While most of us are counting our coins and lost hours awaiting the drastic rethink of Interstate 4, wherein the rich will move faster and the poor will droop into ignominy (it's really happening, like, soon), the Orlando Sentinel uncovered a surprise bit of bell-tolling from the Central Florida Expressway Authority that nobody seems to be talking about this week. The reason for the relative silence? Uh, the expressway authority has been a veritable bucket of cash and controversy for decades, and trying to pin the tail on the toll-rush has likewise been a challenge for those just trying to get from point A to point B.--
$250,000: Projected annual salary for the new director of the Central Florida Expressway Authority
On Feb. 16, the paper of record (and of Scott Maxwell) reported that, via public records requests, it had obtained a subpoena that indicates that the FUCKING federal Security and Exchange Commission was looking into mishandling of backroom deals at the agency totaling some $2 billion in business and $9.5 million in commissions for one Norman Pellegrini, who has been "working" with the expressway authority since 1985.
Last May, State Attorney Jeff Ashton effectively shut down the tolling force (but not really) by calling out the members of the board for shoveling funds into the directions and pockets they saw fit. A scandal ensued – including a public records nightmare that came with various indictments, resignations and denials. Naturally, Gov. Rick Scott – the king of transparency – leapt into the fray and dismantled the authority as it was (the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority) and turned it into an even bigger mess by making it the more-encompassing Central Florida Expressway Authority. Genius! It's so much easier to hide secrets and lies in the larger pot!--
$2 billion: Amount Citigroup Global Markets employee Norman Pellegrini gained in business from the expressway authority since 2003, in addition to $9.5 million in commissions and extra fees, according to a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission
But, according to the Sentinel, the SEC isn't buying it. More discouraging (in some respects) than the fact that the expressway authority has been administering favors to developers for decades with absolute impunity is that the financials lining the yellow brick roads to nowhere are paid for by questionable bonds, mostly linked to Citibank and UBS Wealth Management, the Sentinel reports. Those bonds were refinanced in 2013, and were linked to a certain individual (via said companies): Pellegrini. Sure, sure, we know it gets boring from here, and you've probably cranked your Sirius to the "apolitical" channel, but one missing link in the whole storyline is the GIANT link that is former Republican legislator Chris Dorworth, he of the iPad gaming during redistricting hearings and sundry other foreclosure actions that made him appear to be less a political hero than a point-of-purchase politician. Dorworth, now a lobbyist, did some of Citibank's dirty work via his lobbying firm, Ballard Partners in Tallahassee. See, politicians do have afterlives! Even the ones who suffer humiliating losses!
Where the rest of this winding drama goes, we can't be sure. We've been banging the drum for the end of the expressway authority since the beginning of time. What is it even here for?--
$1 billion: Amount the expressway authority has held in questionable bonds, which have effectively cost the organization tens of millions, according to an Orlando Sentinel report
"Perhaps a better way to phrase that question is the reverse: Where doesn't your toll money go? It doesn't go to the county, city or any other local government; it doesn't pay for mass transit, schools, cops or firefighters; it doesn't get your garbage picked up, fix potholes on your streets or cracks in your sidewalks; it doesn't add lanes to I-4. The money goes right back to the expressway authority, which uses it to build more toll roads, or endlessly reconfigure existing roads," former Weekly scribe Jeffrey Billman wrote in an exhaustive piece in 2006 ["Kill the beast," Dec. 28, 2006].
In essence – as the SEC may be figuring out – the expressway authority is a governmental scam that plays on your necessity of transportation and abuses every ounce of authority it has. News? Maybe not, since it's been news for four decades. Important? Bet your bottom dollar ... or the change under your seat.