Final report issued in Orange County Expressway Authority scandal

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Cover-up of a land deal was at the heart of the Orange County Expressway Authority scandal, according to the final report released by state investigators, which outlined four documented violations of Florida’s sunshine law.

Former state Rep. Chris Dorworth appears to be at the center of it all, reports Greg Fox of WESH 2.

Dorworth was indicted June 4 on allegations of violating Florida’s open meetings law. In more than 100 pages of testimony—including phone, text logs and timelines–investigators outline a scheme to control the region’s toll money.

The report also portrays Dorworth as the “point person” in 91 messages exchanged with then-Expressway Authority board member Scott Batterson, and another 39 messages with former board member Marco Pena. At the time, Pena was attempting to win a board appointment.

Pena later pled guilty to Sunshine Law violations.

In September, WESH 2 released messages appearing to show three-board members communicating in secret before they voted to remove Executive Director Max Crummit.

In the new report, records and testimony prove Dorworth acted as a go-between for Batterson and Pena. Former Department of Transportation Rebecca Hammond, Dorworth’s girlfriend, also acted as a intermediary for her two supervisors, state DOT secretary Ananth Prasad and his secretary who also served on the board, Noranne Downs.

Investigators also noted an attempt to get former Florida House member Steve Precourt, who was a friend of Dorworth, the top toll agency job. Also addressed in the report was property along the Wekiva Parkway, owned by Dorworth business associate James Palmer, who was looking for $32 million for acreage, although it was appraised at just $12 million.

Testimony by another Authority executive shows the moves to get Pena on the board and to hire Precourt were to make land sale happen.

While many individuals questioned gave conflicting statements, the report says investigators did have enough evidence for indictments of Dorworth, Batterson and Hammond.

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.