Investigators from the Orange-Osceola (Florida) State Attorney's Office and Orange County Comptroller Martha O. Haynie are scrutinizing records at the troubled Orlando-Osceola Expressway Authority for evidence of criminal wrongdoing or financial mismanagement related to millions of dollars in roadway land purchases.
"We're following leads and tips, and wherever that takes us inside the authority we will go," says Randy Means, director of investigations for the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office. "That means land deals and purchases and contracts. Where there's a multibillion-dollar expressway authority, there is a lot of money to be made legally. There is also a lot of avenues and enrichments that do not always, as I say, pass the smell test." Means expects his office could wrap up the probe by the end of summer.
Means would not release specific transactions under investigation; however, he confirmed it involves land acquisitions for roadways throughout the Central Florida area. He also his office is probing into the possibility of insider trading and profit making due to road alignments or projections of road locations.
"It's a complex system from conception to pavement," Means says. "We're looking at all of the different steps, making sure contracts were let properly and there weren't payoffs in contracts."
The State Attorney's Government Accountability Unit is collaborating with Haynie and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and sharing information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Means would not confirm or deny reports that a grand jury has been impaneled to hear evidence from the investigation, saying such matters are confidential.
Haynie has not determined the full scope of her audit. She says she does not want any surprises to surface in future years and plans to take the time needed to complete a thorough review. Haynie began the audit after the expressway authority admitted to paying a local toll foe to "strategically engage the opposition." Since then, other allegations related to a marketing consultant surfaced.
"Nothing is off the table," Haynie says. "We're not driven by what is the most exciting thing to talk about, but rather where the really big dollars are. We're going to be looking at everything the expressway authority does."
Expressway authority spokesperson Mary Brooks issued a written statement and declined further comment. It read: "The expressway authority has cooperated fully with the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office and the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement, and will continue to assist them in their investigations. We have provided, and will continue to provide, any information the agencies request that is in our possession."