Florida Zika emergency funds went to partner of Ann Scott’s aerial spray businesses

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott

Gov. Rick Scott has used his emergency authority to spend $33.3 million to combat Zika, some of which went to pay for aerial spraying done by a company that is partnered with his wife’s mosquito spraying businesses in another state.

Florida Bulldog reported in August 2016 that Scott, via First Lady Ann Scott, had an undisclosed financial interest in Mosquito Control Services (MCS) of Metairie, LA. The company describes itself on its website as a “fully-certified team of mosquito control experts – licensed throughout the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.”

Further examination of Louisiana corporate records, however, shows the Scotts are also tied to eight other active mosquito control firms all at the same Metairie address. Several have lucrative, multi-year contracts to provide aerial spraying and other services to local parishes and cities.

The nine are not on Florida’s list of state vendors. Records show, however, that at least four of them, including MCS, conduct aerial spray operations in Louisiana using planes owned by one of Florida’s largest Zika-fighting subcontractors, Dynamic Aviation Group of Bridgewater, VA.

Dynamic Aviation contracts with the Scotts’ companies to handle their aerial bug spraying because those companies have no planes of their own, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Dynamic is partnered in Florida with Illinois-based Clarke Environmental Mosquito Management, the principal vendor to more than a dozen Florida counties, cities and independent mosquito control districts, including Miami-Dade. FAA records list Dynamic or its affiliates as the registered owners of dozens of aircraft, including a fleet of turbine-powered Beechcraft King Air spray planes.

A Dynamic Aviation spray plane

“The Clarke and Dynamic Aviation Partnership is the leading provider of mosquito control application services to federal, state and local governments throughout the United States,” Clarke boasted in a bid document submitted to Ocala in August 2015.

Today, the Florida Department of Health reports that there are “no areas of ongoing, active transmission of Zika by mosquitos in Florida.” In February 2016, however, public anxiety in the state about Zika was on the rise.

Public health emergency

That month, Gov. Scott declared a Zika public health emergency in 23 counties and directed Florida’s surgeon general to decide how long the emergency declaration should last. It has continued this year in a hodge-podge of counties across the state, including Miami-Dade. Late last month, Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip re-declared a Zika public health emergency in Broward and Palm Beach counties citing travel-related cases. Emergency spending also carried over into 2017 in Miami-Dade and Broward.

 Gov. Scott led last year’s high-profile anti-Zika campaign. He also politicized it. From August through early November, during the height of the presidential campaign, Republican Scott’s office issued a dozen press releases attacking Washington, specifically the Obama administration and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson – who many believe Scott will run against next year – about the lack of immediate Zika funding.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip

On Sept. 22, Gov. Scott wrote an op-ed article for USA Today in which he denounced Obama, called the “entire” federal government” incompetent and alleged that federal inaction against Zika was “sad, sick proof that Washington isn’t just broken, it must be completely overhauled from top to bottom.”

Scott’s article doesn’t mention how under Scott state money for mosquito control programs was cut 40 percent – from $2.16 million to $1.29 million – in 2011. Politico had reported that in a story published one month earlier. Likewise, Scott didn’t mention that he’d cut a special $500,000 appropriation for a public health “mosquito lab” in Panama City Beach, effectively shutting it down and “causing the state to lose half of its mosquito researchers,” according to Politico.

In response to an inquiry by Florida Bulldog, Florida Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said the state has to date expended $52.8 million in Zika emergency funds, including nearly $9 million this year. Of that, Scott’s emergency order caused $33.3 million to be sent to 69 counties and mosquito control districts “to increase their capabilities and to prevent and respond to Zika,” she said.

State records also show the Department of Health paid Clarke $783,572 directly to supply mosquito traps and monitoring services in 2016-2017.

How much emergency money went to pay for aerial spraying is not known. “Decisions on the mechanism for vector control, whether it be aerial, truck, etc. were made by the mosquito control districts. We do not track the funding specifically each method,” Gambineri said.

Tracking spending on the county level is problematic.

For example, Miami-Dade spokeswoman Gayle Love said the county has paid Clarke/Dynamic $175,000 for aerial spraying since the governor’s February 2016 emergency order. Yet in May the county commission ratified its acceptance of $1.2 million in state emergency funds to pay for last year’s aerial spraying services. The balance was diverted into another pot of $22 million in emergency funds that paid for truck spraying, Love said.

‘Aviation solutions’

Privately owned Dynamic provides what it calls “special-mission aviation solutions” to customers that include “national defense, military intelligence, federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit research organizations and private companies.”

Records show the Scott’s nine mosquito control companies – all Louisiana limited liability companies with names like Mosquito Control Services, Mosquito Control, Terrebonne Mosquito Control and St. John Mosquito Control – are led by two officer-managers, Gregory Scott and Steven Pavlovich. The companies make most of their money exterminating mosquitos for local governments in Louisiana.

Gregory Scott, CEO of G. Scott Capital Partners

Gregory Scott is also the managing director of G. Scott Capital Partners, the Connecticut private-equity firm in which Ann Scott is a substantial investor-owner. Its investment program “aims to generate high financial returns by making direct control investments in established, U.S.-headquartered lower middle market companies,” according to paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Also known as Scott Capital, the firm boasts on its website of its ownership of MCS as well as investments in other companies owned or formerly owned by Gov. Scott, including Continental Structural Plastics. Florida Bulldog reported in June that Gov. Scott apparently pocketed $200 million earlier this year after the $825 million sale of CSP to the Japanese conglomerate Teijin Ltd.

Gregory Scott has said he is no relation to Gov. Scott, but SEC records show that from 2000 to 2012 he led the private-equity group at the governor’s Richard L. Scott Investments. He previously told Florida Bulldog that Ann Scott is a “passive investor” in Scott Capital.

The governor and other Florida state officers are not required by law to disclose assets held in the name of their spouses or other close relatives.

Gov. Scott, a multimillionaire, maintains his personal investments in a state “qualified blind trust” that’s ostensibly independent, but is in fact overseen by another of the governor’s former business cronies, Alan Bazaar of New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management. Bazaar also serves as an advisory board member of Scott Capital, according to SEC records filed last year.

The governor’s office regularly cites the blind trust in declining to answer questions or comment on the known business dealings of Gov. Scott and the First Lady.

“After Governor Scott took office in 2011, he put all his assets in a blind trust so they would be under the control of an independent financial professional. As such, the governor has no knowledge of anything that is bought, sold or changed in the trust,” the office said on Friday.

Dynamic Aviation was likewise silent in response to written questions.

“Dynamic Aviation declines to comment on the questions below,” said company spokeswoman Avis Foster in an email last week.

MCS manager Steven Pavlovich did not return phone messages seeking comment.

A lucrative business

The business of spraying mosquitos from the air can be lucrative. For example, MCS has a five-year mosquito abatement contract with Louisiana’s Jefferson Parrish that’s worth $4.3 million a year – or $21.5 million in total. The latest contract runs until Jan. 31, 2023.

A screenshot from MCS’s home page showing what it says is its “fleet” of mosquito spray planes

A bid document submitted by Scotts’ company in January shows how it cultivated goodwill with local politicians. An affidavit by company manager Pavlovich says MCS contributed $25,000 to the campaigns of 15 Jefferson Parish elected officials in 2015-2016.

Bid documents also disclosed that MCS passes its aerial spraying work in the parish to Dynamic Aviation, the same subcontractor that sprays in Florida.

MCS’s home page features a photo of what its literature calls “our fleet of Beechcraft King Air” spray planes. In fact, the photo is at least six years old, and FAA records show that the planes it depicts were owned or formerly owned by Dynamic Avlease, a member of the Dynamic Aviation Group.

Some agencies in Florida’s decentralized mosquito control scheme, like Broward County, own their own planes or helicopters and do their own aerial spraying. The Clarke/Dynamic partnership has mosquito control contracts with Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Martin, Henry, Volusia and Alachua counties, among others.

In its bid for a multi-year contract with the city of Ocala in 2015, Dynamic identified five planes that it said were “registered here in the State of Florida to perform mosquito control services.”

Online flight records indicate that the Scotts’ Terrebonne Mosquito Control, in addition to using the same aerial spraying subcontractor, may also have used that Florida-registered mosquito control plane.

In July one of those planes, tail number N72J, flew back and forth four times between Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport and Houma-Terrebonne Airport in Houma, LA, the records say.

Rick Scott, Mike Pence: When campaign fundraising met tax incentives for Scott’s company

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott, left, accompanies then Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to a Feb. 5, 2016 fundraiser for Pence at the Fort Lauderdale office of the Tripp Scott law firm. Photo: Conrad & Scherer law firm

Two months after Florida Gov. Rick Scott helped then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence fundraise in Fort Lauderdale last year, Pence announced a $650,000 incentives package for a company owned in large part by Scott.

Pence’s offer of Indiana taxpayer subsidies for Continental Structural Plastics came as Scott’s Florida contributors poured more than $125,000 into Pence’s gubernatorial re-election campaign. Scott kicked in another $5,000 personal check to fellow Republican Pence’s campaign.

The Tampa Bay Times called Scott’s personal contribution to Pence “unusual” because Scott “has never given more than $500 to a Florida candidate other than himself.” It also noted that Pence had “picked up more campaign cash from Florida than any other state, except Indiana and Washington, D.C.”

Pence’s gubernatorial campaign ended abruptly on July 15, 2016 when Donald Trump tapped him as his vice-presidential running mate. But before that the vice president had been in a tight re-election fight amid sagging approval ratings.

The Feb. 5, 2016 fundraiser for Pence was held at the office of the Tripp Scott law firm. Among those present was prominent Fort Lauderdale lawyer William Scherer, a Scott supporter and frequent donor to Republican candidates. Scherer could not be reached for comment. (Disclosure: Scherer, managing partner of Conrad & Scherer, is a donor to the nonprofit Florida Bulldog.)

Conrad & Scherer’s website includes a brief press release with photos of Pence and Scott at the fundraiser. The site says Scherer and Gov. Scott discussed “creating new jobs for Florida residents.”

Indiana election records show that for the first six months of 2016, until Trump chose Pence, nearly two dozen Scott supporters sent checks to Pence. They include two affiliates of Charters Schools USA; Jupiter investor Lawrence DeGeorge; prison operator The Geo Group, its political action committee, chief executive officer George Zoley and several other company executives; Next Era Energy PAC, run by the owner of Florida Power & Light; the Tripp Scott law firm and five of its attorneys.

Indiana’s incentives deal for CSP

On April 11, 2016, back in Indiana, Gov. Pence disclosed that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation – a group he chaired – had offered Continental Structural Plastics (CSP) $600,000 in conditional tax credits and $50,000 in training grants. CSP was to expand its 323-worker operation in the city of Huntington and add 80 jobs by 2020. CSP makes lightweight composite materials used in cars and airplanes.

“CSP’s growth speaks volumes about this company and its talented Hoosier employees,” Pence said in his announcement. “As CSP grows its operations here in Indiana, Hoosiers can rest assured that this administration will continue to pursue the kinds of policies that make our state a destination for investment and growth.”

But instead of adding jobs, CSP recently notified Indiana workforce officials of a “temporary” mass layoff of 164 workers at its Huntington plant after one of its customers planned to be idle, according to local news accounts. The layoffs are to start July 31.

Pence’s announcement did not mention that his friend, Rick Scott, owned a substantial stake in CSP, or that Florida First Lady Ann Scott had an additional large investment through the Connecticut-based investment firm G. Scott Capital Partners.

Before he became governor, Scott headed Naples-based Richard L. Scott Investments. His firm and CSP management bought the company together. “We acquired CSP in early 2005 with the belief that there was an opportunity to build a great company,” Scott said in a statement published in 2006 in Automotive News.

After he became governor, the mega-wealthy Scott put his assets – including CSP – into a Florida blind trust that put his assets under the control of an allegedly independent trustee and gave him legal immunity from conflicts of interest his diverse investments might pose. The arrangement is problematic, however, because the chief executive of the trustee, Hollow Brook Wealth Management, is longtime Scott crony Alan Bazaar.

As governor, Scott has disclosed his financial interest in CSP on several occasions, most recently in 2014 when he shuttered his first Florida approved blind trust and opened a second one while qualifying for re-election. He valued his shares in the CSP investment partnership then to be worth $43.9 million. The value of the First Lady’s CSP investment, via G. Scott Capital Partners, was not disclosed. In March 2016, CSP said in court papers that most of its stock was privately held by G. Scott Capital.

CSP sold

On Jan. 3 of this year, CSP was sold for $825 million to a subsidiary of Teijin Ltd. Florida Bulldog reported in June that Gov. Scott appears to personally have pocketed $200 million in the deal.

When CSP’s sale was announced, the Japanese conglomerate further identified RLSI-CSP Capital Partners LLC – Rick Scott’s partnership entity – as owning two thirds of CSP’s common stock. The governor owned 37 percent of RLSI-CSP Capital Partners.

Gov. Scott has declined to be interviewed about CSP, and his spokespersons have said that because his investments are in a blind trust he “has no knowledge of anything that is bought, sold or changed in the trust.”

Gov. Rick Scott at May 17, 2016 groundbreaking ceremony for United Technologies’ Center for Intelligent Buildings in Palm Beach Gardens. As part of the deal to bring the project to Florida, Scott approved $4.9 million in tax incentives for Carrier, a United Technologies subsidiary.

Vice President Pence was involved in a similar, but larger incentives package that attracted national attention last November when he and President Trump announced a deal with Carrier to keep its gas furnace plant in Indiana. The company was going to move the plant and about 800 manufacturing jobs to Mexico – a job export plan Trump used during the campaign – but changed its mind after talks with Trump and Indiana’s pledge of $7 million in tax breaks over a decade.

While some Republicans – notably former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – label such taxpayer-funded incentives “special interest crony capitalism,” they are the centerpiece of Gov. Scott’s plan to create jobs in Florida.

Interestingly, Scott, like Pence, spearheaded a large cash incentives deal for Carrier. That $4.9 million agreement via the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund involved development of United Technologies’ showcase “Center for Intelligent Buildings” in Palm Beach Gardens. The deal with Carrier, a subsidiary of United Technologies, was inked in June 2015, but needed local approvals that didn’t come for months. Gov. Scott attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the project on May 17, 2016.

Gov. Scott’s blind trust and a company with a massive pollution problem

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

When Gov. Rick Scott put $133 million of his assets into a blind trust two years ago, he included his shares of Mosaic, owner of the Central Florida fertilizer plant where 215 million gallons of contaminated wastewater recently drained into an aquifer that provides drinking water for millions of Floridians.

Scott’s ownership interest in Mosaic was relatively small – he valued it at about $14,000 on the list of assets he placed in the blind trust – yet it provides another example of how the governor’s sprawling personal finances conflict, or appear to conflict, with his official duties.

Does Gov. Scott still have an ownership interest in Mosaic? Has it increased? On Wednesday, his office released a statement saying the governor is unaware of any sales, purchases or changes in the trust because it is “under the control of an independent financial professional.”

The trustee is New York-based Hollow Brook Wealth Management, whose chief executive is longtime Scott crony Alan Bazaar.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed earlier this year state that Bazaar also serves as an advisory board member of G. Scott Capital Partners, the private equity firm co-owned by First Lady Ann Scott and run by a trio of the governor’s former employees at Richard L. Scott Investments. Both the governor and Mrs. Scott have been substantial investors in Scott Capital’s investments.

Republican Gov. Scott’s handpicked Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Jon Steverson, is now overseeing Mosaic’s response to the massive dump of contaminated water that occurred in late August when a 45-foot wide sinkhole opened at Mosaic’s New Wales fertilizer manufacturing plant in Mulberry, about 55 miles east of Tampa.

The Mosaic plant sinkhole in what was a large pond atop a gypsum stack. When the sinkhole opened, millions of gallons of acidic wastewater drained into an aquifer used for drinking water. Photo: WFLA Tampa

The Mosaic plant sinkhole in what was a large pond atop a gypsum stack. When the sinkhole opened, millions of gallons of acidic wastewater drained into an aquifer used for drinking water. Photo: WFLA Tampa

“Governor Scott will hold all responsible parties accountable for their actions and has directed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to expedite their investigation,” Scott’s communications director Jackie Schutz said in a Wednesday statement. “Governor Scott has also directed the Department of Health to partner with DEP in their investigation to ensure all drinking water in the area is safe. We know Mosaic has taken responsibility, but our job is to ensure 100 percent safe drinking water.”

Earthjustice is a large nonprofit environmental law firm. Informed that Gov. Scott previously disclosed his ownership of Mosaic stock, Senior Associate Attorney Bradley Marshall said, “We’re always concerned about the governor’s ties to industry. We certainly do think the governor has not been a good protector of the environment in Florida. We’ve already seen veterans at DEP fired for doing their jobs.”

Mosaic, based in Plymouth, Minnesota, is a Fortune 500 company (NYSE: MOS) with extensive operations in Florida, where it employs 4,000 workers. According to the company’s web site, it mines phosphate rock from nearly 200,000 acres of Mosaic-owned land in Central Florida and potash from mines in Canada. The products are processed into crop nutrients that are shipped around the world. Mosaic’s revenues last year were about $9 billion.

Mosaic politically active

Mosaic Fertilizer LLC, the company’s principal operating subsidiary in Florida, is politically active. State records show it fields a team of 14 executive branch lobbyists in Tallahassee. Since 2008, Mosaic entities have contributed about $1.9 million to political candidates and causes, with about $840,000 going to the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, records show.

In October 2015, Mosaic Fertilizer LLC agreed to a nearly $2 billion settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding charges that its New Wales facility and other plants in Florida as well as Louisiana improperly handled 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste. Specifically, EPA inspectors found that Mosaic had mixed certain types of highly corrosive substances like sulfuric acid from its fertilizer operations with phosphogypsum and wastewater from its mineral processing. Sulfuric acid is used to extract phosphorus from mined rock.

Phosphogypsum is the radioactive byproduct that’s created when phosphate is turned into fertilizer.

An EPA press release at the time said the settlement “will ensure that wastewater at Mosaic’s facilities is properly managed and does not pose a threat to groundwater resources.’’

Gypsum stacks at a a phosphate plant in Florida Photo: Engineering and Mining Journal

Gypsum stacks at a a phosphate plant in Florida Photo: Engineering and Mining Journal

The sinkhole formed beneath one cell of a mountainous phosphogypsum stack topped with a 250-million-gallon pond filled with acidic wastewater from the fertilizer manufacturing process.

According to the company, plant workers noticed a decline in the water level on Aug. 27. While Mosaic quickly notified the DEP and the EPA, no public announcement was made until Sept. 15.

“A sinkhole formed under the west cell that we believe damaged the liner system at the base of the stack,” said the company’s initial press release. “The pond on top of the cell drained as a result, although some seepage continues.”

Mosaic went on to say it “immediately implemented additional and extensive groundwater monitoring and sampling regimens and found no offsite impacts.”

Company officials who appeared Tuesday before the Polk County Commission reiterated, “No water from the stack has migrated off our property.” The company also apologized for not notifying the public sooner.

Gov. Scott’s blind trust – his second while in office – was created under the terms of a secret trust agreement signed in June 2014. His office has declined to make the agreement with the trustee public.

Scott acquired Mosaic while in office

Gov. Scott acquired his Mosaic investment while in office. His first blind, created in April 2011 a few months after he was sworn in, disclosed no ownership of Mosaic shares.

Florida’s qualified blind trust law was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Scott in 2013. The idea was to prevent conflicts of interest by blinding public officials and the public to their holdings, and also afford those who use them immunity from prohibited conflicts.

“The Legislature finds that if a public officer creates a trust and does not control the interests held by the trust, his or her actions will not be influenced or appear to be influenced by private considerations,” the law says.

But Florida’s blind trust law, crafted with mega-wealthy Gov. Scott in mind, did not contemplate that such a trust could at times become a see-through entity, making it ineffective.

For example, in March 2014 Florida Bulldog reported that SEC records showed Gov. and Mrs. Scott had recently sold $17 million worth of shares in Argan (NYSE:AGX), a company whose principal subsidiary builds and operates power plants in Florida and elsewhere.

Florida Bulldog reported in July 2014 about Scott ownership of shares in a natural gas pipeline firm, Spectra Energy, looking to build the $3-billion Sabal Trail pipeline across North and Central Florida.

In 2013, Florida’s Public Service Commission – five members appointed by Gov. Scott – unanimously approved construction of Spectra’s controversial pipeline venture with Florida Power & Light. Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection subsequently approved it, too.

What didn’t become known until the following year, however, was that Scott had investments totaling $110,000 in Houston-based Spectra and DCP Midstream Partners, a natural gas limited partnership 50 percent owned by Spectra. Scott only disclosed those interests in June 2014 when he closed his first blind trust and created his second blind trust while qualifying to run for re-election.

Florida’s ethics laws generally prohibit public officials like the governor from owning stock in businesses subject to state regulation, or that do business with state agencies. A similar prohibition exists on owning shares in companies that would “create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict” between an official’s private interests and the “full and faithful discharge” of his public duties.

The governor has said he was unaware of his Spectra investments because they were in his blind trust.

In February, Florida Bulldog reported that in 2012 Scott owned a $210,000 stake in a private equity firm that owned Fort Myers-based 21st Century Oncology when it was awarded a unprecedented 25-year, no-bid contract to supply radiation oncology services to taxpayer-supported Broward Health. An all-Republican board of commissioners appointed by Scott and his Republican predecessor made the award.

A spokeswoman for the governor said Scott wasn’t aware that 21st Century had sought the Broward Health contract and that no one at the private equity firm, Vestar Capital Partners, or 21st Century, had asked him to try to influence the hospital district’s selection process.

Gov. Rick Scott won’t release 2014 tax return or info about his blind trust

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

When Gov. Rick Scott qualified to run for re-election last year, he made public his federal income tax returns for 2010-2012 “in the interest of full and complete public transparency,” according to his lawyer.

Four months later, with Election Day approaching and media inquiries rising, Scott also disclosed his 2013 tax return.

But today, amid news of Scott’s investment in a company that’s seeking to build a controversial, $3-billion natural gas pipeline in north and central Florida, the governor won’t make public his federal income tax return for 2014.

“If he’s provided his income tax returns in the past, it would seem in the spirit of transparency that he should provide it now,” said Ben Wilcox, research director for the nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida.

The governor’s office also declined a request by FloridaBulldog.org for copies of the federal tax returns filed by the now-closed blind trust that Scott used during his first term to hold his assets outside public scrutiny.

Scott revoked his original blind trust in June 2014 in order to run for re-election, immediately opening a new blind trust into which he rolled over his assets. By state law, public officials do not have access to the tax returns of their active blind trust.

Likewise, the governor’s office would not make public copies of the agreements Scott signed with the trustee of his blind trusts in 2011 and again last year. Those trust agreements control the trustee’s actions. Florida’s “qualified blind trust” law specifically allows the governor to make his trust agreements public, but it does not require him to do so.

“A search of the Executive Office of the Governor’s files produced no documents responsive to your request,” said Savannah Sams of the governor’s Office of Open Government.

In 2013, the Legislature decided that if a public official creates a trust and does not control the interests it holds, his “official actions will not be influenced or appear to be influenced by private considerations.”

BLIND TRUST = IMMUNITY FROM CONFLICTS 

That justification underlines the enactment of Florida’s qualified blind trust statute, which effectively grants immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest to public officials regarding assets they stash in a blind trust.

There is strong evidence, however, that Gov. Scott retains control over his blind trust.

An investigation last year by FloridaBulldog.org found that the state’s blind trust law has been ineffective in keeping Scott from becoming aware of what’s in his trust. Indeed, on several occasions in the last three years Gov. Scott signed paperwork filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that reported in detail on large stock transactions made by his blind trust. Those transactions brought the governor tens millions of dollars.

Alan Bazaar, CEO of Hollow Brook Wealth Management

Alan Bazaar, CEO of Hollow Brook Wealth Management

Further, the governor has described his trustee, New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management, as “independent,” yet the firm’s chief executive officer is longtime Scott crony and former employee Alan Bazaar. Also at Hollow Brook: Cathy Gellatly, Scott’s former corporate accountant at Richard L. Scott Investments.

Bazaar signed paperwork in 2011 and again last year certifying the blind trusts met the requirements of Florida law and were independent of the governor. His certifications, however, were not made under oath and were not notarized, offering the public little assurance or recourse.

When Scott revoked his original blind trust last year while qualifying to run again for governor, he made public a lengthy list of his assets. The maneuver served to insulate Scott from criticism about financial transparency during his successful re-election campaign against Charlie Crist, but it also revealed that since 2011 Scott had placed a large personal bet on the natural gas industry.

One of Scott’s investments was in Texas-based Spectra Energy, which wants to build Sabal Trail, a controversial 474-mile underground pipeline designed to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in central Florida near Orlando, in partnership with Florida Power & Light. Scott reported owning $108,000 in shares of Spectra and its affiliate DCP Midstream Partners.

Florida ethics laws generally prohibit public officials from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation or that do business with state agencies.

Gov. Scott’s stake in Spectra wasn’t publicly known in 2013 when he signed into law a pair of bills designed to speed up permitting for the pipeline project, or when the state Public Service Commission – whose members he appointed – unanimously approved its construction.

In July, the Department of Environmental Protection announced it intended to award both a permit and underwater drilling rights for the project to Sabal Trail Transmission LLC. An environmental group challenging that decision has accused the governor of a conflict of interest. A state administrative judge is considering the matter.

Pipeline foes ask DEP to deny key permit; Cite ‘conflict of interest’ by Gov. Scott

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline in North Florida are asking Florida regulators to reject the project, citing both dangers to the environment and a “conflict of interest” by the regulators’ boss, Gov. Rick Scott.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced in July its intention to award a crucial environmental permit and rights to drill beneath riverbeds that would allow Houston-based Spectra Energy (NYSE:SE) to construct the controversial, $3-billion Sabal Trail Transmission.

State records show Spectra Energy’s investors have included Gov. Scott.

On Friday, the nonprofit WWALS Watershed Coalition, an affiliate of the Waterkeeper Alliance, filed an amended petition asking the DEP to deny the permit or “at the very least” re-route the underground pipeline to avoid “the sensitive karst terrain that underlies north central Florida…especially drilling under the Withlacoochee, Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers.”

“The risk is not just to these waters…it is to the entire State of Florida whose growing population relies on the Floridan aquifer for much of its drinking water,” says the 34-page petition filed by WWALS president John S. Quarterman. The Floridan aquifer underlies all of Florida and parts of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Spectra Energy spokeswoman Andrea Grover, however, noted that DEP’s notice of intent to issue the permit followed nearly a year of discussions and review. “The permit requires full mitigation of all wetland impacts and protects water quality,” she said.

deplogoIf accepted as legally sufficient by DEP, the petition would put the brakes on the department’s plans to issue the permit and trigger an administrative hearing before any permit could be awarded. A DEP spokeswoman said Monday that the department’s lawyers are reviewing the petition.

The 474-mile Sabal Trail Transmission LLC is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Partners and Florida Power & Light parent NextEra Energy. It is intended to supply fracked natural gas to fuel a new generation of gas-fired power plants across the state, including Port Everglades.

Sabal Trail is to run across Alabama and through southern Georgia where it will enter Florida in d County. The Florida leg, 257 miles long, will push south through a dozen counties to a hub in central Florida south of Orlando. Along the way, the pipeline would be installed beneath several rivers.

‘REASONABLE ASSURANCE’

In the July 10 notice of intent, DEP Central District Director Jeff Prather wrote that Sabal Trail had provided DEP with “reasonable assurance” that pipeline construction would comply with state laws and rules. Likewise, Prather wrote, the department determined that “construction and operation” of the Sabal Trail pipeline would not violate state water quality standards.

“The applicant has also demonstrated that the construction…is clearly in the public interest,” Prather said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the lead federal agency responsible for reviewing the Sabal Trail proposal and preparing an environmental impact statement. FERC’s decision could come as early as November.

The WWALS petition argues that the project is “clearly not in the public interest of the citizens of Hamilton and Suwannee counties who will be affected…without any benefit whatsoever.”

The petition describes the lands in north Florida along Sabal Trail’s proposed route as a rich habitat for native wildlife – including threatened species like the gopher tortoise and the eastern indigo snake.

The area is honeycombed with sinkholes and sensitive underground springs and caverns at special risk from the proposed, 36-inch natural gas pipeline. Forested lands will be cleared and wetlands filled to make way for the pipeline, substantially reducing wildlife habitat, a plan that is “not acceptable,” the petition says.

Schematic showing cross-section of the proposed HDD crossing of the Withlacoochee River and hypothetical karst features that could result in a hydrofracture (frac-out), significant loss in drilling fluid and potential loss of the borehole. Source: August 2014 report by geologist Robert Brown

Schematic showing cross-section of the proposed HDD crossing of the Withlacoochee River and hypothetical karst features that could result in a hydrofracture (frac-out), significant loss in drilling fluid and potential loss of the borehole. Source: August 2014 report by geologist Robert Brown

Drilling through the area’s karst terrain, formed by the gradual erosion of Florida’s limestone or dolomite rocks, could cause new sinkholes that could cause pipeline failure, property damage or even human injury, the petition says.

More ominously, the petition says the proposed use of Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) to bore through karst limestone in order to lay underground pipe at river crossings increases the risk of “frac-outs” that happen when a drill bores into an underground spring. The result can be a new sinkhole “resulting in potentially catastrophic effects on spring and river flows and water quality in both rivers and private wells.”

“This month another sinkhole opened just across the state line in Lowndes County, Georgia, threatening to absorb a road, as another did a few years ago,” the petition says. “Such sinkholes can form years after a pipeline is installed, as happened in Assumption Parrish, Louisiana in 2013 when Florida Gas Transmission had to move its pipeline.”

MORE STUDY NEEDED?

The petition calls for more study before such drilling “destroys underground caverns and spring conduits that may cause the extinction” of exotic species living in those caverns and springs.

Further, the petition cited the possibility of a pipeline failure and an explosion that would damage the underground karst terrain and springs and kill designated or threatened species like the alligator snapping turtle, American alligator and Suwannee cooter turtle.

The petition points out that a Spectra Energy pipeline exploded beneath the Arkansas River in Little Rock on May 31. It goes on to note that Spectra has been repeatedly fined by federal regulators in the U.S. and Canada for “failing to properly maintain and repair their pipelines and for failing to clean up contamination” when their pipelines leaked.

“Why is Florida DEP trusting this company with our valuable natural resources?” the petition asks.

With the Clinton Presidential Center in the foreground, this photo shows a Spectra Energy pipeline blowout beneath the Arkansas River in Little Rock on May 31. Photo Courtesy: Tony Cassady

With the Clinton Presidential Center in the foreground, this photo shows a Spectra Energy pipeline blowout beneath the Arkansas River in Little Rock on May 31. Photo Courtesy: Tony Cassady

Spectra Energy presents a different picture.

“Our safety record is better than the industry average,” said spokeswoman Andrea Grover. “Our reportable incidents were approximately half the rate of the industry average during the past five years.”

During the same period, Grover said, Spectra Energy operates about four percent of the nation’s natural gas transmission pipelines, yet received only two percent of the enforcement actions initiated by U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection serves as staff to the Board of Trustees of the Florida Internal Improvement Fund, which owns the submerged lands beneath the rivers where Spectra Energy wants to run the pipeline. The DEP is delegated decision-making authority to issue an easement to allow construction under the Florida Administrative Code.

The WWALS petition says Gov. Scott, in his role as a member of the fund’s board of trustees, has a “conflict of interest” due to his “financial interests in Spectra Energy, the parent company of Sabal Trail Transmissions, as well as in Williams Company, the owner of the Transco pipeline from which Sabal Trail plans to get its gas.

“The governor and other public officials are prohibited by state ethics laws from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation or that do business with state agencies,” the petition says.

In response, Scott’s office issued a statement saying the public is protected from conflicts of interests because his assets are in a blind trust “under the control of an independent financial professional. As such, the governor has no knowledge of anything that is bought, sold or changed in the trust.”

As FloridaBulldog.org has reported, however, the blind trust has not prevented public disclosure of Gov. Scott’s personal stock holdings. On June 25, for example, Scott and the trust reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that Scott had sold 122,653 shares of Argan (NYSE:AGX) earlier that month for $4.87 million. Argan’s Gemma Power Systems subsidiary builds and operates power plants in Florida and elsewhere.

In March 2014, the Bulldog also reported that longtime Scott crony Alan Bazaar runs Hollow Brook Wealth Management, the trustee. Bazaar, who also manages another large Scott trust and family partnership, was a principal and a portfolio manager at the governor’s Naples-based investment firm for nearly 11 years before Scott ran for office.

You don’t need X-ray vision to see through Gov. Rick Scott’s blind trust

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott, right, and blind trust executive Alan Bazaar

Gov. Rick Scott, right, and blind trust executive Alan Bazaar

Governor Rick Scott keeps his $127.8 million stock portfolio in a blind trust intended, by law, to prevent him from having knowledge or control of his investments and to eliminate conflicts between the governor’s public responsibilities and his private interests.

But Florida’s qualified blind trust statute, a little-noticed part of the large 2013 ethics reform bill signed into law by Scott himself, isn’t doing its job. While veiling the governor’s assets from the public, the blind trust fails to keep him blind to his investments.

There are at least two reasons why: disclosure requirements in federal securities law that can undercut blind trust secrecy, and weak conflict-of-interest rules in Florida that don’t require public officers like the governor to disclose assets they own or control when held in their spouse’s name.

For example, on June 25 Scott and the trustees of his blind trust told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that Scott had sold 122,653 shares of Argan (NYSE:AGX) earlier that month for $4.87 million. Argan is a publicly traded holding company whose Gemma Power Systems subsidiary builds and operates power plants in Florida and elsewhere.

The report filed by Scott and his trustees at New York-based Hollow Brook Wealth Management also disclosed that the governor continued to own 4.2 percent of Argan – or 606,124 shares – worth nearly $23.7 million at Tuesday’s closing stock price of $39.06.

The public report says, “No other person is known to have the right to receive or the power to direct the receipt of dividends from, or the proceeds from the sale of, the shares of common stock that are the subject of this filing.”

This wasn’t the first time Scott made millions on a private stock deal while in office.

In March 2014, FloridaBulldog.org reported that the governor and First Lady Ann Scott recently had collected $17 million selling hundreds of thousands of shares of Argan held by the blind trust and other entities. The story also reported about other large transactions involving several other companies whose stock Scott owned.

Scott’s Argan stock sales included at least 140,000 shares held by the blind trust – then worth $2.5 million – which also retained 523,000 shares. The two other selling entities: the F. Annette Scott Revocable Trust and the Richard L. and F. Annette Scott Family Partnership, in which Scott has acknowledged he was a beneficial owner.

Scott’s June filing does not break down the number of Argan shares sold then by each entity in five trades made June 15-19. But on more than one occasion the blind trust, the first lady’s trust and the family partnership have coordinated transactions – buying or selling large numbers of shares on the same day, at the same price or in similar proportions.

SCOTT ‘HAS NO KNOWLEDGE OR CONTROL’ OF BLIND TRUST

Scott’s office would not elaborate. Spokeswoman Jackie Schutz released a statement Tuesday saying the blind trust is “under the control of an independent financial professional” and that the governor “has no knowledge or control of anything that is bought, sold or changed in the trust.”

Nevertheless, trustee Hollow Brook Wealth Management’s chief executive is Alan Bazaar who worked for Scott from July 1999 to January 2010 as managing director and portfolio manager at Richard L. Scott Investments. Hollow Brook is also an “investment adviser” to the Scott family partnership and the revocable trust in Mrs. Scott’s name.

Further, Scott and Bazaar were partners in a company that in 1999 invested in Cyberguard, a Deerfield Beach computer security firm. The company’s board of directors included then-Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne, who later went to prison for corruption, and Fort Lauderdale lobbyist and Scott confidant William D. Rubin.

To date, Gov. Scott is the only public officer in Florida to use a state qualified blind trust to shield his assets and obtain the safe harbor it provides from prohibited conflicts of interest, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Keeping his securities portfolio in the blind trust means Scott does not have to identify his individual securities on his annual financial disclosure form. Instead, his form describes his biggest single asset as simply “Governor Richard L. Scott 2014 Qualified Blind Trust.”

While the state form does not detail his blind trust holdings, mandatory reports he must make to the SEC about his large stock transactions do. But they aren’t the only way information about Scott’s stock holdings have gone public.

Companies must file reports identifying their biggest shareholders. For example, Argan’s May 16, 2015 report to the SEC in advance of its annual meeting listed Richard L. Scott as a principal stockholder who then owned 965,255 shares, or 6.6 percent of the company.

pipelineGov. Scott also has made public information about the contents of his blind trust.

In June 2014, while qualifying to run for re-election, Scott closed his original blind trust, made public a list of his blind trust assets, then immediately put those assets back into a new blind trust.

The maneuver presented a snapshot of Scott’s stock holdings as of Dec. 31, 2013. Among other things, it revealed Scott was heavily invested in energy companies, including those that control the two existing natural gas pipelines serving Florida.

Also disclosed was Scott’s $108,000 investment in Spectra Energy and its affiliate DCP Midstream Partners.

Spectra is currently seeking regulatory approval to build the $3 billion Sabal Trail Transmission, an approximately 500-mile pipeline to run from Alabama and Georgia into North Florida and south to Orange County. The underground pipeline would supply fuel to the state’s new gas-fired power plants.

The Florida Public Service Commission, whose five members were appointed by Scott, unanimously approved Sabal Trail in the fall of 2013, before Scott’s stake in Spectra was publicly known.

Last month, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it intended to award a key environmental permit and easement for the controversial Sabal Trail project that’s majority-owned by Spectra Energy.

FP&L and Duke Energy, also partners in the project, have contributed $1.4 million to Let’s Get to Work, the political committee branded with Scott’s campaign slogan, according to federal records. They also gave a combined $5.8 million to the Republican Governors Association in 2013-14, which in turn contributed $18.3 million to Let’s Get to Work last year.

Gov. Scott’s pipeline investment gets a boost from Florida environmental regulators

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

State regulators are quietly backing the award of a crucial environmental permit to a company that wants to build a controversial $3-billion natural gas pipeline in North Florida. The company’s investors have included Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), overseen by the governor, published a notice of its intent to issue an Environmental Resources Permit to Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, a joint venture of Houston-based Spectra Energy and Florida Power & Light parent, NextEra Energy.

The July 10 notice also says the DEP intends to grant an easement that would allow Sabal Trail to use “submerged state lands” to help construct the pipeline. Some of those lands are beneath the Suwannee, Santa Fe and Withlacoochee rivers, where the 36-inch pipeline would be buried.

The Board of Trustees of Florida’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund owns the submerged lands, according to DEP’s notice. The board is comprised of the governor and Cabinet – Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state chief financial officer Jeff Atwater.

FPL selected Spectra Energy to build and operate Sabal Trail in July 2013.

FloridaBulldog.org reported in July 2014 that Gov. Scott owned a $53,000 stake in Spectra Energy, and a $55,000 stake in DCP Midstream Partners, a natural gas limited partnership 50 percent owned by Spectra Energy. As detailed in a state financial disclosure form, the governor’s portfolio included several million dollars invested in the securities of more than two-dozen entities that produce and/or transport natural gas, including several, like Spectra, with substantial Florida operations.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST PROHIBITIONS

The governor and other public officials in Florida are generally prohibited by state ethics laws from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation or that do business with state agencies. The law also prohibits them from having an interest in companies that would “create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict” between their private interests and the “full and faithful discharge” of their public duties.

Sabal Trail pipeline project map

Sabal Trail pipeline project map

As described in paperwork released by the department, issuance of the environmental permit would constitute certification that the pipeline project is in compliance with state water quality standards and consistent with Florida’s Coastal Zone Management Program.

DEP says it will issue the permit and easement unless an affected party files a petition seeking an administrative hearing by Friday, August 7. A spokesman for one environmental group, the Georgia-based WWALS Watershed Coalition, said it intends to file a petition by the deadline.

The Sabal Trail Transmission is proposed as a 474-mile natural gas pipeline to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in Central Florida, south of Orlando. The Florida leg, 257 miles long, will traverse a dozen counties in north Florida.

Florida Power & Light intends to use the pipeline as a dedicated supply of fracked natural gas to fuel a new generation of gas-fired power plants in locations that include Port Everglades.

According to the DEP, the project will affect 408 acres of wetlands and other surface waters. The notice says some wetland vegetation should re-establish fairly quickly, but “forested areas may take 2-50+ years to re-establish to pre-construction conditions.”

Sabal Trail applied for the permit, water quality certification and authorization to use the sovereign submerged lands on July 31, 2014.

PIPELINE ‘CLEARLY IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST’

“The department has determined…the applicant has provided reasonable assurance that the construction, including the direct, secondary and cumulative impacts, will comply with” state laws and rules, says the notice signed by Jeff Prather, director of the DEP’s central district. “The applicant has also demonstrated that the construction…is clearly in the public interest.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the lead federal agency responsible for reviewing the project and preparing an environmental impact statement. FERC has accepted public comments in its ongoing review of the project. A decision could come as early as November.

Gov. Scott was heavily involved in the state’s early backing of the Sabal Trail pipeline project. In May and June 2013, he signed into law a pair of bills intended to speed up permitting. Later that year, his appointees on the Florida Public Service Commission approved construction of Sabal Trail as the state’s third major natural gas pipeline.

At the time, however, Scott’s ownership interest in Spectra Energy was not publicly known. Like tens of millions of dollars of the governor’s other assets, his Spectra shares were placed in a Florida blind trust.

Blind trusts are supposed to eliminate conflicts of interest by “blinding” public officials and the public to their specific assets. And a spokesman for Scott said the governor “had no knowledge of his Spectra investment because his decision to invest was made by a trustee of the blind trust.”

But Scott’s trustee wasn’t a disinterested manager. It was Hollow Brook Wealth Management and chief executive Alan Bazaar, a trusted former employee of the governor’s private investment firm, Richard L. Scott Investments.

Scott lifted the veil on his assets briefly in June 2014 after he closed his original blind trust and immediately opened a new one and placed all of his assets back into it. The maneuver served to insulate the governor from criticism about financial transparency in advance of last year’s election, but it also revealed the governor’s large personal bet on natural gas firms like Spectra and Energy Transfer Equity LP, entities with significant pipeline interests in Florida.

Energy Transfer’s subsidiaries include a joint venture that owns Florida Gas Transmission, the state’s largest natural gas pipeline and a major state vendor. Scott also has a financial interest in Florida’s other major natural gas pipeline Gulfstream, through his investments in Spectra and the large pipeline operator Williams Cos.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Energy Transfer Equity LP, run by Dallas billionaire Kelcy Warren, is pursuing a multi-billion dollar deal to acquire Williams.

In his most recent financial disclosure, Scott valued his units of Energy Transfer as worth $311,000 on Dec. 31 2013. He also reported a $400,000 stake in a pair of entities owned by Energy Transfer, Regency Energy Partners LP and PVR Partners LP.

Energy Transfer boss Warren has been a big political supporter or Gov. Scott. In Nov. 2013, two days after former Gov. Charlie Crist filed to run against Scott, Warren contributed $50,000 to Let’s Get to Work, a political committee backing Scott. In March 2012, an Energy Transfer subsidiary gave $25,000 to Let’s Get to Work.

On Sunday, The New York Times ranked Warren third among those who have given the most money in the 2016 presidential race. Warren’s $6 million in contributions all supported former Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry.

Gov. Scott and GE: Jobs, incentives and investments in Scott’s oil & gas partnerships

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Gov. Rick Scott with Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and GE representatives on Friday

Gov. Rick Scott with Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and GE representatives on Friday

When Gov. Rick Scott announced last week that GE Oil & Gas would open a $50 million manufacturing facility in Jacksonville he talked about how it would create 500 new jobs for Florida.

GE Oil & Gas’s official welcome package: up to $15.4 million in financial incentives, including $10 million from the city and $5.4 million from the state.

Not mentioned in the hoopla was how another division of General Electric, GE Energy Financial Services, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in publicly traded oil and natural gas partnerships in which Scott had a financial interest.

Financial disclosure records made public by Gov. Scott in June show that as of Dec. 31 he was heavily invested in more than two-dozen oil and gas ventures. One was Spectra Energy, which is currently working with Florida Power & Light to build the contentious, $3 billion Sabal Trail pipeline in north Florida.

As BrowardBulldog.org reported in July, Scott and his appointees at the Public Service Commission backed construction of Sabal Trail despite state ethics laws that generally prohibit public officials from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation. Scott acquired his Spectra shares via a controversial “qualified blind trust,” which by law allows politicians to hide their investment activity and also affords them immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest.

A spokesman for the governor’s re-election campaign, Greg Blair, has said Scott was unaware of his Spectra investment because the trustee of the blind trust made it. Longtime Scott crony Alan Bazaar runs the trustee, Hollow Brook Wealth Management.

Gov. Scott’s oil and gas assets include 18 publicly traded master limited partnerships, some with significant ties to GE Energy Financial Services. Oil and gas master limited partnerships don’t pay corporate income taxes, offering investors liquidity and tax benefits.

For example, the governor reported a $135,800 investment in Houston-based Crestwood Midstream Partners LP. He also disclosed an additional $110,600 stake in Crestwood Equity Partners LP, the master limited partnership that manages and controls Crestwood Midstream.

‘VALUE CREATION FOR STAKEHOLDERS’

Crestwood Midstream announced in June that GE Energy Financial was one of a trio of corporate investors that had agreed to buy up to $500 million worth of its Class A preferred units. The proceeds were earmarked to expand Crestwood’s ability to extract and process shale oil, reduce debt and “provide long-term value creation for all our stakeholders.”

GE Energy Financial made another large investment intended to boost Crestwood last year. In that July 2013 deal, GE provided $80.6 million to a Crestwood subsidiary that gathers and transports fracked natural gas extracted from shale in Wyoming. GE also agreed then to provide a total of up to $150 million in future capital contributions, according to a press release.

“This transaction is another step in the execution of our strategy to position Crestwood in rich gas plays,” Crestwood chairman and chief executive Robert G. Phillips said at the time.

The governor’s spokesman, Greg Blair, said Monday that Scott’s backing for GE Oil & Gas’s Jacksonville plant was not influenced by General Electric’s favorable investments in partnerships in which he owned an interest. Blair also said again that Scott had “no knowledge” of his portfolio holdings “because the decision to invest was made by the trustee of the blind trust.”

GE Oil & Gas’s new plant will manufacture regulators, control valves and other products used by the industry. It is expected to open in November.

Regency Energy Partners, LP is another entity in which GE Energy Financial and the governor shared an interest.

Gov. Scott valued his Regency units at $194,000 as of Dec. 31, while reporting he also had a $206,600 stake in PVR Partners LP, which was acquired by Regency in March.

The governor obtained his Regency units sometime after he created his first blind trust in April 2011. That trust was terminated in June when he publicly disclosed his assets in a move apparently designed to make sure he qualified to run for a second term. The governor immediately opened a new blind trust instrument and placed his assets into it.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Equity LP, another master limited partnership in which the governor reported owning a $310,600 stake, controls Regency.

Energy Transfer acquired Regency’s general partner from an affiliate of GE Energy Financial for $310 million in May 2010. Affiliates of GE Energy Financial retained 24.7 million limited partner units in Regency, according to a Regency press release.

In an October 2012 report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, GE reported that its affiliate had reduced its Regency holdings to 8.4 million units, or 4.9 percent of Regency’s outstanding units. The move meant that GE was no longer required to publicly disclose its ownership interest in Regency. Its holdings today, if any, are unknown.

Gov. Scott had stake in pipeline firm whose $3 billion venture he and his appointees backed

 

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Florida's existing and proposed pipeline routes. Gov. Scott invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in companies that own all three. Illustration: NextEra Energy

Florida’s existing and proposed pipeline routes. Gov. Scott invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in companies that own all three. Illustration: NextEra Energy

Upon his election, Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team included a Florida Power & Light executive who pitched his company’s plan to build a major natural gas pipeline in North Florida to fuel a new generation of gas-fired power plants in places like Port Everglades.

“The proposed project will need state regulatory and governmental agencies to understand and support this project,” said the proposal submitted by FPL vice president Sam Forrest.

Gov. Scott understood. In May and June 2013, he signed into law two bills (HB 999 and HB 1083) designed to speed up permitting for what came to be known as the Sabal Trail Transmission – a controversial, 474-mile natural gas pipeline that’s to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in Central Florida, south of Orlando.

Five months later, the Florida Public Service Commission, whose five members were appointed by Gov. Scott, unanimously approved construction of Sabal Trail as the state’s third major natural gas pipeline. More approvals are needed from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which the governor oversees.

What wasn’t publicly known in 2013, however, was that Gov. Scott owned a stake in Spectra Energy, the Houston company chosen by Florida Power & Light that July to build and operate the $3 billion pipeline. Sabal Trail Transmission LLC is a joint venture of Spectra Energy and FPL’s parent, NextEra Energy.

BrowardBulldog.org’s review of financial records made public last month by Gov. Scott show that as of Dec. 31 his portfolio included several million dollars invested in the securities of more than two-dozen entities that produce and/or transport natural gas – including some, like Spectra, with substantial Florida operations.

His stake in Spectra Energy was reported as being worth $53,000 that day.

Florida’s ethics laws generally prohibit public officials like the governor from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation, or that do business with state agencies. A similar prohibition exists on owning shares in companies that would “create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict” between an official’s private interests and the “full and faithful discharge” of his public duties.

NEW CONCERNS ABOUT BLIND TRUST LAW

Scott’s investments in companies that do business in Florida raise fresh concerns about the operation of Florida’s so-called “qualified blind trust” statute – a law that allows public officials to veil their investment activity while affording them immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest.

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

Scott acquired his Spectra shares via his blind trust. Exactly when that occurred is not known, and Greg Blair, a spokesman for the governor’s re-election campaign, said in an email that Scott has “no knowledge of the investment because his decision to invest was made by a trustee of the blind trust.”

Blind trusts are supposed to eliminate conflicts of interest by “blinding” public officials and the public to the nature of their holdings. The law’s requirement that officials hand over control of an investment portfolio to a disinterested manager was intended to accomplish that.

But as BrowardBulldog.org reported in March, the governor’s blind trust was ineffective in keeping the governor’s assets secret. And Alan Bazaar, a trusted former employee of the governor’s private investment firm Richard L. Scott Investments, managed it.

“The legislature makes it easy for officials to get away with conflicts of interest through loopholes in the ethics code,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, the nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog group. “Corruption has been institutionalized in Florida with flawed policies like blind trusts and political appointees issuing advisory opinions on what’s ethical.”

The governor, the senate president and the house speaker appoint the members of Florida’s Commission on Ethics.

The governor’s financial interest in Sabal Trail’s builder, Spectra, is also fueling criticism from opponents of the controversial natural gas pipeline project.

“That’s very interesting,” said Susan Glickman, Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It’s totally inappropriate that we have policymakers making important decisions where they have a financial stake in the outcome.”

“OUTRAGED AND DISHEARTENED”

Beth Gordon is a lawyer and former South Florida resident who now lives with her family on a 32-acre horse farm in Levy County where Spectra wants to route Sabal Trail. She helped found Spectrabusters, a citizens’ group that’s fighting Sabal Trail.

“I’m outraged and disheartened by this news. I feel blindsided,” said Gordon, who like Scott is a Republican. “The governor’s interest is in getting these companies the permits they need and he’s not interested in the environment.”

The governor’s financial disclosure form, essentially a snapshot of his extensive holdings as of Dec. 31, shows that Scott also owns a $55,000 stake in another Spectra asset, DCP Midstream Partners. DCM is a natural gas limited partnership 50 percent owned by Spectra Energy.

Scott disclosed his portfolio last month after he closed his original blind trust, then immediately opened a new one and placed all of his assets back into it.

He did it “to ensure that there would not be the possibility of any conflict of interest,” spokesman Greg Blair said via email. “As a result, Gov. Scott has no knowledge of the current contents of the blind trust.”

The trustee of the new blind trust, however, continues to be New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management and its chief executive and longtime Scott crony Alan Baazar.

Neither the governor nor anyone on his staff would be interviewed about his investments. Last month’s disclosure form marks the first time the governor has made public a list of his securities investments since he formed the blind trust in April 2011.

The maneuver served to insulate Gov. Scott from criticism about financial transparency amid his re-election campaign against former Gov. Charlie Crist. But it also revealed Scott’s large personal bet on natural gas and firms like Spectra and Energy Transfer Equity LP.

GOV. SCOTT’S STAKES IN OTHER FLORIDA PIPELINES  

Energy Transfer is a publicly traded master limited partnership whose subsidiaries include a joint venture that owns Florida Gas Transmission. FGT is the state’s largest natural gas pipeline, transporting it from Texas through the Florida peninsula south to Miami-Dade.

Florida Gas Transmission is also a major state vendor. According to Transparency Florida, the state website where government spending information is posted, FGT was paid $28.4 million by the Department of Transportation for various construction services in 2013-2014.

Scott valued his units of Energy Transfer as being worth $311,000 as of the end of last year. He likewise reported additional investments in a pair of entities owned by Energy Transfer, Regency Energy Partners LP and PVR Partners LP, totaling $400,000.

Scott’s investments in Spectra and Williams, an energy infrastructure company, also gave him a financial interest in Florida’s other major natural gas pipeline, Gulfstream, which runs from Alabama to Tampa Bay beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Those companies and their limited partnerships jointly own and operate Palmetto-based Gulfstream Natural Gas System LLC.

Scott’s disclosure form reported that in addition to his Spectra holdings he owned Williams shares worth $104,000 and a $71,000 ownership interest in a master limited partnership owned by Williams, Access Midstream Partners.

In addition to the bills Scott signed to streamline permitting for natural gas pipelines, he likewise benefitted the industry last year by approving another law (HB 579) that provides $30 million over five years to fund rebates to commercial fleet operators who buy, convert or lease vehicles that run on natural gas. The program, administered by Agriculture and Consumer Services boss Adam Putnam, offers applicants a maximum annual rebate of $250,000.

The Public Service Commission later approved several individual natural gas vehicle programs. PSC Commission Chairman Ronald A. Brise said the moves helped make “natural gas pricing more competitive with conventional motor fuels.”

The law also exempts natural gas fuel from state fuel, sales and use taxes for five years.

“They’re doing everything they can to build the market,” said Glickman.

Florida’s natural gas market is huge and growing. Nearly 68 percent of Florida’s electric generation, and more than 72 percent of FPL’s total energy, was fueled by natural gas in 2012, according to the Public Service Commission. Pipelines bring virtually all of that gas to Florida.

SABAL TRAIL TO POWER FPL PLANTS

The Sabal Trail underground pipeline is to run through 13 Florida counties. Documents state that it is intended to provide Florida Power & Light with a dedicated supply of natural gas for power generation needs and other purposes starting in May 2017.

Much of that new supply is to come from natural gas fracked from shale. It would flow to Florida from Sabal Trail’s connection to Williams’ Transco pipeline in Alabama.

Sabal Trail is to terminate at a new central Florida hub where it would connect to the state’s two other main natural gas pipelines, Florida Gas Transmission and Gulfstream. Another part of the new pipeline project that does not involve Spectra is the construction of a 126-mile, $550 million pipeline to run from Sabal Trail’s termination point in Osceola County to an FPL plant in Indiantown in Martin County.

“The primary factors driving this increased need are the three modernization projects currently in progress at FPL’s Cape Canaveral, Riviera Beach and Port Everglades natural gas plants to upgrade older, 1960’s-era steam combustion turbine generating units to modern, and more efficient combined cycle technology,” said the Public Service Commission’s October 2013 memorandum endorsing the pipeline projects.

Sabal Trail, however, has drawn significant opposition from both environmentalists who fear pollution and residents who consider the 36-inch steel pipeline a hazard and don’t want it anywhere near them.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a 17-page letter to FERC that questioned the need for Sabal Trail and suggested alternatives, like improved energy conservation measures, that would allow FPL to otherwise meet the power needs of its customers.

“U.S. electricity sales appear to have peaked in 2007,” the letter says.

FPL isn’t the only utility looking to generate electricity using natural gas imported via Sabal Trail.

Later this year, the Public Service Commission will consider plans by Duke Energy Florida to build a new, combined-cycle natural gas plant near Crystal River in Citrus County that would be a major customer of the new pipeline.

According to a Duke Energy press release, the project also requires certification under Florida’s Power Plant Siting Act. Certifications are issued by Florida’s siting board, which consists of the governor and Cabinet.

Florida’s First Lady invests quietly in investment firm that mirrors governor’s old company

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott Photo: Meredyth Hope Hall

Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott Photo: Meredyth Hope Hall

Florida First Lady Ann Scott doesn’t talk publicly about where she invests the many millions of dollars in assets her husband, Governor Rick Scott, has transferred to her since his election in 2010. She doesn’t have to because Florida’s public officials, including the governor, are not required to disclose a spouse’s assets.

But Securities and Exchange Commission records reveal one place she’s sunk a lot of money is an obscure “family” investment firm that boasts $160 million under management and operates using the online name Scott Capital Partners.

Scott Capital looks a lot like a corporate doppelganger of Richard L. Scott Investments, the governor’s private equity firm where he made millions for himself and his family putting together big-money investment deals.

SEC records show that three men who worked for Gov. Scott when he ran Richard L. Scott Investments now operate Scott Capital, which describes itself using the same three-sentence paragraph once used by RLSI. Scott Capital’s online portfolio boasts more than a half-dozen large investments actually made years ago by RLSI.

One of those investments was Solantic, which operated a chain of walk-in clinics. According to media reports, Gov. Scott transferred his $62 million investment in Solantic to his wife’s revocable trust amid allegations of conflict of interest shortly before taking office. Mrs. Scott reportedly sold the family’s stake in Solantic in June 2011.

Another Scott Capital feature that makes it look a lot like the RLSI organization run by Rick Scott is that RLSI’s law firm – Bradley Arant Boult Cummings – is now Scott Capital’s law firm.

That legal link also ties Scott Capital back to another Rick Scott venture because partner Stephen T. Braun, based in the firm’s Nashville office, was general counsel to Columbia/HCA Healthcare when Gov. Scott led that company. Braun and his firm have represented RLSI and Rick and Ann Scott in various stock transactions.

HIDING CONNECTIONS

While lineage with a sitting governor could be a valuable asset, Scott Capital has gone out of its way to obscure its connections to Florida’s governor and First Lady.

Online biographies of Scott Capital’s three principals – Gregory David Scott, Andrew K. Maurer and F. Bradley Scholtz – don’t mention that they once worked for Gov. Scott at RLSI. Instead, the bios each say they started with Scott Capital in the years the men actually began at RLSI.

The governor and Mrs. Scott would not be interviewed about Scott Capital, and the governor’s office did not answer written questions about the family’s relationship with the investment advisor firm based in Rowayton, Connecticut.

While Scott Capital doesn’t capitalize on its heritage, its website does not identify the firm’s own full legal name: G. Scott Capital Partners LLC. That omission is an impediment to obtaining public regulatory information about the firm and is odds with the company’s own statements on its annual registration applications to the SEC.

On those forms, the SEC requires investment advisers to disclose both their full legal name and the “name under which you primarily conduct your advisory business.” The name Scott Capital Partners isn’t listed on the company’s SEC filings.

The SEC disclosure forms are more forthcoming about the backgrounds of Gregory Scott, Maurer and Scholtz, stating that each worked for Richard L. Scott Investments LLC until 2012, around the time that name was shed and Scott Capital Partners was incorporated.

“Yes, it was in that time frame,” Scholtz said when asked when the name Richard L. Scott Investments was dropped and Scott Capital Partners was formed. Scholtz, who originates and evaluates private equity deals, referred further questions to Managing Director Gregory Scott.

Gregory Scott indicated his name was used to reflect his majority interest in the firm, which records show was organized as a limited liability company in Delaware in November 2012.

‘NOT RELATED TO RICK’

“I have the same last name. I’m not related to Rick, but that’s all I want to say. Why would I speak to a reporter?” he said.

SEC records say Gregory Scott owns 50 to 75 percent of the holding company that owns Scott Capital. Tally 1, a limited liability company incorporated in Delaware in November 2012 and controlled by the First Lady, owns the rest. The Frances Annette Scott Revocable Trust, which pumped $11.3 million into Gov. Scott’s 2010 campaign, owns a controlling interest in Tally 1.

Gregory Scott described the First Lady, an interior decorator by trade, as a “passive investor.”

The governor’s office did not respond to written questions asking whether Gov. Scott has an ownership interest in Tally 1. When Gregory Scott was asked if Gov. Scott was involved with Scott Capital he said, “That’s enough” and concluded the interview.

Gov. Scott’s lawyers told the Commission on Ethics last year that the governor placed all of his assets in a blind trust in 2011 to eliminate conflicts of interest by “blinding” himself to the nature of his enormous investments in stocks, bonds and other entities. The First Lady’s assets were not included and nothing in Florida law prevents the First Lady from telling her husband how she is investing the assets he gave her or prevents him from suggesting to her how she should invest her assets.

In March, BrowardBullldog.org reported that Florida’s 2013 blind trust law has proved ineffective in preventing public disclosure of the governor’s personal riches due to federal disclosure requirements regarding large stock transactions.

This year alone, through various entities including the blind trust, the Scotts made more than $20 million selling shares in two publicly traded companies, Argan and NTS communications. Argan’s principal subsidiary, power plant builder Gemma Power Systems, does business in Florida.

TRUSTEE IS EX-PARTNER, EMPLOYEE

A subsequent story reported that Alan Bazaar, chief executive of Hollow Brook Wealth Management which serves as the independent trustee of the governor’s $72 million blind trust, worked for Scott at RLSI for more than a decade prior to his run for governor. The governor and Bazaar also were partners a decade ago in a lucrative investment in a Deerfield Beach computer security company called Cyberguard.

Scott Capital reported to the SEC on March 27 that it provides management services for family investment accounts, a start-up private equity fund and an unspecified number of limited liability companies that facilitate large investments in single companies. The firm is paid a percentage of assets under management, performance fees and is reimbursed by clients for overhead.

As of Dec. 31, Scott Capital said it managed $160 million in client assets, most of it from a handful of high net worth individuals. Its public filings don’t identify them, but Scott Capital’s history, structure, ownership and portfolio indicate they include members of Gov. Scott’s family.

Scott Capital’s largest managed asset is RLSI-CSP Capital Partners, a limited liability company that SEC paperwork identifies as a private fund with a gross asset value of $120 million.

Gov. Scott created RLSI-CSP Capital Partners in 2005 in order to purchase Continental Structural Plastics, an Ohio-based automotive and air conditioning company supplier. Financial records made public last summer state that Gov. Scott put his ownership units in RLSI-CSP into his blind trust in 2011, valuing his stake at $14.2 million.

There is other overlap between the portfolios of Scott Capital and Gov. Scott’s blind trust. Both have reported large stakes in Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, a Colorado-based drug store chain, and Strike and Spare family entertainment and bowling centers of Tennessee.

A NEW DEAL

Scott Capital’s lone deal since Mrs. Scott’s investment is the May 2013 acquisition of of Valterra Products. The deal was accomplished using two limited liability corporations that Scott Capital’s SEC filings valued at $11.5 million. Valterra, headquartered in California, manufactures fluid control products for recreational vehicles, pools and spas and other industries.

Around the same time that Richard L. Scott Investments LLC employees moved to Scott Capital Partners, RLSI dropped the governor’s name and changed its name to Columbia Collier Management.

RLSI’s corporate history prior to 2007, the year of its incorporation in Florida, is unclear.  The venture capital firm with offices in Naples, Stamford, Connecticut and New York City, said it was established in 1997, yet a search of corporate records in more than a half dozen other states where Scott is known to have done business turned up no record that RLSI was previously incorporated.

Asked about that, the governor’s office did not respond.

It wasn’t until last year that First Lady Ann Scott began signing RLSI’s annual reports. This February, the company changed it name to that of the company that has managed it since 2007 – Columbia Collier Management.

Among Columbia Collier Management’s affiliates is another limited liability company set up by businessman Richard L. Scott in 2007, Columbia Collier Properties. Today, that entity is the registered owner of the Cessna Citation jet that Gov. Rick Scott uses to travel around Florida and elsewhere at his own expense, but with little public accountability.

The asset list for the governor’s blind trust does not mention Richard L. Scott Investments. It does, however, list ownership units in Columbia Collier Management that Scott valued at $2.2 million in April 2011.

Asked whether the governor maintains an ownership interest in Columbia Collier Management, spokesman John Tupps said, “Governor Scott is in full compliance with Florida’s blind trust laws.”

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