Bribery trial of former expressway authority board member Scott Batterson begins

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Scott Batterson began his trial Monday for the bribery-related charges that eventually brought down a Central Florida toll agency.

On Thursday, the former member of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board declined a plea deal, turning himself in for a trial on two felony counts of bribery. He was part of a numbers scandal, some including former state Rep. Chris Dorworth that ultimately led to the disbandment of toll agency, according to officials.

Batterson refused a plea deal by the state, which included time in prison, reports Marina Marraco of WESH 2 News.

Charges stem from accusations the Batterson offered a $5 million agency contract to a local engineering firm in exchange for hiring Batterson’s business associates. The state originally charged Batterson with three felonies, but the state dropped one.

Batterson’s lawyer, Amy Tingley said Batterson turned down a plea deal, “Because he’s not guilty.”

“There is a thread of politics running through this case,” Tingley told Marraco.

Tingley insists the charges stem from “pure politics” saying that she intends to call State Attorney Jeff Ashton to testify. Ashton, a Democrat, originally brought the cause before the 15-person grand jury that ultimately indicted Batterson.

“There is no purpose to putting Mr. Ashton on the witness stand, and there has been no showing of the need to do so,” said State Prosecutor Kevin Nunnelly.

Batterson’s defense team asserts that Ashton attempted to control leadership at OOCEA. A letter Ashton wrote in January urged the Expressway Authority not to appoint one of Batterson’s Republican associates as the new Authority chief until he finished his investigation.

“He did not write that letter in any investigatory capacity,” said Tingley. “He wrote that letter as a political figure.”

If sentenced, Batterson could face up anywhere from 15-30 years in prison.

On Monday, the judge decided Ashton can be called on the stand.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.