BRADENTON, Fla. - A central Florida jury on Wednesday unanimously found former Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board member Scott Batterson guilty of bribery.
Batterson's case, and three other related prosecutions, put a spotlight on authority business, including discussions about bonds, being done in a backroom fashion despite state laws demanding otherwise.
Batterson will remain in jail until Oct. 17 when he will be sentenced on two felony bribery charges, largely related to conversations he had in bars with a number of people, including Mark Callahan, a manager with CH2M Hill.
In depositions and on the stand, Callahan testified that he believed Batterson was offering his firm a general consulting contract with the Expressway Authority, as long as CH2M Hill hired people at Batterson's request.
Batterson boasted that he had support on the authority board to become chairman, including support from fellow board member Marco Pena.
Those statements came out in depositions taken as the result of a months-long investigation stemming from a vote by the authority board last year to search for a new director while Max Crumit was still in the position.
Crumit later resigned but had said he was told in private that Batterson had the votes to oust him.
Pena resigned from the board May 16 citing family matters, but later pleaded guilty to breaking Florida's "sunshine" law prohibiting board members from discussing public business in private.
In June, Batterson, former state Rep. Chris Dorworth and Dorworth's girlfriend, Rebekah Hammond, were indicted and charged with violating the sunshine law.
Batterson was also charged with bribery.
Dorworth has not yet been tried, and charges against Hammond were later dropped.
Various depositions released for public review during the investigation showed how Pena, while he was under consideration as a prospective board member by the governor's office, was courted by professionals interested in Expressway Authority business, including its bond business.
In wide-ranging sworn testimony in May in return for a reduced plea, Pena discussed meetings he had before becoming an Expressway Authority board member with a representative of Citi, Norman Pellegrini, who worked with the authority on numerous bond transactions.
Pena also met with Dorworth, now a lobbyist who works for Ballard Partners, which represents Citi as a registered lobbyist.
Pena testified that Dorworth connected him to "one of his clients," and that he found out later it was a client who worked with the Expressway Authority from Citibank.
The client he eventually met with was Pellegrini.
At a lunch with Pellegrini, Pena said the authority's bond issues were discussed, and he asked if Citi was involved with them.
Pena testified that he was told Citi worked on some authority bond issues, and that the bank "helped them restructure their bonds."
In a meeting with Pellegrini and Dorworth, Pena said the two men were among "the many people advocating for me to be on the board."
While testimony does not indicate that anyone was advocating for future bond business, an issuer told The Bond Buyer that some people believe the meetings give the appearance that there might be a violation of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board's Rule G-38 about solicitation of municipal securities business.
However, the meetings occurred before Pena was appointed to the board, and therefore G-38 may not apply in such instances, according to an attorney.
The issue was the subject of an Orlando Sentinel story on Aug. 21 in which the paper suggested that the Central Florida Expressway Authority, the successor agency to the Orlando-Orange County authority, may be considering selling bonds by competitive bid in the future, instead of through negotiation as the Orlando-Orange County authority has in the past.
A spokesman for the authority told The Bond Buyer that staff has internally discussed the possibility of selling bonds competitively, but there is no board policy being considered for future sales.
Citi was involved in the sale of $2.16 billion out of $2.47 billion of bonds sold by the Expressway Authority, according to agency records.