A handful of politicians, lobbyists and government officials plotted to take over Orlando’sExpressway Authority and use the agency’s $300 million budget to their advantage, according to records and testimony released by the State Attorney’s Office.
The aim was to put their friends in charge of the agency, further their own careers and direct lucrative contracts to associates, say documents and the sworn statements by eight people associated with the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.
Among those allegedly involved were agency board member Scott Batterson, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott indicted on three bribery-related charges last month; former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, Batterson’s friend since middle school and now a lobbyist; and state Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, also a Scott appointee.
The documents released last week reveal a torrent of behind-the-scenes maneuvering — including talk of seizing power and handing out multimillion-dollar contracts over $47 of beer at a Baldwin Park bar.
But the public knew none of it until the turmoil burst into view during an Aug. 28 meeting of the expressway authority’s five-member board. That’s when Batterson joined fellow board members Marco Peña and Noranne Downs in a 3-2 vote to seek a successor to agency Director Max Crumit.
Just two days before that board meeting, Batterson had come to Crumit and told him he should quit because Batterson had lined up three votes to fire him, Crumit claimed. Batterson denied that claim, but it sparked the investigation because board members by law can only discuss agency business in public, not privately.
In a sworn statement to investigators, Crumit said Batterson threatened: “We’re going to vote you off the board, which would be ugly and you don’t want that and we don’t want that.”
Crumit replied that one of the board members — Downs — was scheduled to miss the meeting because she would be on vacation, meaning Batterson would be a vote short. Less than two hours after Batterson left, Crumit said, he got an email from Downs, who runs the Department of Transportation in Central Florida.
The email read, “Hi, Max. Looks like I will be at this week’s board meeting. See you soon.”
Prasad, the FDOT secretary who is Downs’ boss, later sent another message to Crumit, saying, “I’m very disappointed in you. What became your quest to seek private sector opportunities has turned into a drama. I could have gotten you there, but now I hope it doesn’t get ugly.”