Suspended Orlando expressway authority board member Scott Batterson, former state Rep. Chris Dorworth and his girlfriend were indicted by a grand jury Wednesday for violating state public records laws.
Batterson previously was indicted by the panel in April on three bribery related charges for allegedly offering a $5 million-a-year expressway authority contract to a consultant in exchange for hiring some of his friends. He is free on $3,000 bond.
The indictments Wednesday were the culmination of nearly nine months of work by the grand jury, which began looking into the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority in September.
Earlier in the day, former board member Marco Pena pleaded guilty to breaking the so-called Sunshine Law that prohibits elected officials and agency board members from discussing public business in private.
He followed his plea by testifying much of the morning before the grand jury.
The 15-member panel, State Attorney Jeff Ashton said, believes a “culture of corruption” reigned at the authority, but not with its employees. Instead, he said, the problem lay with some of its five board members, though he would not name them.
“It is a reputable organization,” Ashton said of the authority.
The indictments are the result of a probe triggered last year, when authority director Max Crumit resigned, after claiming Batterson told him a month earlier that he had three votes to fire him.
Pena, Batterson and board member Noranne Downs had voted 3-2 in August to seek a successor to Crumit.
The indictment contends that Dorworth and Hammond acted as “conduits” or passed agency information between board members, presumably Batterson and Pena. The discussions were held between June and August 2013.
Pena was fined $500 and court costs Wednesday. Orange County Judge Carolyn Freeman also withheld adjudication of guilt, which means Pena will not have a criminal record if he pays the fine.
In an email to the Sentinel Tuesday night, Pena said, “I have had the best interests of Orange County residents in mind and as this is an ongoing legal matter, I will not be commenting further.”
In documents released last month by the expressway authority, Mark Callahan, a manager for the engineering firm CH2M Hill, told investigators about drinks he had with Batterson one night at a bar in Orlando’s Baldwin Park. Also at the bar that night was Dorworth, Callahan said.
Callahan said Batterson offered CH2M Hill the chance to get a multimillion-dollar general-engineering contract now held by another company — but only if Callahan’s firm were willing to hire some of Batterson’s friends.
When Callahan asked how that would be possible, Batterson said he expected to soon became chairman of the authority board and indicated that he controlled three of the five board votes, Callahan told investigators. That included the vote of Pena. Batterson suggested Pena was “our guy,” Callahan said.
It also included the vote of Downs, the regional FDOT official who, Callahan said, would vote however she was told to by her boss, Prasad, the FDOT secretary. Batterson added that his friend Dorworth, who is now a lobbyist, was “very close” to Prasad, Callahan told investigators.
Callahan said he assumed Dorworth and Prasad would pass their wishes through Hammond, Dorworth’s girlfriend.
“Rebekah would be the connection,” said Callahan, who did not return calls to the Sentinel.
Pena began cooperating with investigators May 8, when he met with them for three hours, a release from Ashton’s office said. Pena quit the board less than two weeks later, citing an illness in the family.
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