Davis.
During Arduin’s tenure as California’s director of finance, two private prisons which had been decommissioned in 2003 by Governor Davis, McFarland Community Correctional Facility (CF) and Mesa Verde CF, were re-appropriated and reopened – with no-bid contracts issued to the GEO Group and another private prison company, Civigenics, for operation of the facilities.
On October 28, 2004, 13 days after her resignation from the Schwarzenegger administration, Arduin was elected to replace George Wackenhut (co-founder of Wackenhut Corp. and Wackenhut Corrections, who had died earlier that year) on the board of trustees of CentraCore Properties Trust (AKA Correctional Properties Trust, CPT), the real estate investment trust (REIT) of Wackenhut/GEO.
CPT was founded in 1998 by Richard and George Wackenhut, along with several other Wackenhut Corrections directors and executives, including current GEO Group director and then-mayor of South Bay, Florida (which incidentally is the site of GEO’s South Bay CF), Clarence Anthony.
Additionally, GEO Group/Wackenhut Corrections president and CEO George Zoley was a founding CPT trustee, holding several tens of thousands of shares of common stock in the company.
Over the course of the REIT’s existence, Charles R. Jones served as CPT President and CEO. According to court documents, Jones – CPT founding trustee along with Zoley – was Wackenhut’s “investment banker” at the time of CPT’s inception.
As a REIT, CPT was essentially the entity which held all of Wackenhut/GEO’s real estate holdings.
While CPT was technically a separate independent entity outside the purview of Wackenhut/GEO, at the time of its creation the REIT’s holdings consisted solely of Wackenhut properties. When it was eventually merged back into GEO Group in 2007 (at which time it became GEO Acquisition II, a Delaware corporation governed by Zoley, Calabrese and GEO General Counsel John Bulfin), the REIT owned 13 properties, 11 of which it “leased” to GEO.
Due to this extremely close relationship to Wackenhut/GEO, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) auditors had questioned on at least one occasion whether CPT was in fact an entity independent of Wackenhut/GEO.
In 2006, following the announcement that CPT was set to merge with GEO (effective January 2007), CPT shareholders filed class action suits seeking injunctions against the merger in Maryland and Florida courts, alleging that the merger was an inside deal beneficial to CPT trustees and GEO executives and that there were irreconcilable conflicts of interest between the two. As such, the shareholders alleged that the merger was in essence GEO bringing its real estate holdings back in-house – allegations which Arduin flatly denies.
Both shareholder suits were settled out of court in 2008 under undisclosed terms.
At the time of Arduin’s appointment to the CPT board, as well as during her service under Schwarzenegger, McFarland CF was owned by CPT and leased to GEO.
In January 2006, CPT finalized its purchase of Mesa Verde CF, operated by Civigenics, another CPT customer, which also operated a CPT-owned minimum security prison in New Jersey.
Following Arduin’s appointment to CPT, the California State Auditor launched an investigation into the appearance of conflicts of interest in the McFarland/Mesa Verde deals.
According to the California State Auditor’s investigative report, issued on September 13, 2005, the Schwarzenegger administration had relied on a misleading cost-benefit analysis which did not factor in other potential cost saving measures in awarding the no-bid contracts to Civigenics and GEO.
Additionally, the state found that there were indeed conflicts of interest on the part of Civigenics in that the company did not report that two of its employees in the state were former high-ranking California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employees who were still receiving annuities from CDCR. [See: PLN, July 2006, p.23].
However, the report found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Arduin as per the odd timing of her appointment to CPT, because “since the former finance director is associated with the trust [CPT] and not with GEO, it does not appear that she has a conflict of interest in regards to the McFarland contract.”
The report made no mention of the business relationship between CPT and Civigenics, or of the fact that CPT was an offshoot of GEO.
What’s more, the report stated that the California State Auditor could find no evidence that Arduin had influenced CDCR’s decision to reopen the facilities.
However, the report failed to note that just prior to her appointment as director of finance, Arduin had been commissioned by the Schwarzenegger administration to perform an audit of California’s government and state finances.
Whether or not that audit recommended reopening the private prison facilities is unknown, as there are no audit reports authored by Arduin on file with either the Department of Finance or with the Office of Governor Schwarzenegger.
While written communications in the form of emails and memos do exist between Arduin and Schwarzenegger, the administration refused (in July 2010) to release any of those documents for public inspection.
When asked specifically for any written communications between Arduin and the Governor from the month prior to Arduin’s sudden resignation and appointment to CPT, Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary to the Office of the Governor Dan Maguire responded that while such documents do exist, any and all communications between Arduin and Schwarzenegger are exempt from public disclosure under executive and deliberative process exemptions to the state’s open records laws.
When asked that the administration waive its legal right to withhold executive communications between Arduin and Schwarzenegger in the spirit of transparency and open government – in that there is a definite public interest in knowing whether or not Arduin advocated for the Mesa Verde or McFarland CF re-appropriations, or whether Gov. Schwarzenegger had knowledge of Arduin’s imminent appointment to CPT – the administration refused, stating, “...there are strong policy reasons to protect the confidentiality of communications to and from the Governor’s Office. Disclosure of such communications could chill the candid discussion of critical issues, and deprive the Governor of information he needs to discharge his duties.... Therefore we are not producing these documents to you.”
It is unclear at what point Arduin became involved in the private prison business, though a statement of financial interests filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics in 2000 may shed some light on that history. The document lists Arduin’s primary source of income as being First Clearing Corporation, simply described as a “brokerage.”
Documents on file with the Florida Secretary of State, Division of Corporations, reflect that First Clearing Corporation (a North Carolina company doing business in Florida) merged into Corestates Securities Corp. (a Pennsylvania corporation) in 1998.
SEC documents show that in 1996 Corestates Financial Corp. (a corporate relative of Corestates Securities Corp.) purchased 12,000,200 shares, or 54.7055 percent, of Wackenhut Corrections. Under this ownership class, Corestates was considered to be a “parent holding company” of Wackenhut Corrections.
Corestates subsequently merged with Wachovia, which in 2008 merged with Wells Fargo. As of January 20, 2011, Wells Fargo and Company owned 3,623,603 shares, or 5.62 percent, of GEO Group.
Arduin says she has no knowledge of any personal financial interest in First Clearing Corporation or in Corestates and does not know why that entry was made on her 2000 financial disclosure statement – outside the possibility of clerical error on the part of her assistant
Strange Appearances and Strange Bedfellows
On the evening of Monday, August 22, 2005, a party of high-ranking Florida Department of Corrections officials met up at a bar in Tallahassee. The bar was Clyde and Costello’s, an establishment known to cater to the Tallahassee lobbyist/mover-and-shaker crowd. The party that night consisted of FDOC Secretary James Crosby, Washington Correctional Institution Warden Rick Anglin, Gulf Correctional Institution Warden Dale Hughes, and FDOC Region 1 Correctional Services Consultant Brad Tunnell.
According to documents obtained from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), sometime toward the end of the evening, Crosby took Tunnell to the side and told him, “You know, you need to talk to your dad. You need to get him off my boys.”
Brad Tunnell’s father, Guy Tunnell, was FDLE Commissioner at that time.
At the time of the August 2005 meeting at Clyde and Costello’s, FDLE was investigating Crosby, FDOC Region 1 Director Allen Clark and several other FDOC employees in regard to a wide array of charges including assault, steroids distribution, misappropriation of state funds/resources, and a kickback scheme involving two private prison canteen service providers, Keefe Commissary Network and American Institutional Services (AIS). [See: PLN, Feb. 2011, p.42].
According to FDLE records, Crosby continued in his threat, putting a fine point on his demands after Brad Tunnell stated that he didn’t understand what Crosby was getting at: “AC [Allen Clark], they need to lay off AC. They need to leave him the fuck alone. You need to tell your dad.”
Tunnell claimed that he responded by stating he could not tell his father how to do his job, to which Crosby allegedly responded by threatening to open an administrative investigation into a brawl Tunnell had reportedly been a party to at an FDOC event earlier that year.
Subsequent events – namely the federal indictments and convictions of both Allen Clark and James Crosby in 2006 and 2007 – shed some light on why Crosby was so eager that the FDLE investigation into Clark end. [See: PLN, Dec. 2007, p.32].
Both Clark and Crosby had been involved in a kickback scheme in which two Gainesville area businessmen, Edward Lee Dugger and Joseph Arthur Deese, proprietors of AIS, paid out approximately $130,000 to Clark and Crosby from October 2003 through February 2006 in exchange for Crosby and Clark’s facilitating and arranging a partnership between AIS and Keefe Commissary wherein AIS provided visitor canteen services at FDOC Region 1 facilities as a Keefe subcontractor.
Crosby stated under oath to FDLE investigators looking into his alleged threat to Tunnell on August 22, 2005 that he had gone to Clyde and Costello’s that evening to meet with the bar’s owner, David Ericks, and Ericks’ longtime girlfriend, Donna Arduin.
Ericks, aside from being the owner of Clyde and Costello’s, is owner of Ericks Consultants, a lobbying firm which has represented Wackenhut/GEO Group for over a decade. Ericks was also the chief lobbyist for Keefe Commissary in Florida from March 2005 through 2009. What’s more, Ericks represented Arduin, Laffer and Moore Econometrics (ALME) in 2005.
Additionally, Ericks paid the bar tab of $143.25 for the 31 drinks consumed by the FDOC officials that evening. It is important to note that all of the FDOC employees present at the bar that evening, with the exception of FDOC Secretary Crosby, were high-ranking officials in FDOC Region 1 – the region for which all of the AIS/Keefe bribes were intended to facilitate business.
Court documents filed with the mysteriously late indictments of Deese and Dugger in June 2010 (given the fact that both Crosby and Clark had already been convicted and sentenced for their roles in the kickback scheme) indicate that Keefe was also a recipient of the kickbacks reaped through the AIS/Crosby arrangement in that Deese and Dugger would pay both monetary and non-monetary bribes to unnamed Keefe executives and representatives – most significantly the payment of a Keefe executive’s $5,000 credit card bill in October 2005, about a month after the Clyde and Costello’s meeting.
Furthermore, a federal civil case (seeking forfeiture of criminally-obtained revenue) based on the testimony of FBI Special Agent Jannet Pellicciotti, which has been stayed pending the outcome of the Deese and Dugger prosecutions, alleges that Keefe Commissary, along with AIS, Crosby and Clark, is guilty of mail fraud because the U.S. Postal Service was used to deliver the criminally-obtained proceeds of the canteen partnership to Keefe’s corporate offices in St. Louis, Missouri.
During the FDLE interview following Crosby’s threat to Tunnell at Clyde and Costello’s, Crosby stated that he, Ericks and Arduin had spent a substantial amount of time that evening speaking privately outside the bar about an undisclosed subject.
Oddly enough, while FDLE investigators had interviewed every person from Ericks to an off-duty cocktail waitress who had been drinking with the men regarding the events of the night of August 22, 2005, they never interviewed Arduin.
Further, it appears that then-Governor Jeb Bush recognized the significance of Clyde and Costello’s as the setting for this particular meeting. According to FDLE transcripts, then-FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell recalled Bush’s dismay during his briefing on the investigation following the threats made by Crosby.
“The Governor was upset Crosby was back at Clyde’s again,” recalled Tunnell to investigators, suggesting that Crosby had ongoing business at Ericks’ bar of which Bush was aware.
Tunnell declined repeated requests for an interview, stating only, “I’m not interested in opening that painful chapter of my family’s life again.”
Former Governor Bush could not be reached for comment.
For her part, Arduin, who was appointed by Bush to the Florida Property Tax Reform Committee the following year (2006, while still serving as a CPT trustee), denies the meeting ever took place, or that she ever had occasion to meet with Crosby outside of her role as an agency head of the Bush administration. Nor, says Arduin, did she ever have any business with Keefe.
“I never had a meeting with James Crosby. I mean, if he said he went over there to meet us, he might have been – he and Dave [Ericks] might have had something to talk about, but I never had a meeting with him,” said Arduin. “I never had any business with him after I left the state of Florida. We were – we both worked for the same administration for a while. I was consulting for Speaker Rubio, but I never did any work for Speaker Rubio that would have had me have a meeting with a corrections secretary.... But obviously, he had reasons to be meeting with Dave.”
Interestingly, perhaps indicative of some shared business growth strategy, just as Ericks represented the interests of Keefe, GEO Group and ALME (at a time when Arduin was a trustee of CPT) in Florida in 2005, this pattern of mutual representation was replicated the following year in Texas when Keefe, CPT, Atlantic Shores Healthcare (the entity which would become GEO Group’s prison medical service arm, GEO Care) were all represented by Texas lobbyist Scott Gilmore, the former chief of staff to Texas State Rep. Ray Allen.
Crosby, who is currently incarcerated at a federal prison camp in Pensacola, turned down a request for an interview.
Ericks did not return multiple phone calls and emails requesting comment.
It is also worth noting that every single federal campaign contribution – except for one – recorded by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for Arduin over the past decade lists her place of residence as either Ft. Lauderdale or Tallahassee. The exception is a $1,000 contribution to then-Missouri Senator James Talent, credited to Arduin in 2005, which lists her place of residence as St. Louis, Missouri, home of Keefe Commissary and its parent company, Centric Group.
Arduin says that she has no recollection of any such contribution or any idea why her address would be listed as being in St. Louis.
And while Arduin claims that she never had any involvement with Keefe, FEC records show that Senator Talent was the top pick above and beyond all other candidates for Keefe and Centric Group during the 2006 election cycle – with at least $35,950 in campaign contributions from Keefe and Centric Group executives and employees going to Talent from October 2005 to June 2006.
Of this nearly $36,000 influx of campaign cash, $20,000 was paid directly into Talent’s two political action committees ($10,000 to each) by Keefe and Centric Group President Douglas Albrecht. Albrecht retired from his post at the helm of Keefe and Centric Group following the Crosby and Clark indictments. He could not be reached for comment.
Arduin was not alone in her sudden interest in Missouri lawmakers in 2005. Ericks – who, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, has restricted his campaign finance spending solely to Florida lawmakers from 1998 to present – also broke with his pattern of generosity in 2005 with a gift of $600 to the campaign of Missouri State Senator Brad Lager.
While Ericks and Arduin are no longer romantically involved, it seems that their business relationship is alive and well; Arduin’s residential property in Ft. Lauderdale is jointly owned by herself and Ericks.
Incorporation papers on file with the Florida Secretary of State, Division of Corporations from 2005 to present for ALME, and for Arduin Associates, list Arduin’s business address as 205 S. Adams in Tallahassee. 205 S. Adams is also the address for Ericks Consultants.
The building located at 205 S. Adams is owned by Ericks Consultants. In fact, Arduin’s office is the office of Ericks Consultants – the two share the same phone and fax numbers.
The receptionist who picks up the phone when you call looking for Arduin says, “Ericks Consultants, how may I help you?”
FBI Special Agent Rick Dent declined to confirm or deny whether the FBI is investigating any other parties in conjunction with the June 2010 indictments of Deese and Dugger.
Steve Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville, the office which had prosecuted and which continues to prosecute all cases involving the Crosby/AIS kickback scheme, declined to comment on any aspect of any related cases – past or present – or whether further indictments are forthcoming.
As for Arduin, she says she does not know whether or not she currently has any financial interest in the GEO Group or any other private corrections interests.
“My investment guys have me in so many different mutual funds, I can’t ... I have no idea,” said Arduin. “I don’t know.”
Over the course of the 2010 midterm election year, Arduin worked as an advisor to the campaign of U.S. Senator Rubio, as well as to the campaign of newly-elected Florida Governor Rick Scott. She currently heads Scott’s budget advisory team.
On February 7, 2011, Governor Scott unveiled his budget proposal to cut approximately $5 billion in state spending. The proposal is the actuation of Scott’s “7-7-7 Jobs” plan (“seven steps, seven years, 700,000 jobs”), which was much touted by the Scott camp over the course of the 2010 campaign as the only real solution for Florida’s deep fiscal woes.
The plan was Donna Arduin’s key contribution to the Scott campaign as head of Scott’s budget advisory team, tasked with assembling the full budget proposal for presentation to the legislature.
Thus, not surprisingly, the Scott budget proposal takes heavy aim at the state’s prison system. Prior to revealing the full proposal, Scott’s “7-7-7” budget plan advertised a reduction in correctional costs by $1 billion simply by “paying competitive market-based salaries for correction’s staff, utilizing inmate labor to grow prison food, and competitively bidding health care contracts resulting in public prison costs that are as low as private prisons....”
In reality, as indicated by the February 7 unveiling of the full budget proposal, the plan calls for the elimination of nearly 8,700 state government job positions – 1,690 of which would be eliminated from the FDOC through $82 million in budget cuts.
The cuts are to be made in favor of increased utilization of services offered by private companies, such as GEO Group. In fact, the budget proposal calls for the placement of up to 1,500 state prisoners in privately-run facilities, the closure of two yet-to-be named public prisons and another $32.5 million to be set aside for the express purpose of renegotiating existing private prison contracts with the goal of maximizing private prison capacity.
Additionally, the budget plan calls for the privatization of all three of Florida’s public mental hospitals – which seems ideally suited for GEO Group’s correctional and mental health care subsidiary, GEO Care (already the largest private provider of such services in the state).
These proposed budget measures have not gone unopposed, however. The Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which represents state prison guards, has strongly objected to the job cuts, while a series of heated pre-legislative session exchanges has played out since the revelation of Scott’s budget plan.
Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), chairman of the Senate Civil and Criminal Justice Budget Subcommittee, has been the most outspoken legislative critic of the plan, questioning why the Governor would push for increased spending on prison privatization when existing state facilities have thousands of unoccupied beds.
“Private prisons make a profit on the New York Stock Exchange,” Fasano noted.
“Government should not be in the business of helping companies make a profit, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
As such, Sen. Fasano sharply questioned two Scott administration officials about the governor’s proposed budget plan to cut FDOC job positions. Consequently, a Scott spokesman suggested that the governor’s staff would boycott future subcommittee hearings, though Scott later denied that was the case.
Nevertheless, Fasano and others seeking answers regarding Florida’s continued unprecedented slide towards wholesale prison privatization need look no further than February 6, 2011, Superbowl Sunday, to get an idea of Scott’s cozy relationship with the private prison industry.
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Scott attended a Superbowl party held at the home of lobbyist Brian Ballard the day before the unveiling of the budget proposal. Florida lobbying disclosure records indicate that Ballard is a longtime state legislative lobbyist for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and, as of January 14, 2011, an executive branch lobbyist for GEO Group.
According to the Sentinel, Ballard helped raise more than $3 million for Scott’s inaugural celebration. Additionally, GEO Group – beyond donating more than $400,000 to the Republican Party of Florida during the 2010 election cycle – contributed $25,000 to Scott’s inauguration.
Presumably, based on Scott’s recently unveiled budget bill, GEO is getting what it’s paid for. “It’s really just a gift to the private prison industry,” PBA director of legislative services David Murrell said of Scott’s proposed budget plan. “It’s very political. The private corporations have been very helpful to the governor and his people.”
This article was originally published by DBA Press on February 1, 2011 (https://dbapress.com/archives/655) and is reprinted with permission of the author, who provided this updated version
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