By Daniel Ducassi, FloridaBulldog.org
The chairman of the board of governors of Citizens Property Insurance, the state-owned insurer of last resort, obtained millions of dollars in no-bid Florida coronavirus contracts – paperwork the governor’s office has refused to show the public in defiance of state law.
Citizens chairman Adrien “Bo” Rivard III runs Panama City-based Consolidated Disaster Services (CDS), a company that has secured at least seven agreements with the state since March worth more than $10 million to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment to support the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rivard, a partner at the Panama City law firm Harrison, Rivard, Duncan and Buzzett, was appointed to the Citizens board by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in April 2019. Patronis, a Panama City Republican, named him chairman six months later.
Rivard’s firm, in which a prominent Panhandle political family has a financial interest, contracted with the state in March to provide N95 masks at a highly inflated price. According to the state’s contract database, the Executive Office of the Governor agreed to pay $12.50 per N95 mask. Before the crisis, N95 masks typically retailed for less than $2 apiece and often sold in bulk for even less.
Rivard, however, told Florida Bulldog that the $12.50 figure doesn’t reflect the actual price he ended up charging. He said he sold the masks to the state at cost, approximately $9.50 apiece.
“The only masks that we supplied to the state were ultimately passed through to the state for our actual costs,” Rivard said. “The amount that the state paid us was exactly the amount we paid out in cost.”
A $54,000 refund check
At one point, the state paid Rivard’s firm $10.75 per mask for 50,000 masks under that contract, plus another $8,300 for shipping. Rivard said that after the state had already paid for the masks, his firm cut the state a refund check for $54,150. Rivard provided Florida Bulldog a copy of the canceled check, dated March 28, which he said cleared the firm’s bank account nearly three weeks later.
He also provided a copy of a March 28 letter he wrote to a state financial services administrator that he said accompanied the refund check. “As we discussed, we told our contact at Emergency Management last week that given the difficulty the State has had in securing N95 masks and the wide range in prices from suppliers, CDS wanted to pass this order through to the State at our actual costs incurred.”
The governor’s office, including officials with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, would not answer questions about Rivard’s coronavirus contracts over a two-month period, nor did the officials confirm Rivard’s claims about a refund, which is not reflected in the state’s contract database.
Likewise, those public officials have further refused since May 20 to provide copies of the firm’s recent contracts requested by Florida Bulldog under Florida’s Public Records Law. Rivard, too, declined to provide copies of the firm’s contracts with the state.
The contracts were issued under authority of the governor’s March 9 executive order declaring a public health emergency, which allows state agencies to suspend normal purchasing regulations.
The Transparency Florida Act, however, requires all state agencies to publicly post copies of all contracts within 30 days. The Executive Office of the Governor, however, hasn’t posted copies of its contracts with CDS or numerous other coronavirus-related contracts. The governor’s top staff, including Gov. Ron DeSantis’s general counsel Joe Jacquot and Emergency Management director Jared Moskowitz, have not explained their non-compliance.
‘Shady as hell’
Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, state officials complained about an out-of-control mask market, with DeSantis describing it as “shady as hell.” The country’s biggest mask manufacturer, 3M, sued a company that tried to sell Florida’s Department of Emergency Management masks for up to $5.70 each, accusing the firm of “shameless price gouging.
And though Consolidated Disaster Services charged the state substantially more for masks – the highest price the state has paid for N95 masks of any contracts that Florida Bulldog has located in the state database – Rivard’s politically connected firm has avoided accusations of price gouging.
Aside from the coronavirus contracts, CDS has a standing contract through the Florida Department of Management Services to provide bottled water and ice in emergencies (a copy of which is available on the DMS website). Bottled water sales represent a fraction of its business with the state since the pandemic started.
Rivard called his firm’s other coronavirus contracts with the state “normal business” and acknowledged that, unlike with the mask sales, CDS is profiting from them.
They include a $4.8-million deal with the Executive Office of the Governor to supply 2,833 hospital beds, plus $390,000 for shipping. The state has so far paid the firm at least $520,000 on that contract, according to Florida’s contract database.
Rivard said the state reached out to him for COVID supplies because of his firm’s existing contract to provide bottled water during emergencies, a product that’s often in high demand during hurricanes. He said the state “was reaching out to vendors who’ve helped on other things,” and that “there were areas where we were able to help.”
No ethical issues?
He said that when state officials asked him if they could procure hospital beds, his firm provided a quote and the state approved a purchase order. He added that all of the hospital beds that the state bought have been delivered.
Rivard said he sees no ethical issues with doing business with the state while being a state official. He noted that being chairman of Citizens is a volunteer position for which he is not paid, and that Citizens does not do business with Consolidated Disaster Services.
“I file all necessary disclosures to serve on the board,” he said. “It’s not a conflict of interest.”
Still, other Florida public officials have a financial interest in Consolidated Disaster Services.
The family business of a prominent father-son Florida political duo has a minority stake in the firm. Trumbull Bottled Water, listed in state corporate records as a managing member of Consolidated Disaster Services, is led by Florida Transportation Commission (FTC) vice chairman Jay Trumbull Sr. The FTC is a citizen’s oversight board for the state Department of Transportation that’s appointed by the governor. Trumbull said he owns approximately 18 percent interest in Consolidated Disaster Services and that he’s “not active” in the firm.
His son, Rep. Jay Trumbull Jr., is a Panhandle Republican who chairs the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee. The younger Trumbull’s campaign website notes “the Trumbull family has been in the bottled water and water conditioning business for over 4 generations now.”
Rivard, Trumbull and Patronis all hail from Panama City. Patronis’s family has been friends with the Trumbulls for generations. Rivard previously served as chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and as one of Florida’s 29 electors in the Electoral College in 2016, appointed in both cases by then-Gov. Rick Scott.
Rivard is also an active donor to conservative political causes that currently hold sway in Tallahassee. In 2018, he contributed more than $10,000 to Treasure Florida, a political committee supporting Patronis, and another $3,000 in 2017 to Patronis’s CFO campaign. He also gave $6,000 to Republican Ashley Moody’s successful attorney general campaign with donations in 2017 and 2018.