By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The FBI is investigating Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony for suspected bid rigging, fraud and kickbacks stemming from BSO’s 2019 purchase of hundreds of bleeding control stations from a South Carolina company where Tony worked before becoming sheriff.
Three sources interviewed by FBI agents about Tony confirmed to Florida Bulldog the existence of the investigation that began last year. Those sources include an unsuccessful bidder for the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s bleeding control station contract and a former BSO purchasing official.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in public court filings in November, said that it, too, is actively investigating Sheriff Tony for alleged false statements he made under oath. The probe, in collaboration with the Broward State Attorney’s Office, began after Florida Bulldog reported last May 6 that on Jan. 7, 2020 Tony signed a sworn FDLE affidavit declaring he never had a criminal record sealed or expunged.
Four days earlier the Bulldog had disclosed that Tony was tried for murder after he shot and killed an 18-year-old in 1993 when he was 14 years old and living in a poor, urban Philadelphia neighborhood. Tony was acquitted, but all court records of his case remain sealed. Florida Bulldog obtained a Philadelphia police homicide report outlining key events in the case.
On May 11, 2020, Florida Bulldog also reported that between the end of July and Sept. 6, 2019 BSO paid more than $512,000 for 854 bleeding control stations sold by North American Rescue, where Tony worked as director of Community Development in 2016-2017. Tony had concealed his job at North American, deleting it from his Linkedin profile and not mentioning it when his job history was discussed.
Tony and North American Rescue
When he worked for North American, and even earlier when he was a Coral Springs police officer in 2015, Tony ran a side business, Blue Spear Solutions, which sold North American’s products, including bleeding control kits and stations. Blue Spear is now run by Holly Tony, the sheriff’s wife, and its website – which still prominently features a photo of the sheriff – says it remains a “proud partner” of North American and displays its products.
As sheriff, Tony has aggressively promoted North American’s bleeding control kits as critical for public safety. BSO put out press releases announcing Tony’s plans to distribute about 12,000 of the bright red bleeding control kits to every public and charter school in Broward. In September 2019, Tony held a press conference at a warehouse where he displayed the kits, emblazoned with his name and BSO’s logo, for reporters and television cameras. He said Blue Spear was not involved in the purchase, noted he had “zero involvement” with his wife’s company and said he distanced BSO by putting the contract out to bid “and they [North American] just happened to have the lowest price point of roughly 10 different vendors that applied.”
In fact, records show, there were nine bidders. But some of North American’s eight competitors weren’t actual competitors.
For example, Henry Schein Inc. is a Fortune 500 distributor of healthcare products. Its per unit bid was about $100 more than North American’s. But that seems odd because Henry Schein acquired North American Rescue for an undisclosed price in March 2019 – four months before BSO’s bid went out.
Both North American and Henry Schein may have violated the terms of a non-collusion certificate required to be dated and signed by bidders for BSO’s bleed control station contract. Those certificates include language in which contracting bidders aver that they “are not related to any of the other parties in the competitive solicitation, and that the contractor’s proposal is genuine and not a sham or collusive or made in the interest or on behalf of any person not therein named, and that the contractor has not, directly or indirectly, induced or solicited any other proposer to put in a sham proposal…and that the proposer has not in any manner sought by collusion to secure to the proposer an advantage over any other proposer.”
The owner of unsuccessful bidder Azimuth Tactical Group of Hollywood is a retired FBI agent who asked that his name not be used. Asked last summer if he was interviewed by the FBI about his bid with BSO for the bleeding control kits, he said, “I was interviewed. So consequently I can’t tell you what I was asked about.”
BSO’s bid proposal
BSO’s original bid proposal on June 3, 2019 was for the purchase of 654 bleeding control stations – 200 fewer than were actually bought – each with a plastic wall mount, litter (patient carrier) and eight individual bleeding controls bags with a tourniquet, blanket, shears, gloves, gauze and dressings. North American’s per unit bid was $599.98, or $392,386.92. Bids from eight other vendors ranged from $635 to nearly $900 per unit.
The 200 additional bleed control kits were mostly purchased under the authority of BSO purchasing director Neesa Warlen, according to BSO email traffic obtained by Florida Bulldog. But a July 11, 2019 email written to a subordinate by BSO Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Gregory Holness, who facilitated the bleed control purchases, instructed the award amount to be raised to $750,000.
“In addition to the 200 kits, it is anticipated that we may purchase an additional 300 units depending on the grant award (and the pending MOU with the school board) for this calendar or state fiscal year which began this month. I would put the award memo for $750,000,” Holness wrote. Tony promoted Holness, a cousin of Broward Commissioner Dale Holness, to Chief of Fire Rescue on Nov. 5, 2020.
(Under the terms of the MOU, or Memorandum of Understanding, BSO provided two bleeding control stations per school. The additional 200 units were “purchased, repackaged and deployed as individual portable units to Guardians and School Resource Officers throughout Broward County,” according to BSO spokesman Carey Codd.)
Later that day BSO purchasing agent Sandra Kent sent an email about the North American deal to Col. James Reyes, the head of BSO’s Department of Administration, requesting approval “in the amount of $750,000 to cover the one time purchase and any additional purchases within the two year [contract] term under the same terms and conditions.” Reyes approved the deal the next day.
Funds from Coach Feis program
BSO’s purchase was paid for as part of the state’s $67 million Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, established by law to help schools hire armed guards. Feis died while protecting others during the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting spree at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and 17 others wounded.
Florida Department of Education (DOE) records from the Coach Feis program show that under Tony BSO submitted a budget that included $784,800 to buy bleed control kits and tens of thousands more for various other bleed control supplies sold by North American, including $90,000 for two “Tactical Operation Medical Manikin” body training simulators.
DOE records show that Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s office authorized those purchases, yet the records also show that BSO never spent most of the extra money. No explanation was provided, but it could be that BSO ran out of time to make the additional purchases. Under the terms of the grant, the last day to issue purchase orders was Sept. 13, 2019.
Two weeks after BSO notified North American that it was placing its $512,000 order for bleeding control stations, a company controlled by North American’s wealthy founder and CEO Robert Castellani made a $5,000 contribution to Broward First, a political action committee (PAC) supporting Tony.
In June 2020, North American employee Noreen Ling contributed $10,000 to Tony’s PAC. She did not disclose she worked for North American, listing herself as “unemployed.” The PAC reported it refunded the $10,000 to Ling one day after Florida Bulldog questioned her about it.
The former BSO purchasing official who spoke with us said that in addition to the bleeding control contract the FBI agents were interested in obtaining information about the large raises and promotions Tony gave to five BSO employees moonlighting for his wife’s company, Blue Spear Solutions.
For example, Florida Bulldog reported on May 19, 2020 that BSO payroll records showed that Blue Spear instructor Heath Clark’s BSO annual salary jumped nearly $50,000 thanks to the sheriff’s largesse.
Clark, a captain in BSO’s Fire Rescue Department, got his first salary bump under Tony – a $4,600 merit raise – a month after Tony took over as sheriff. A much bigger increase arrived on Jan. 18, 2020 when Tony promoted Clark to chief of Fire Rescue’s training division – skipping over the rank of Battalion Chief. Clark’s BSO salary jumped from about $97,000 to $146,000.