The state attorney general's office has launched a racketeering investigation into Orkin Pest Control, Inc., the Orlando Weekly has learned. This is the latest legal problem for the nation's second-largest pest control company, which last fall lost a $3 million binding-arbitration judgment to Collier and Peggy Black, a Jacksonville couple who alleged Orkin did shoddy termite-repair work and failed to properly pull permits. In that case, arbitrators ruled that Orkin knew about the "widespread" practice of not pulling permits, and in fact "authorized" it to save money.
Further, the arbitrators wrote, "[Orkin] recklessly exposed [the Blacks] to the endangerment of life and safety, including subjecting Plaintiff Collier Black and his family to living in a portion of the home that was demonstrably structurally unsound, which could have caused serious and permanent damage or death."
Black, who is admittedly still bitter toward Orkin despite the arbitration ruling, pressed his case to the Florida attorney general's office. Orkin, meanwhile, appealed the arbitrators' decision, even though its own paperwork called the arbitration binding and non-appealable.
Black's story first appeared in the Weekly ["The Orkin scam," Sept. 25]. In April, according to court records obtained by the Weekly, the state attorney general's office subpoenaed thousands of documents "concerning 18 different categories regarding certain business ethics, corporate formations, enterprise logistics and strategies, business relationships and business records." The state demanded Orkin produce the documents by April 25.
Instead, Orkin sued to quash the subpoena in Orange County circuit court under the alias "Doe Corporation." In its lawsuit, the company argued that the subpoena was overly broad, "unduly burdensome" and if successful, would push its proprietary information into the public record.
Although "Doe Corporation" never identifies itself as Orkin, it describes itself as a national chain based in Atlanta with 150,000 contracts in the state of Florida. Orkin is based in Atlanta, is a national chain and has thousands of contracts in Florida. Furthermore, Doe's lawyer, Daniel Gerber, also represents Orkin.
However, an affidavit by state financial investigator Joanne Kraynak, included in the state's response, identifies the company: "Statements in the petitioner's affidavit resemble statements I know to be true of an investigation by the office of Attorney General into Orkin, Inc. ... [S]pecifically, that Orkin was served a subpoena on the date stated in the complaint, that the Orkin subpoena was also issued pursuant to the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act."
State attorney Allison Finn also asked the court to toss Orkin's lawsuit because the state of Florida has no record of a "Doe Corporation," and because any lawsuit against the attorney general's office should be filed in Tallahassee. The court hasn't yet ruled on those motions.
"They're trying to keep everything under wraps by filing under a fictitious name," says Black's attorney Alan Wachs. "From that standpoint, it's very telling that they're trying to keep the investigation secret."
Had Orkin or Doe Corporation not filed this lawsuit, the investigation would not have been public record. In fact, the attorney general's office won't comment on an ongoing investigation until there's been a finding of probable cause. Indeed, Finn and the attorney general's office have refused for a month even to confirm to Orlando Weekly that an investigation is underway.
Orkin spokeswoman Martha Craft declined comment for this story.