10 News Investigators: Commissioners spank board of lavish taxpayer funded The Regent

7:02 PM, Jun 27, 2012   |    comments
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The Regent, formerly known as Brandon Community Advantage Center
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BRANDON, Fla. -- The Board of the Brandon Community Advantage Center, which is in charge of the lavish taxpayer funded The Regent, got a spanking Wednesday from Hillsborough County Commission.

This comes following a 10 News Investigation explaining the organization has a tax structure that allows it to be a PAC, or Political Action Committee, and act as a lobbyist.

Commissioners are upset over a number of issues, including the fact that the taxpayer funded center isn't accessible to the general public without a fee. Also, the commission wants $35,000 back that the center used for items, then turned around and stuck taxpayers with the bill.

The center wants to pay back the $35,000 at $400 a month, which will take seven years. Commissioner Sandy Murman said, "I'm a little insulted by the payment plan. This is taxpayer money, not yours." 

The board wanted to see solid figures to back up the claim that the opulent facility isn't making any money and can't afford to pay back the entire sum. "You all can't afford to pay back more than $400 a month for 84 months?" asked Commissioner Les Miller. "I have a major, major concern about 84 months at $400 a month."

"We're running about break even right now. It fluctuates from month to month, but the average is about break even," answered David Lemar, chairman of the Brandon Community Advantage Center Board.

Then there's the issue of the IRS tax exempt designation of the organization. Most non-profits have what's called a 501c3 designation. However, The Regent has a 501c4. That's the common type of non-profit organization that can engage in lobbying or political campaigning. While The Regent maintains that is the only tax exempt status it could qualify for, and it doesn't intend to be political, citizens and commissioners like Victor Crist don't believe it.

"You should have been a 501c3 and not a 4, and to say you can't run this as a 501c3? You are wrong," he said.

Community activist George Niemann believes it's a little more sinister. "To me, it's the equivalent of an oil company asking for a permit to drill in Tampa Bay waters and saying 'We don't think we're really going to drill, we're just asking for permission to do that,' and that's what they are doing. To say the IRS told them to do it that way is absurd."

Commissioners voted to explore legal options to get the money repaid quicker and have directed the Brandon Community Advantage Center to provide financial information to prove the money can't be repaid immediately.

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