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.

U.S. Rep. Graham asks Gov. Scott to call special session on Lake O crisis

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee

In a sharply worded rebuke of Rick Scott, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) urged the governor to call a special legislative session to deal with the toxic algae bloom discharges from Lake Okeechobee threatening the state’s ecosystem as well as the tourism and fishing industries.

In a July 13 letter to the state’s chief executive, Graham said a special session focusing on short-term and long-term solutions that prevent future algae blooms should be his top priority. She added Floridians are “hungry” for the Republican governor to show leadership on the issue.

“Your administration has ignored sea-level rise, weakened water-quality standards and dismantled environmental protections,” Graham wrote. “If you continue on your current course, your legacy will not be cutting taxes or creating jobs — it will be as the first governor in modern times, Republican or Democrat, who actively worked to harm Florida’s environment.”

Despite Graham’s criticisms, a Scott spokeswoman told Florida Bulldog there are no plans to call a special session. The North Florida congresswoman was responding to Scott’s written plea to Florida’s congressional delegation seeking support for a federal emergency declaration and funds to repair Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been opening the dike in recent weeks, releasing large amounts of harmful freshwater into nearby canals, lakes and rivers. The discharges are necessary to prevent the dike from rupturing and flooding populated areas in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties.

In an email response to a reporter’s inquiry, Lauren Schenone, Scott’s press secretary, said the governor’s office is looking at all options at the state level to address the effects caused by the frequent discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee.

“Governor Scott’s number one priority is ensuring the safety of our families, visitors and Florida’s natural treasures,” Schenone said. “That is why he has called upon President Obama to declare a federal emergency… Although the President has failed to do what is needed to address this growing issue, the State of Florida will devote every available resource to find solutions for the families and businesses in this area.”

In a written statement, Graham told Florida Bulldog that Scott is wasting valuable time playing the blame game. “Republicans and Democrats across the state are heartbroken and angry seeing our waters covered in algae,” Graham said. “The time to act to solve this problem is now. We can’t afford to kick the can down the road until the next crisis hits.”

In her letter to Scott, Graham — who dropped her reelection bid and is considering a 2018 gubernatorial run — suggested he “use the bipartisan outrage over today’s crisis to work with the legislature, controlled by your own party, to pass real solutions to protect us from future environmental and economic disasters.”

Graham also called on the governor to fulfill the 2014 will of the voters to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee and restore the Everglades natural water flow; and replace his political appointees on the South Florida Water Management District with scientists, engineers and conservationists.

Fear of stalling as U.S. intelligence chief says Congress must OK release of 28 pages

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Photo: CNN

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Photo: CNN

In a development that could delay the release of 28 classified pages from Congress’s report about Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11, the head of the nation’s intelligence community has told a delegation seeking their release that the ultimate decision about whether to make those pages public would be made by Congress.

Former Sen. Bob Graham recounted Tuesday evening’s hour-long meeting with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in an interview with FloridaBulldog.org.

“He described himself as being a proponent of transparency and would be forward-leaning on the release of the 28 pages,” said Graham. “The surprise we heard was that after the president makes the decision about whether or not to release them, and if so in what form, they’ll send it back to Congress.”

Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11 in 2002, said the idea of adding Congress to the declassification mix is new. “I’ve talked with numerous people in the White House and they’ve never suggested that anyone other than the president would make the decision to release. I don’t know where Clapper got this idea, and I hope it’s not just another stalling tactic.”

Graham said it is unnecessary to involve Congress now. “This was a document the Congress was prepared to make public 14 years ago, but the Executive Branch intervened and said there were unstated reasons as to why these pages could not be released,” he said.

Such a move would just add “another unexpected step to the process with a body which has a reputation of being slow to make decisions. Look what’s happening today about the Zika epidemic. Congress can’t decide whether to appropriate money to prevent it.”

Joining Graham in meeting with the nation’s intelligence chief were Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Stephen Lynch (D-MA), the initial co-sponsors of House Resolution 14, which urges President Obama to declassify the 28-page chapter on foreign support for the 9/11 hijackers. The resolution has 58 co-sponsors. Senate Bill 1471 would require the president to declassify the 28 pages.

A “candid” meeting

Graham described Clapper, a retired Air Force general, as “very thoughtful and very generous to us with his time. I think he was candid in his thoughts.”

Aside from the surprise caveat about Congress, Graham called the meeting “encouraging,” and an indication that the Executive Branch is on track to deliver a decision about the 28 pages by President Obama by mid-June.

“He wasn’t going to tell us things like whether he’s made up his mind and if so what it is, but he outlined the (declassification) process,” said Graham. “He said he is finishing his review which primarily, almost exclusively, relates to the impact of the 28 pages on things like intelligence procedures and potential sources of information. It then goes to an interagency council which includes the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Defense and other agencies.”

That group, which describes itself as a “forum” for possible declassification, is the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). Its other members include the Justice Department, the CIA, Clapper’s Office of National Intelligence, the National Archives and the president’s National Security Advisor.

President Obama asked Clapper to lead a review of the 28 pages last year. The review process, however, has been underway for nearly three years.

In 2013, Broward Bulldog Inc, which operates the Florida Bulldog, invoked President Obama’s Executive Order 13,526. The 2009 order sets the process for classification by executive agencies and the conditions that require declassification. The Bulldog’s appeal is currently before ISCAP.

Thomas Julin, an attorney in the Miami office of Hunton & Williams, represents the news organization and 9/11 authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan in the matter.

Florida congressman denied access to censored pages from Congress’ 9/11 report

UPDATE: JAN 10Click here to watch video of former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, Congressmen Walter Jones, R-N.C. and Stephen Lynch, D-Ma. and others talk about the need to declassify the 28 censored pages from Congress’s Joint Inquiry report on 9/11. Remarks by Graham, who co-chaired the Joint Inquiry, begin at 10:25 into Wednesday’s Capitol Hill press conference.
One of 28 redacted pages from a congressional report regarding "specific sources of foreign support" for the 9/11 hijackers

One of 28 redacted pages from a congressional report regarding “specific sources of foreign support” for the 9/11 hijackers

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has denied a Florida congressman’s request for access to 28 classified pages from the 2002 report of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, told BrowardBulldog.org he made his request at the suggestion of House colleagues who have read them as they consider whether to support a proposed resolution urging President Obama to open those long-censored pages to the public.

“Why was I denied? I have been instrumental in publicizing the Snowden revelations regarding pervasive domestic spying by the government and this is a petty means for the spying industrial complex to lash back,” Grayson said last week, referring to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

Redacted on orders from then-President George W. Bush, the report says the 28 pages concern “specific sources of foreign support” for the 9/11 hijackers while they were in the U.S. Specifically, that is “the role of Saudi Arabia in funding 9/11,” according to former Florida Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the Joint Inquiry and helped write the 28 pages.

Graham has long called for declassifying those pages in order to help 9/11 victims and their families find justice, and to better serve national security. In July, 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton also came out in support of declassification.

“I’m embarrassed that they’re not declassified,” said Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman. “We emphasized transparency. I assumed incorrectly that our records would be public, all of them, everything.”

House Resolution 428, sponsored by Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-NC, asks President Obama to release the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry’s report, saying they are “necessary for a full public understanding of the events and circumstances” surrounding the 9/11 attacks.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., is one of 21 co-sponsors including Florida Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, and Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville. Massie has challenged all members of Congress to read the report, which he said poses no threat to national security.

In 2003, 46 senators – including Joe Biden, Sam Brownback, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry – wrote to President Bush asking him to declassify the pages.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando

In a party line vote, the House Intelligence Committee voted 8-4 on Dec. 1 to deny Democrat Grayson access to the 28 pages. The same day, the committee unanimously approved requests to access classified committee documents – not necessarily the 28 pages – by 11 other House members.

Grayson, an outspoken liberal and a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said his denial was engineered by outgoing Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. Rogers is a former FBI agent who did not seek re-election in November.

“Congressman Rogers made serious misrepresentations to other committee members when he brought this up,” Grayson in a telephone interview. “When the Guardian reported on the fact that there was universal domestic surveillance regarding every single phone call, including this one, I went to the floor of the House and gave a lengthy speech decrying it.”

“Chairman Rogers told the committee that I had discussed classified information on the floor. He left out the most important part that I was discussing what was reported in the newspaper,” said Grayson. “He clearly misled the committee for an improper purpose: to deny a sitting member of Congress important classified information necessary for me to do my job.”

Rogers did not respond to a request for comment. An aide in his Lansing, Michigan office referred callers to a spokeswoman for the House Intelligence Committee who could not be reached for comment.

New push to release censored pages in Congressional report that detail 9/11 link to Saudi Arabia

By Jamie Reno, International Business Times 

The skyline of New York's Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center.

The skyline of New York’s Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center.

Since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, victims’ loved ones, injured survivors, and members of the media have all tried without much success to discover the true nature of the relationship between the 19 hijackers – 15 of them Saudi nationals – and the Saudi Arabian government. Many news organizations reported that some of the terrorists were linked to the Saudi royals and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any connection, and neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama has been forthcoming on this issue. (more…)

Everything we know about what’s happened under sequestration

By Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica 

President Obama opening this year's White House Easter Egg Roll

President Obama opening this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll

When the annual White House Easter Egg Hunt faced cancellation this year due to the package of mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration, the National Park Service kicked into high gear. It rescued the event — held since 1878 — with money from “corporate sponsors and the sale of commemorative wooden eggs,” according to the Washington Post.

The nation’s airline passengers also caught a break last month when Congress passed (and President Obama quickly signed) a bill allowing the Federal Aviation Administration to shift some funds and halt the furloughs of air traffic controllers that had been blamed for long flight delays around the country.

But other programs haven’t been so lucky. (more…)

Has Obama Kept His Open-Government Pledge?

By Jennifer LaFleur, ProPublica 

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

After eight years of tightened access to government records under the Bush administration, open-government advocates were hopeful when Barack Obama promised greater transparency.

Four years later, did the president keep his promise?

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a consortium of right-to-know groups. “I think they’ve made progress, but a whole lot more remains to be done.” (more…)

Internet ammunition sales draw scrutiny

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity ammo

Proposed legislation to regulate online purchases of ammunition and high-capacity magazines is bringing new attention to a growing cyberspace ammo market that has operated with little government oversight.

Under federal law, firearms dealers must obtain a federal license and keep records of their transactions, but there’s virtually no federal regulation of ammunition suppliers or sales —though there was prior to 1986. (more…)

How Microsoft and Yahoo Are Selling Politicians Access to You

By Lois Beckett, ProPublica 

Microsoft and Yahoo are selling political campaigns the ability to target voters online with tailored ads using names, Zip codes and other registration information that users provide when they sign up for free email and other services.

The Web giants provide users no notification that their information is being used for political targeting. (more…)

Obama election-year pullbacks on safety, environment dismay advocates

By Lilly Fowler, Fair Warning

Rescuers work at the scene of three boys trapped in a grain bin at Consolidated Grain and Barge in Mt. Carroll, Ill. Photo: Sauk Valley Media

Two summers ago, Wyatt Whitebread drowned in corn at the age of 14.

It happened on a hot July morning, while he was working at a grain handling operation in Mount Carroll, Ill. Soon after Whitebread climbed inside a storage bin to help empty it, equipment whirring nearby created a downward force, essentially turning the corn beneath the boy’s feet into quicksand. (more…)

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