Tampa, Florida -- When you elect someone to represent you, their salary is paid by your tax dollars. But what if some of those local leaders took that paycheck and used it to fund their own business deals?
The 10 News Investigators, who first broke the story about legislators getting a multimillion dollar grant they should not have from one Bay area county, now have what appears to be the smoking gun that shows part of the reason the lawmakers received the grant is because of their elected position.
While Tampa State Representative Jamie Grant says, "I'm proud of the work that has been done," some who live in Hardee County --like retired Air Force pilot Hank Kuhlman -- say Grant should be ashamed for receiving a $2.6 million handout from the county. When Grant and other lawmakers applied for the money, they didn't have a company and they didn't have a product.
The state auditor general says Hardee County should never have given the money to Grant's company, LifeSync Technologies.
Kulhman says, "There are specific Florida statues that prohibit using your position as an elected official to your special private gain."
But the 10 News Investigators have found evidence that appears to show Grant and another state representative, Jason Brouder, got $2.6 million in taxpayer dollars, in part, because they are elected officials.
In a conversation before a Hardee County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) meeting, the number two person in the agency explained why it's important the IDA give millions of dollars to Grant's company. Sarah Pelham says, "Jamie, the one on the right, he is a state representative."
That surprises the man who is sitting next to her, who says, "Really? That helps."
Pelham goes on to say, "And then there is another partner who is not here today who is also a state representative."
Pelham explains it is good for the county to give big bucks to friendly legislators, saying, "So it's not only beneficial for them to get help from us, it's beneficial for us to help them."
When we tried to ask Bill Lambert, the head of the agency who gave the lawmakers the millions, he said it would take three days to explain and he wasn't happy when we recorded his reply with our iPhone.
We told Lambert we didn't have three days to spend with him, but did have some questions, and that's when he grabbed our iPhone and tried to block our pictures and questions.
Grant is now the target of an ethics complaint filed by Kuhlman, who points out Grant sold his company without telling Hardee County. In return, Grant and his partners received more than a million shares of the new company. Grant also got a consulting deal that paid him several thousand dollars.
State records show that Grant was able to increase his net worth from a little more than a thousand dollars to more than $100,000 in less than two years.
Kuhlman says, "The people of Hardee County are figuring it out."
Grant says, "This complaint has no merit and I am confident it will be dismissed. It is nothing more than an attempt to tarnish my reputation at the urging of special interests. The claims made are patently false and I look forward to them being proven as such."
Grant adds, "There is nothing we have ever done that has not been fully transparent."
According to the auditor general, that's not exactly true. Among other things, the auditor general said in a scathing audit that Grant didn't tell Hardee County -- as he was supposed to -- that he was selling his company and the grant that went along with it.
The worst part? That taxpayer grant was supposed to help people in Hardee County, one of the state's poorest counties, get jobs. But so far, only a handful of people have been hired, many of them the family members of local leaders, including the husband of Sarah Pelham, who was caught saying on tape that giving Grant the millions would be good for Hardee County as well as the legislators.
It certainly has been good for Pelham's family. Now we will have to see if the State Ethics Commission cracks down on Rep. Grant and his colleagues.
Follow 10 News Reporter Mike Deeson on twitter @MikeDeeson