By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Congresswoman Lois Frankel’s endorsement of a private security guard firm whose owner poured $11,000 into her campaign after her support helped him land a sweet, no-bid government contract appears to have run afoul of House ethics rules prohibiting business endorsements.
Ethics principles restrict how members of Congress may interact with commercial enterprises.
“Members and staff must avoid becoming too closely affiliated with any commercial entity, in order to avoid any appearance that they are accruing benefits by virtue of improper influence exerted from their position in Congress, or are dispensing special favors,” the House Ethics Manual says.
As FloridaBulldog.org reported last month, however, records and interviews show that Rep. Frankel was actively involved last year in pushing a company called Professional Security Consultants (PSC) for the lucrative job of providing a team of unarmed “security ambassadors” to the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to enhance safety with foot and bicycle patrols in places like Riverwalk.
DDA minutes show that Democrat Frankel introduced the company to DDA officials, and later met with a DDA delegation about the matter.
The DDA soon hired PSC without seeking competitive bids. PSC’s contract continues this year with the program’s budget doubled to $200,000 with help from the city.
According to DDA board chairman Michael Weymouth, “Lois spoke highly of the work they had done for the West Palm Beach DDA when she was mayor.”
The company also featured Frankel’s official photograph and endorsement of PSC and its regional boss, Willie Perez, in a PowerPoint marketing pitch to the DDA’s board of directors before its unanimous June 12, 2014 vote to hire PSC without seeking competitive bids.
PSC literature also contains Frankel’s photo and endorsement quotes.
“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN”
Frankel herself wrote a “To Whom It May Concern” letter of recommendation for Perez under letterhead that identifies her as “Representative Lois J. Frankel Member of Congress.”
“It was with his guidance and the use of his Security Ambassadors that West Palm Beach saw two important neighborhoods, our downtown and Northwood Village business district, transform from dangerous places to friendly and safe venues,” says Frankel’s Dec. 26, 2013 letter.
Frankel’s letter does not mention PSC by name. Still, the company used it less than a month later as part of its successful competitive bid package to Pompano Beach’s Northwest Community Redevelopment Agency for a $300,000-a-year contract to operate a security ambassadors program there. The contract is for three years, according to CRA records.
CRA director Nguyen Tran said he has never spoken to Frankel and does not recall her being actively involved in events leading up to the contract.
Frankel, whose coastal district stretches south to include downtown Fort Lauderdale, declined to be interviewed. Her spokesman Douglas Lyons, however, noted that Frankel obtained advance clearance for the Perez reference letter from House Ethics Committee staff.
“She loves Willie, obviously. She recommended him to the Fort Lauderdale DDA because of what he did when she was mayor,” of West Palm Beach, said Lyons. “They called the West Palm Beach DDA who connected them with Willie.
“She had no idea that PSC used her image and the quotes,” Lyons said. “She had nothing to do with putting that in their promotional material.” He said her office will be in touch with PSC to ask them to remove her image and statements from their promotional material.
DDA executive director Chris Wren said in an interview that the owner of a local security firm inquired about submitting a proposal before PSC was hired, but was told the job would not be bid. Wren said, too, that the board rejected his recommendation that bids be obtained.
ELIZABETH TAYLOR’S BODYGUARD
The contract with PSC was signed Sept. 30, 2014. Federal records show that one month earlier, PSC founder and owner Moshe Alon, of California, made two donations totaling $4,500 to Lois J. Frankel for Congress. Since then the former Israeli secret service agent and bodyguard for the late Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor gave another $6,400 to Frankel’s campaign in seven contributions – the latest last September.
According to the Code of Ethics for Government Service, House members may help constituents obtain information regarding government contracts and deal with government regulations, but cannot “discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not.”
House rules say members must also “avoid becoming too closely affiliated” with businesses to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
The Fort Lauderdale DDA’s security guard contract isn’t the first government contract involving PSC regional boss Perez to raise questions of favoritism by Rep. Frankel.
In 2010, the Palm Beach Post reported about police union anger toward IPC International, the security guard company where Perez was then regional manager, after city commissioners hired it to guard the city’s waterfront. The paper also reported that Perez was periodically serving “as Mayor Lois Frankel’s bodyguard.”
In an editorial several days later, the paper expressed concern about a “perception of favoritism from Mayor Frankel’s relationship with the security company’s regional manager.
“Mayor Frankel denies that Willie Perez gives her free bodyguard services, accompanying her to events downtown. Instead, she says, he is accompanying her on weekly inspection tours,” the editorial said. “Still the mayor gushes over Mr. Perez’s company, Chicago-based IPC International, and he keeps getting city contracts…to patrol downtown, city hall, the Northwood Business District, Broadway and now the waterfront.”
Universal Protective Service acquired IPC in 2013, and Perez soon went to work for PSC, bringing at least some of those government contracts with him.