Connect with us
Sticker shock: Hundreds of thousands of big, backlogged SunPass invoices are soon to hit Florida drivers’ mailboxes.

Headlines

SunPass inquiry reveals new questions about FDOT’s payoff to contractor

New documents, released in response to an inquiry from state Sen. Tom Lee, raise new ethical and legal questions about how the Florida Department of Transportation paid off a firm vying for the state’s lucrative SunPass contract in order to secure the deal with politically-connected contractor Conduent.

The procurement is getting new attention in 2019 from Lee and other state Senators after a series of investigative reports about Conduent’s massive SunPass technology and customer service failures.

At the center of the SunPass saga in 2014 and 2015, when the state paid the Cubic company $3.6 million to end its formal bid protest, was then-FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, whose close ties to engineering firm HNTB may raise more eyebrows.

HNTB was the firm hired by FDOT to oversee the procurement of the SunPass overhaul, a dysfunctional one from its very beginning in 2013. Prasad worked for HNTB both immediately before and immediately after his nearly five-year tenure as secretary of FDOT.

In an unusual twist to the procurement, two of the losing firms on the bid argued in court documents that Conduent, then part of the Xerox company, never should have received the $287 million contract in the first place. That deal later grew to $343 million after it was awarded to Xerox/Conduent.

Cubic claimed its bid was $47 million lower than Conduent’s base contract, and the company was more amenable to FDOT’s requested terms than Conduent. It also claimed a selection team, which lacked appropriate technical qualifications for this kind of procurement, ignored its initial favorable scoring to favor Conduent’s bid.

Prasad was able to put the Cubic controversy in the rear-mirror of both FDOT and HNTB with a $3.6 million taxpayer-funded settlement, negotiated in his final months at FDOT before leaving for a senior vice president job at HNTB.

New documents now reveal FDOT’s unprecedented payment was funneled from a state “stipend fund,” meant to reward innovative and creative designs on construction projects. The SunPass project was not a construction project, and a March 2019 letter from new FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault to Sen. Lee acknowledges FDOT cannot say if it actually received any innovative or creative designs from Cubic.

The money was authorized by FDOT on Dec. 11, 2014, nine days after the state announced Prasad’s resignation, but three weeks before he actually left the department for a second stint at HNTB.

Spending stipend money on the Cubic settlement meant other state transportation projects did not benefit from the incentive funds. It also raises questions about whether FDOT — under the watch of Prasad and then-Gov. Rick Scott — misappropriated the funds in an effort to seal the deal for Xerox/Conduent.

Recent investigations by 10News WTSP revealed how Conduent’s founder and top lobbyist were both major donors to Scott. The Governor, who won his bid for the U.S. Senate in November, also later disclosed a financial interest in Conduent stock.

Prasad, whose work at FDOT set him up for a lucrative return to the private sector, again finds himself immersed in Florida’s toll road future in 2019; as President of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, Prasad represents companies that stand to gain from Senate President Bill Galvano‘s push to expand the state’s toll road system by hundreds of miles.

Ironically, Lee, who has been skeptical of FDOT’s handling of Conduent, has been driving Galvano’s toll road priority through the Legislature this year.

Both HNTB and Prasad declined comment; FDOT spokesperson Ann Howard said the agency was “unable to comment or make decisions” at this time because of an eight-month-old investigation from the Governor’s inspector general. It’s unclear why an agency that has provided dozens of statements and made countless decisions regarding SunPass during that time cannot do so now.

A spokesperson for current Gov. Ron DeSantis has not been able to provide any update as to when those investigative findings may become public.

FDOT has also not responded to months-old questions regarding possible discipline for the politically connected engineering firms, including HNTB, hired to oversee the SunPass procurement and upgrades.

“I want to be clear that our understanding of what occurred previously does not guarantee that the Department would take the same action today,” new FDOT Secretary Thibault wrote Sen. Lee on March 27. “There are several lessons learned from this situation including better testing, other ways to foster competition and ensuring more resources were allocated to ensure customer service levels were met.

“It appears Department leadership at the time believed this agreement was within the Department’s authority.”

More close and questionable ties

Another interesting finding from FDOT’s newly released documents comes from an Oct. 28, 2014, letter from Cubic’s president to Secretary Prasad, outlining significant conflict-of-interest concerns the company had about FDOT employees and the HNTB contractors in charge of the SunPass procurement. That included an HNTB employee, involved in the bid process, failing to disclose her spouse was on Conduent’s team of subcontractors, as well as undisclosed connections between FDOT consultants and Xerox/Conduent.

Cubic requested FDOT re-bid the entire SunPass deal, just as the state of Ohio did when similar conflict-of-interest issues arose regarding the procurement of a contested bridge construction contract. Florida declined, indicating it was “essential” to move forward with Conduent so drivers could benefit from much-needed SunPass upgrades.

The contractor accused of crossing ethical lines in the Ohio bid was Computer Aid, Inc. (CAI), the same company identified earlier this week by FloridaPolitics.com as taking advantage of loose FDOT oversight and later rewarding with jobs the same state employees who were in charge of that oversight.

Written By

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Karen Esty

    April 15, 2019 at 9:52 am

    All I can say is “thank you” for your dedication in uncovering corruption. Apparently there are those who despise “sunshine”.

  2. Ms. Waldron

    April 15, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Yes, I am with Ms. Esty. This corruption needs to continually be brought into the Sunshine of Truth. Thank you and keep up the wonderful work!

  3. Virgil Detty

    April 15, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    If I had taken millions of dollars from Fl. I would be in jail. Tallahassee is a vermin infested swamp.

  4. Robert F. Roscow

    April 15, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Dear Mr. Pransky,

    I am the president of Friends of Etna Turpentine Camp, Inc. Mrs. Waldron is our Secretary and Mrs. Esty is a major contributor. We lost our federal hearing trying to save a historic turpentine and lumber town in Citrus County that is now part of the Withlacoochee State Forest to the Suncoast Parkway 2 extension. They could have easily gone around but chose not to follow their own FDOT Manual or the state statute. We also worked with the USFWS and Florida Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) and numerous state agencies. We are now getting ready to file a complaint with the DOJ Inspector General’s office for perjury during the July 9, 2018 Federal hearing in Ocala as well as perjury by USFWS and their attorney and FTE for collusion during a Section 106 Historic Review as mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the FDOT attorney. Later I will file against state agencies who by no means followed their own regulations and mandate, especially Forestry and the Division of Historic Resources. We have irrefutable evidence of criminal actions by all these agencies that were material to the outcome of court and review decisions. The entire process of the S.C. 2 for the 20 years I was involved has been one of utter and complete corruption. We won a Sunshine Law suit in 2005, Roscow v. Abreu, for having closed agency meetings in violation of the Sunshine Law. This did not deter them in the least and in recent years have had over 20 more and not complied with the legally binding Partnering Agreement. We as citizens cannot spend the literally 100’s of thousands of dollars in legal fees to have FDOT, FTE , and all these state and federal agencies follow the law. We have had to pick our shots and the one we are proceeding with now if it culminates in being prosecuted and convictions made could send people to federal jails and actually stop the project.

    Another name you need to explore is Christopher Warren who was the deputy director of FTE in 2006. He is no longer with FTE as many others aren’t but unbelievably had the BOCC “vote” on what type of study to pursue after our lawsuit. The BOCC has no
    authority to determine FDOT procedures for studies that are developed by law.
    The other name is Ken Thibault the present Sec. of FDOT. In 2002 after Jeb Bush started FTE he said the first study was void and they
    started the second study. After our lawsuit there was only one study to pursue the EIS that was the second study since the first was declared dead by Thibault. Well with Warren leading the way he resurrected the 1st study with the “vote” of which study to use.
    Warren if you look in LinkedIn was noted for turning Jeb’s FTE into an independent for-profit company within FDOT. It is completely run by mega-engineering firms like AECOMM that bought URS in 2014 for $9 Billion. They employ 9,500 people worldwide.
    As to the tolling scam, it goes much deeper. The SC 2 was going to and is using the toll gangtries to process SunPasses or take photos of license plates bill users. This was not just dreamed up but was an integral part of the road design from day one when final construction documents were authorized. All engineering firms working on the project had to coordinate to make it work properly and locate the gangtries. So it was not something added at the end by any means. That would be like saying Metro North up here in the Northeast just added the specially designed overhead new electrical supply system for the locomotives for the Acela Antrack train that had to coordinate with the Metro North power supply in the last two weeks when they were striping the parking lots.

    The key take away is that FTE cooks the books so it can appear to function profitably as a for-profit company within FDOT. Also Warren made sure it would be self perpetuating so now we have these new toll projects instead of improving I-75. FTE is no different than Ford Motor Company. If they don’t produce cars and trucks, they go out of business. Likewise if FTE doesn’t use its political clout to create a purported need for new toll roads, they fold and lose billions of dollars in fees.

    Please contact if you need further information and when we file I will see about getting you the complaint. At present it cannot be released because of attorney/client privilege.

  5. John

    April 16, 2019 at 12:46 am

    If all or any of these allegations are factual and true then the people involved should be sent to prison … The greed and corruption in our society is rampant and disgusting and GOD is watching !!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Poll: Donald Trump approval numbers have fallen further in Florida than any other state

Federal

Lawmakers look at limiting marijuana highs

Headlines

National report recommends leveling portions of I-275 in Tampa

Tampa Bay

Crystal Wagar elected Mayor of Miami Shores

South Florida

Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Connect
Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.