Part II Blackketter Exemplifies Inept Benderson Organization

Documented Examples Of Nefarious Wheeling And Dealings At Randy Benderson’s Rowing Park

Part II

By Jon Susce

Blackketter Exemplifies An Inept

Benderson Development Organization

With the recent publicly released video of Paul Blackketter, who is a long time project manager of various Randy Benderson projects and designated by Benderson to receive a publicly funded annual salary of $150,000 as President of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), to be the face of Benderson’s rowing park operation and behaving like a drunken sailor is unacceptable.  It’s also has become unacceptable that Blackketter is spending public money at the publicly funded Benderson rowing park like a drunken sailor.

Blackketter’s Managerial Skills A Problem
Red Flags have been raised before concerning Blackketter’s involvement at the Randy Benderson facility. For example, SANCA was banned from soliciting donations after failing to provide state regulators with required financial records.

Florida’s charitable oversight agency sent a letter to SANCA on January 10, 2012 stating that the nonprofit’s renewal application for registration as a charitable organization had been denied.  The denial came after regulators failed to obtain the organization’s 2012 financial documents after several months of trying. State records show that their efforts included letters and phone calls that continued even after SANCA’s license had lapsed.

In addition, Blackketter’s failure to turn over SANCA financial records to the state in a timely manner in 2013 led state regulators to revoke Benderson’s charitable status. The financial documents were later submitted and the license was restored, but the episode raised questions about Blackketter’s financial management.

Misuse of Local, State, And Federal

Funds In Competitive Bid Process

Not only has Blackketter’s abusive, outrageous behavior been covered up by Sarasota County officials and Benderson, there are also major issues regarding the amount of Sarasota County money and other state and federal funds that had not been allocated by usual competitive bidding processes, which Blackketter has been closely associated in supervising. For example, it has been identified that almost $22 million dollars in local, state and federal public funds at the Benderson rowing facility,  have been spent in a way that was not competitive.
Benderson’s Corporate Welfare Free Lunch

What had started as an exciting $3 million plan for a few competitive rowing amenities at a county-owned lake has turned into a $70 million corporate welfare “FREE LUNCH” for Randy Benderson. Benderson has convinced Sarasota County Commissioners, Governor Rick Scott, local state politicians and local business leaders to go along for the ride, while the taxpayers pick up the tab for Benderson’s Corporate Welfare Free Lunch at the public trough.

$19.5 Million No-Bid Sweetheart Deal For Benderson

The excitement once generated for the rowing park has now turned into valid criticism of the no-bid $19.5 million contract that the Sarasota County Commissioners granted to Benderson in January of 2011. Typically county officials would put out bids and select the firm to build the park.

In addition, the fee paid to Benderson to manage the park, which is 16 percent of the county’s $19.5 million no bid contract is about three times as much as a construction manager usually makes for a project of similar size and this is the first time in Sarasota County’s history, that a company has been awarded a cost plus 16% contract. The 16% of the fee paid to Benderson is up to $4.7 million for managing construction and administering the project.

Benderson was also allowed to choose the designer and builder for the public park and select the other vendors doing work at the rowing park, which was funded through bed-tax money, generated by hotel stays.

SANCA, which is the entity that Benderson put in charge to manage his rowing park had pledged to raise 20 million dollars, and the public impression was that SANCA would be raising private funds—no more public money for Benderson, NOT SO. Benderson has gone to state public coffers for money ($10 million) and any private monies that have been raised are relatively nominal; nowhere near the promised $20 million. This is not a true partnership as the public has given enormously more than the private sector.

Not only has Benderson put in charge of his rowing park a former longtime Benderson Development project manager who acts like a drunkard sailor, but Blackketter also spends public money like a drunken sailor and apparently spins tall tales like a drunken sailor.

Benderson Needs To Dig Into His Pockets

And Ante Up

Incredibly Sarasota County has released Benderson from liability for the claw back provision (the first ever in the state of Florida) in the most recent state grant. It appears that the county may have violated the county charter when they did this in December 2013, as they exposed Sarasota County taxpayers to debt liability beyond the $20 million charter limit without referendum.

With the park sitting just south of Benderson’s University Town Center (UTC) Mall and not far from two other Benderson plazas, Benderson stands to profit a great deal from those involved with rowing park activities and beyond. That would be no problem if the Benderson’s would dig into their pockets and ante up some money, but the Benderson business plan is to play only with house money—the public’s house money.

Karen Rushinig: Other Serious Issues With The $19.5  Million No Bid Contract

What is very problematic for the general public with this Benderson business plan is that Sarasota County officials gave the go ahead to Benderson’s $19.5 million no bid contract without demanding a requirement to post a performance bond on work accomplished by vendors, that Benderson selected to use at his rowing facility. This failure on the part of Sarasota County officials to require Benderson to post a performance bond has exposed Sarasota County to multi-million dollar lawsuits, which companies such as Dredge America can pursue for nonpayment of contractual agreements.

The selection process that Benderson has been allowed to use without supervision of the Sarasota County Procurement/Purchasing Department and with the full approval of Sarasota County officials is outrageous. If the Procurement/Purchasing Department is not supervising Benderson’s selection committee, what proof is there that Benderson is operating in the Sunshine with regard to the selection, interviewing and hiring of contractors and consultants?

Serious issues exist concerning how Sarasota County officials are monitoring the way Benderson is billing the county for the 16% of the $19.5 million contract given to Benderson to manage the construction of the rowing facility. How is the Randy Benderson rowing park project being financially administered? Were the bond funds put on deposit with Benderson upfront? Or are they reimbursed using routine (monthly, quarterly) invoices?

If so, is the Sarasota County clerk’s office, under the direction of Karen Rushing, confirming that subcontractor invoices are actually paid by Benderson before they are invoiced to the county? What are the contractual provisions in the agreement between the county and Benderson that insulate the county from exposure or liability? Are indemnification and warranty clauses boiler-plate for these contracts? If they are not included, how did the Sarasota County clerk’s office miss or allow this oversight? How is the “project management” (no bid) contract invoiced and paid out by the county to Benderson? Again, how did Rushing’s office let this go out with no competitive bidding? All of this is going on while Paul Blackketter is managing a $70 million project,which he has absolutely no background or expertise in administrating.

 

County Deal With SANCA Financially Troublesome
As the costs have climbed, the ambitions that initially soared with an economic development study, reporting that the rowing facility could generate $157.5 million a year in economic activity—this study has come under close scrutiny.

For example, an agreement on March 18, 2014 between Sarasota County and the Benderson controlled SANCA which essentially provided for SANCA to take on management of the Benderson Rowing Park and be solely responsible for the operation and maintenance, and in turn be entitled to all revenue and proceeds from events held there, was held up to scrutiny by Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government (SCRG). The group was critical of the decision and overall management of the park by Benderson’s SANCA and financial projections.

Cathy Antunes, President of SCRG stated, “The County is relying upon economic impact numbers based on Donna Arduin’s projections. There is good reason to question the credibility of her numbers. Arduin is not an economist, her work product is highly questionable.

Antunes further stated in opposing the Benderson controlled entity SANCA contract with Sarasota County, “Why switch to SANCA? Why is the County relying on a faux economist picked by SANCA? From all appearances, SANCA has been a Benderson funded and operated entity and shouldn’t the county’s operating agreement be based on numbers calculated by a real economist – a PhD whose work has consistently been found sound through the rigors of peer review?”

Benderson Attempts To Hoard Public Funds

Another of the many DOCUMENTED EXAMPLES OF NEFARIOUS WHEELING AND DEALING AT RANDY BENDERSON’S ROWING PARK is the legal dispute Benderson had with one the vendors at the rowing park, Dredge America. Benderson attempted to withhold $529,490 for over a year in public funds that Sarasota County officials authorized Benderson to pay to Dredge America for work done Benderson’s $70 million rowing facility.

According to court documents filed in a Tampa courtroom where Dredge America sued Benderson, Dredge alleged the following: Sarasota County has already approved a substantial portion of Dredge’s invoices in connection with work that Dredge has completed, but for which Dredge has not yet been paid.

Dredge America further alleged that Sarasota County had already disbursed significant funds to Benderson with the understanding that the funds were to be distributed to Dredge for work Dredge had completed, but for which the company had not been paid. Despite Benderson’s receipt of these funds from Sarasota County – funds that Sarasota County intended to be immediately distributed to Dredge — Benderson refused to pay Dredge.

Benderson has also received a management fee from Sarasota County based upon a percentage of all of the funds Sarasota County has disbursed to him for payment to Dredge even though Benderson has not, in fact, paid a substantial portion of those funds to Dredge.

Despite Dredge’s repeated demands, Benderson had persisted in his refusal to distribute to Dredge the funds that were referenced to have been paid and had also persisted in his wrongful refusal to pay Dredge: (a) the $529,490.97 and (b) additional compensation in connection with their completed work on the project. (SEE ATTACHMENT #1)

 Carpetbagger From Buffalo Benderson

Has No Shame

A clear example of what has descended upon Sarasota as a result of these  carpetbaggers from Buffalo and the type of nefarious business practices they bring to Sarasota is that Benderson, after kicking and screaming, paid an out of court settlement in Tampa with Dredge for $395,000. Benderson in an exhibit of enormous gall, then had the audacity to make a request to be reimbursed for the $395,000 as witnessed in this email from Sarasota County Attorney, Steven DeMarsh.
From:  Stephen DeMarsh
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 2:28 PM
To: Milan Brkich
Subject: Dredge America

I spoke with Tom Harmer yesterday on a number of items one of which was the Benderson desire to get additional money for the Dredge America work. He confirmed that he does not support the payment of additional funds on that budget item to reimburse Benderson for additional amounts that it ended up paying to settle the lawsuit.

Stephen E. DeMarsh, County Attorney

Office of the County Attorney

 

Please explain to me how Benderson can ask for an additional $395,000 for a project he informed Sarasota County officials had already been completed and for which he had been paid $525,000. How can Benderson ask for an additional $395,000 for a project that has a documented invoice dated 6/30/14 attesting that Benderson was paid $525,000 to compensate Dredge America for the completed project?

This Dredge America incident should illustrate how Benderson deals with vendors over nickels and dimes, while stuffing $millions in public funds into his pockets. Additionally, this incident illustrates why local vendors want little to do with working for Benderson Development, which has been characterized publicly as acting more like gangsters than developers.

By the way, Blackketter’s name was all over these fraudulent Dredge America invoices submitted to Sarasota County, which gives more evidence that Blackketter is another Benderson flunky project manager and one more reason Blackketter needs to “hit the bricks.” (SEE ATTACHMENTS # 2 and 3)

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