The Florida Commission on Ethics is investigating what happened to millions in grant money awarded a start-up created by Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa.
Senior ethics investigator Robert Malone notified Grant and Henry Kuhlman, a Hardee County resident who filed the complaint against Grant, that the investigation had begun.
The “complaint has been found sufficient for investigation and has been forwarded to the Investigative Section of the Commission on Ethics,” Malone told Kuhlman in a letter dated Sept. 24.
Until the investigation is complete, the Commission on Ethics can’t comment on the case or provide documents relating to it. The only ones with access to the records are the ones charged in the complaint and the person who filed it, which in this case is Kuhlman.
For the past two years, Kuhlman has spearheaded an effort to account for more than $2.5 million that Grant began receiving in 2011 after Hardee County commissioners awarded his yet-unnamed company the money.
The money is from $42 million the phosphate giant Mosaic is paying the county over 10 years for mining rights to 11,000 acres. Hoping to kick-start a depressed Third World economy in Hardee, county officials are doling out the money to businesses in hopes they produce jobs.
Grant promised he would through a company he would later call LifeSync, along with $26 million in sales by 2014. The product he would create he called Blue Water. Users would access sensitive personal information via a smartphone and carry a blue card that could be swiped to manage data or provide information to medical professionals.
In 2012, Grant sold the rights to Blue Water and the remainder of the grant to another company called Continuum Labs, which is owned by Travis Bond — who was also listed on LifeSync's management team. He’s still getting paid $70,000.
Kuhlman says there is no product and that Grant and his successor in the project, Continuum Labs, have failed to produce any jobs.
The State Attorney's Office in Bartow opened a criminal investigation. It closed it in October of last year concluding there was no evidence of criminal misconduct.
But a second investigation by state auditors raised red flags. According to an Auditor General’s report, concerns included:
• The Hardee IDA awarded the money to Grant's company even though it didn't exist at the time of the application, violating state law.
• Although the agreement stated Grant's company would develop a product to be marketed and supported by Hardee personnel, there was no evidence the company delivered.
• There was no oversight of the money. Disbursements weren't supported by detailed invoices or other documentation.
Kuhlman said he was encouraged that further investigation will be done by the Commission on Ethics, which dismisses the vast majority of complaints before they are referred for further investigation.
“I hope the truth comes out,” Kuhlman said. “The reality is, nothing happened. Zero jobs, unknown revenue. To our knowledge, they don’t have jack.”
In an email, Grant said he will fully cooperate with the investigation, which he said is based on allegations that were “baseless” and “politically-motivated.”
“All I have wanted since these allegations were first made was the opportunity to establish with finality that they are frivolous,” Grant said. “The fact that the Ethics Commission has determined that Mr. Kuhlman and his can appropriately draft a complaint gives me that chance. I look forward to the Ethics Commission coming to the only conclusion the facts allow and find these allegations without any merit”