How Randy Benderson is Corrupting Sarasota County Government

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HOW RANDY BENDERSON IS CORRUPTING

SARASOTA COUNTY GOVERNMENT

By Jon Susce

In previous SARASOTA PHOENIX articles targeting Randy Benderson’s refusal to pay Dredge America for the work they have successfully completed at the Benderson rowing facility, it was detailed how Benderson’s issues with Dredge America have exposed Sarasota County to a fraudulent $19.5 million no bid contract. For example on November 16, 2012, Sarasota County officials authorized Benderson to pay Dredge America $2,230,028 to do the work Benderson promised to do in 2011. Benderson held on to $523,470 of that public funding for over two years until a court in Tampa forced Benderson to pay up the money he owed Dredge America.

In this article, it will be demonstrated how the Benderson business tactic of withholding payment to vendors for work already accomplished exposed the NO BID $19.5 million contract approved by the Sarasota County Commission in 2011, and why this contract is nothing more than a multi-million dollar sweetheart deal served up for Randy Benderson.

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BULLOCK AND SEWARD PROMOTE BENDERSON CONTRACT
On January 25, 2011, Sarasota County officials, Dave Bullock and Jeff Seward, appeared before the Sarasota County Commission to win approval of a $19.5 million contract between Sarasota County and Randy Benderson. This $19.5 million of public money is now part of the so-called $70 million Benderson Rowing Park Public/Private Partnership.

On that same day, Bullock and Seward made a presentation to the county commission for approval of the $17 million North Cattlemen Road Improvement Project, which is adjacent to the rowing facility and connects to the $320 million Benderson University Town Center Mall (UTC). When asked what effect the $17 million Cattlemen Extension will have on the Mall, Benderson spokesperson, Paul Blackketter replied: “It will help us tremendously.”

BENDERSON $19.5 MILLION NO-BID SWEETHEART

DEAL WITH SARASOTA COUNTY

The power point presentation unveiled by Bullock and Seward for approval of the $19.5 million Benderson Park Project and the $17 million Cattlemen Road Extension detailed all aspects of these sweetheart deals put together on Benderson’s behalf. To begin with, the contract with Benderson went above and beyond the allocated $19.5 million public funding and was inclusive of an additional 16% of the $19.5 million to manage the construction. Not only will Benderson receive an additional $3 million to manage the $19 million public facility, he will also be given free rein to select subcontractors to build the rowing facility without any involvement with the Sarasota County Procurement Department.
BENDERSON GETS 16% OF $19.5 MILLION TO MANAGE ROWING PARK
Benderson’s sweetheart deal can be found on Page 8, Paragraph 7 of the contract approved by the county commission with Benderson Development under “The Developers Responsibilities (A)”.  The language reads as follows: “The County will pay Developers (the Bendersons) on a monthly basis pursuant to Paragraph 6 for administrative fees in an amount equal to 16% of all design, engineering, permitting, and construction costs.”
PROCUREMENT RULES ARE WAIVED
In addition, the contract language (approved by Sarasota County officials) states that the procurement rules are waived for Benderson when hiring subcontractors and consultants. Benderson will choose how the public money will be spent and who is hired to spend public money, while receiving millions in public money to manage their project.
BENDERSON OFFICIALS MAKE ALL DECISIONS MANAGING PARK
Three of the four individuals participating in making all decisions concerning the construction of the rowing facility are Benderson employees. This committee will not only choose the vendors to work on the project, but will also choose whom the selection committee may interview. This committee includes Blackketter of Benderson Development, Michael DePriest of Benderson Development and Brian Bernier of Benderson Development.
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At the end of the one hour presentation by Bullock and Seward, former Sarasota County Commission Chairperson, Nora Patterson, and the other four commissioners approved the $19.5 million Benderson Park Project giving Benderson complete control as to how $19.5 million of public expenditures are appropriated

PATTERSON DOESN’T REMEMBER

SIGNING $19.5 MILLION CONTRACT WITH BENDERSON

Nora Patterson

 

What is revealing and strange concerning Commissioner Patterson signing approval of the $19.5 million contract with Benderson, is that on February 1, 2011 she did not remember that she had approved the contract on January 25, 2011.

 

For example in an email on February 1, 2011 to North Port neighborhood activist Alice White, Patterson writes: “The park is NOT awarded to Nathan Benderson and I am puzzled as to why you would think that.”

On the same day, Patterson further stated to White:

“We have not awarded the project. There has been some mention that Benderson might be willing to supervise the project. I will ask Jim Ley to speak to the relationship he has in his thoughts since nothing has come before the commission at this point yet. Also he can tell us what the status is on bidding the Cattleman project. Nora”.

On February 2, 2011, Ley sends this email to Patterson in reply to her request if an agreement with Benderson had been approved:

“Last Tuesday the County awarded Benderson Development the contract to complete the park and rowing facility horizontal features – paths, dredging, pad creation, landscapes, storm water, etc.”

 

On February 3, 2011 Ley made another reply to Patterson:

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“Comm. Patterson:  As you recall, last week, the County Commission approved a contract with Benderson to design, build, inspect and certify the rowing facility and associated park amenities on January 25th.  The attached presentation was given to the BCC on Jan. 25.”

 

The rowing facility proposed at the former Cooper Park site, which has been re-named Nathan Benderson Park, is a great project for the community. It’s too bad the agreement presented by Sarasota County officials Dave Bullock and Jeff Seward, and approved by Sarasota County Commissioners on January 25, 2011, leaves such a foul smell lingering over the big lake

WHY NOT CHANGE ED SMITH STADIUM TO PETER ANGELOS STADIUM?

 

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To begin with, the naming rights to the rowing facility which will boast national and worldwide recognition will not see a penny coming back to Sarasota County. Does anyone remember the outrage when the Baltimore Orioles asked for the naming rights to the reconstructed Ed Smith Stadium?  If the rowing park can be called Nathan Benderson Park, why not rename Ed Smith Stadium as the Peter Angelos Stadium in honor of the owner of the Baltimore Orioles?
BENDERSON PROMISE TO PAY $2 MILLION TO DREDGE LAKE BOGUS
What raises critical questions about this no bid $19.5 million contract is that Benderson will receive 16% of the $19 million construction cost to manage the park without the submission of any  competing bids to see if someone else would have done it less expensively.  What is laughable, and proven to be fraudulent, is the report given by Benderson and Sarasota County officials that Benderson was willing to contribute $2 million to enlarge the lake as proof of his willingness to go the extra mile to complete this project. There is no Sarasota Country document to substantiate if that $2 million was ever forthcoming from Benderson.
BENDERSON SAVES $MILLIONS ON USING LAKE FOR STORM WATER NEEDS
Another aspect of this Benderson scam is that Benderson has been allowed to use the lake on the project site for his storm water needs at the University Town Center Mall. What this scam adds up to is that Benderson did not have to spend millions of dollars building storm water vaults, etc. for their multi-million dollar UTC Mall and the two hotels they will be “REQUIRED” to build.
ANOTHER BENDERSON BOGUS HOTEL REQUIREMENT
This “REQUIREMENT” to build two hotels on the site in the Sarasota County sweetheart deal for Benderson is another kick in the teeth for Sarasota taxpayers.  Does the public understand what a complete joke is being perpetrated by calling this a “REQUIREMENT” as though it might demand some sort of constraint or imposition?  This “REQUIREMENT”, proposed by Bullock and Seward and approved by the county commission, means a lot more gravy for the Bendersons, who just happen to be in the hotel business and operate hotels all over the country (two of which are across from the site today).
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It’s quite simple to understand how this will work out.  Benderson certainly understands the picture. Who do you think will own and manage the two “REQUIRED” hotels on the site? Where do you think all those rowers, their families and visitors to the rowing facility will stay and shop?  Do you think these visitors might buy homes at one of the multi-million dollar developments close to the site where Benderson cronies Carlos Beruff, Pat Neal and Rex Jensen have already built homes and are busy completing more?

PUBLICLY FUNDED ROWING PARK AND CATTLEMEN EXTENSION BRING BENDERSON $MILLIONS IN PROFIT
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Did the $19.5 million sweetheart deal rowing park contract Benderson has with Sarasota County, and the publicly funded $17 million Cattlemen Extension adjacent to the park, bring financial gain for Benderson’s University Town Center Mall?

 

According to a statement made by Stan Rutstein in 2011: “The Bendersons’ heft in the industry makes the developer able to keep its commitments and attract retailers even in this environment. Making that job easier is the growing popularity of the rowing center at Nathan Benderson Park, which borders University Town Center and is attracting 10,000 people and more to its regattas.” Rutstein is a commercial real estate agent with Re-Max that specializes in retail properties.

 

Rutstein continues: “For the developer, the main goal is the benefits that will come from extending Cattlemen Road, which include a reconfiguration of the lake at Nathan Benderson Park, creating a 2,000 meter rowing course expected to turn the operation into a premier site for rowing regattas.”

NO ADEQUATE SUPERVISION BY SARASOTA COUNTY OFFICIALS
Again, not only will the Bendersons get $3 million to manage the $19 million public facility, they are also in charge of choosing the subcontractors to build the rowing facility without involving the Sarasota Procurement Department.  The selection process has allowed the Bendersons to proceed without a supervisor from the Sarasota Procurement/Purchasing Department.  The amount of control and lack of supervision that Sarasota county officials have granted Benderson has proven to be outrageous.

 

According to various emails and other documentation concerning Benderson’s refusal to pay Dredge America, it appears that Benderson is not only withholding $523,490 in publicly funded expenditures that Sarasota County assumed had already been completed by Dredge America, Benderson is charging the county 16% for work he says Dredge America didn’t do.

 

Another under the radar “deal” between the Bendersons and Sarasota County officials in 2011 has to do with the way Benderson is billing the county the 16% he receives above and beyond the $19.5 million he gets to manage his rowing park.

IS BENDERSON WITHHOLDING PUBLIC FUNDS FROM VENDORS?
Again, it appears that according to various emails and other documentation concerning Benderson’s refusal to pay Dredge America, Benderson is not only withholding $523,490 in public money expenditures that Sarasota County gave to Benderson for work that the county assumed was completed by Dredge America; Benderson is charging 16% for work he says Dredge America didn’t do.  The question becomes whether or not Benderson is billing Sarasota County for funds he is withholding from other vendors as he is doing with Dredge America.
IS BENDERSON LLC WITH HIS ROWING PARK ILLEGAL?
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Another potential legal issue for Benderson is the LLC relationship he has fashioned into his contractual arrangement with Sarasota County for the $19.5 million rowing park contract.

 

There are eight LLCs listed as developers of the Benderson rowing facility, seven of which list his son, Shaun as the manager. The eighth one is Benderson Development with a Buffalo, New York address. The other seven have a Sarasota, Florida address. The eight LLCs are collectively referred to as the “PARTIES.” David Baldauf is another manager in the seven LLCs and Alicia Gayton is the agent of the seven LLCs listed with a Sarasota address.

 

Baldauf is a 27-year legal advisor for the Benderson Corporation, who is based in Buffalo, New York. Gayton is another Benderson attorney based in Sarasota.

 

The LLC’s were set up by Benderson as gifts for his kids. He gave 100% of his interest. Therefore, only the MANAGER, not Benderson, can make business decisions.

 

If Benderson makes any decisions, he violates the tax laws as he gave away 100%, which means ALL CONTROL. He cannot include them in with Benderson Development as Developers in a contract with the county and have them receive money. They have no role. Benderson is making the money (16% administrative fee, plus what he steals.)

 

By giving it to the LLCs, Benderson is avoiding paying taxes.

 

Benderson has to have Benderson Development pay income taxes on the income and then he pays gift taxes of 45% when he gives money to his kids as estate vehicles, the LLCs.

 

Benderson is avoiding taxes at the Benderson Development level. Also, Benderson has violated gift tax law by telling the manager, his employee, David Baldauf, what to do.

BENDERSON PROFITS $MILLIONS IN ALLEGED PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP WHILE CONTRIBUTING PENNIES
This $19 million corporate welfare giveaway at public expense which allows the Bendersons to profit $millions$ on a facility to which they contribute pennies is outrageous.

 

Equally outrageous is the lack of oversight by the Sarasota County Procurement Department in spending public funds and in the hiring of sub-contractors and consultants.  The Bendersons need to be monitored to make sure they follow some sort of ethical conduct in spending public money.  Could it be that the days of following rules for the ethical spending of taxpayers’ money in Sarasota County are long gone?

LACK OF SARASOTA COUNTY SUPERVISION OF $19.5

MILLION CONTRACT IS OUTRAGEOUS

As explained in previous  articles, not only is the Sarasota County Procurement/Purchasing Department not supervising the Benderson Selection Committee, there is little evidence that Sarasota public officials are supervising the operation of the Benderson rowing facility. There is little proof that Benderson is operating in the Sunshine with the selection process in the interviewing and hiring of contractors and consultants.  Most importantly, are they operating in the Sunshine as regards the disbursement of the $19.5 million that Sarasota County officials have given Benderson to pay the vendors he hires?
$70 MILLION PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP SCAM
This $19.5 million NO BID contract for Benderson has turned into a $70 million Public/Private Partnership SCAM.  Benderson has grabbed complete control and authority over a publicly funded project.  He walks away with a sweetheart deal which makes him millions while he pays pennies in return.

By the way, it never ends for Benderson’s handouts from the general public to build his rowing park that estimates show to be in excess of $70 million to complete. For example, the Sarasota Herald Tribune recently published that Benderson plans to ask the state for another $11 million to finish improvements needed to host the World Championships in 2017.

 

That request by Benderson brought this response from Florida State Senator Nancy Detert: “We need to see a lot more from them (Benderson )”. Detert continued, “It’s like corporate welfare.” Detert added, “I did not expect for them to come back every year and ask for more money.”

 BENDERSON “PAY TO PLAY” SCAM WITH SARASOTA COUNTY
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Sarasota is ground zero with developers like Benderson owning the government with their corrupt local “PAY TO PLAY” system.  Likewise with this legal “government for sale” system. The Sarasota County Commission doesn’t make decisions, they’re just mouthpieces for those who have bought them for 12 pieces of silver.

BENDERSON HAS LITTLE CONCERN IN “PAYING OFF”

SARASOTA COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

For example, The Sarasota Phoenix documented Benderson paying off Sarasota County Commissioners with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Case in point, Benderson entities stuffed (50) $200 campaign contributions into Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines 2011 campaign for county commission.

The method used by Benderson to “stuff” (50) campaign contributions into Hines’ pockets and other political campaign coffers gives clear evidence that Benderson has little concern about corrupting the local political process.

In addition to Hines, Benderson gave Commissioner Carolyn Mason (6) $200 contributions, Commissioner Joe Barbetta (19) $200 contributions, Commissioner Christine Robinson (5) $200 contributions. All of these listed with a 7978 Cooper Creek, Sarasota address.

Sarasota County voters have voted to stop multi-million developers like Benderson from buying off local politicians with campaign contributions, voting to limit (1) $200 donation per entity.

Benderson has made a mockery out of that decision  and used over 500 LLC’S with his Sarasota and Buffalo, NY addresses to get around the wishes of Sarasota County voters with respect to buying off politicians like Hines and other local political figures.

GANGSTERS MANAGING MULTI-MILLION PUBLIC PARK
 

raging3It’s incredible that we not only have a multi-million dollar “Pay to Play” scam, we have Blackketter administering a project, using millions of dollars of public money to enhance Benderson financial gain, while acting like a bully and crime boss—as if he and his company owned Sarasota park lands and can do whatever they want with them.  Any other county employee would have been terminated on the spot for using the vile abusive language he has demonstrated with a fellow employee.

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