WTSP: Emails indicate PSTA CEO lied about Homeland Security grant

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Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller apparently lied about a federal grant intended to promote safety on buses but was actually used to promote the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum.

WTSP/10 News Investigates uncovered emails showing PSTA officials intentionally planned to spend hundreds of thousands in federal funds on advertising for Greenlight Pinellas on the November ballot. The emails became known through a public records request.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who represents Pinellas County, called the emails “shocking” and is now calling for Homeland Security – the agency providing the funds — to investigate.

The email proves that Miller lied when explaining how the PSTA used the Homeland Security grant of $350,000.

Earlier this year, WTSP reporter Mike Deeson asked the transit chief how the agency used grant money,

“It’s about this general idea of making the transportation system safe and secure,” Miller said.

Later, Miller had to return funds to the federal government after other WTSP stories pointed out the PSTA used the money for TV ads to promote Greenlight Pinellas.

Miller and PSTA board members, including Chair Ken Welch, criticized the initial reports, but after returning the money, Welch said, “This organization made a mistake with the handling of that grant.”

Although Welch claimed the misuse of federal money was an honest mistake, the emails show otherwise.

“We were able to leverage our federal grant dollars and further Greenlight efforts,” said Director of Marketing Janet Recca in one email.

Another has Miller asserting that all ads must have the Greenlight logo. “I insist on this and won’t approve payment on anything else,” he said.

“And I know you [referring to Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers] and Janet have heartburn about how this grant is being used,” Miller said in another email. “We can easily add some stuff about your beloved security.”

Showing Jolly the emails, Deeson said it appears that PSTA officials knew they were using the taxpayer dollars in an inappropriate manner.

“In their words, they leveraged the grant money — essentially taxpayer dollars — they leveraged taxpayer dollars to promote Greenlight,” Jolly told WTSP. “That’s wrong.”

Although the PSTA returned the federal grant, a letter from Homeland Security informed the PSTA that the agency could pursue further civil or criminal penalties if an investigation opens.

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.