May 28, 2010 St Petersburg Times
Gov. Charlie Crist often laments "this culture of corruption in South Florida," but increasingly it's
Tallahassee that looks like a central focus of multiple criminal investigations swirling about Florida. In
recent weeks, prominent legislators have hired criminal defense lawyers, while high-ranking and low-
ranking GOP staffers have been summoned to grand juries meeting across the state. Among them: Crist's
former top money-raiser, Meredith O'Rourke; former state GOP executive director Jim Rimes; and indicted
ex-House Speaker Ray Sansom's former fundraising aide, Melanie Phister, who at age 25 charged nearly
$1.3 million on her state party credit card. Veteran observers of the state's political process can't
remember a time when so many officials have been caught up in criminal investigations. "I don't think we've
ever had it at this level,'' said longtime lobbyist Ron Book. Amid the most tumultuous and unpredictable
election year Florida has seen in decades, the names of at least a dozen political figures have popped up
in five major federal investigations probing the pay-to-play culture of corruption in Florida: • Alan
Mendelsohn, 52, a Fort Lauderdale eye doctor and GOP campaign fundraiser, is indicted on federal fraud
and influence peddling charges. • Scott Rothstein, 47, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and campaign donor at
the center of a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, pled guilty in January to multiple federal charges of racketeering,
money laundering, fraud. • Sansom, 47, charged with grand theft in state court for secretly putting $6
million in the budget, is being looked at by federal officials in North Florida for his use of a GOP credit card
and his role in creating a $113 million private prison.

May 4, 2010 Tallahassee Democrat
An influential state senator who is running for governor called for an explanation Tuesday of how the
Blackwater River prison privatization project was handled in the state budget. Sen. Paula Dockery, R-
Lakeland, wrote to the Department of Corrections and Department of Management Services regarding the
Santa Rosa County prison. She said the Legislature appropriated $87 million for it as a 2,000-bed privately
operated prison in 2008, intending that it house medium- to close-security inmates. In the closing days of
the session that adjourned last week, the budget adopted by the House and Senate added 224 prisoners
to the institution's capacity -- potentially worth $2 million a year, or more, for GEO Group, the company
negotiating with DMS to run the prison. The appropriation was also changed to specify that the prison will
"primarily house special-needs inmates," such as those with mental or physical health problems, and that it
would be in Santa Rosa County, she said. Dockery, who chairs the Senate criminal justice committee,
asked DOC and DMS if either department had requested the appropriation. She also asked for a summary
of responses from companies competing for the state's business, what other locations were considered for
the institution and why it was designated for "inmates who require chronic medical and mental health
treatment." "She's asking all the right questions," said Ken Kopczynski, a lobbyist for the Police Benevolent
Association, which represents security officers in state-run prisons. The PBA opposes prison privatization,
which has been a highly controversial endeavor at six corporate-run prisons in Florida. Spokeswomen for
DMS and DOC said the agencies are gathering information to respond to Dockery later this week or next
week.

May 4, 2010 St Petersburg Times
Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican running for governor, has written DOC Secretary Walt McNeil
and DMS Secretary Linda South to find out more about the private prison Blackwater deal (more here on
the background). The letter is here: Dear Secretary McNeil and Secretary South: As chair of the Florida
Senate’s Committee on Criminal Justice, I am interested in the background of the Blackwater River
Correctional Facility (Blackwater) in Santa Rosa County. I am aware that an appropriation of approximately
$87,000,000 was made in 2008 to contract for a 2,000 bed private correctional facility to house medium
and close custody inmates. The appropriation did not specify a location for the facility or that the facility
would primarily house special needs inmates. I request clarification about the history of the facility,
including, but not limited to, the following issues: • Whether the appropriation was requested by either the
Department of Corrections or the Department of Management Services and, if so, the basis for the
request. • A summary of the responses to ITN #DMS 08/09-026 (including vendor, proposed location,
proposed cost, and any distinguishing features of the proposal). • The origin of consideration of Santa
Rosa County as a location for the facility and identification of other sites that were considered. • The origin
of the decision that the majority of the inmates in the facility would be special needs inmates who require
chronic medical and mental health treatment, and whether that decision affected the costs of construction.
I would appreciate a timely response to this request. It is not intended to be burdensome and you should
contact me or my staff if there are difficulties with responding in a timely fashion. Warm regards, Sen.
Paula Dockery

April 25, 2010 Tampa Tribune
House and Senate budget chiefs agreed Saturday to open a private prison and pour $61 million into the
University of South Florida's Lakeland campus, but remained at odds over a variety of cuts and competing
proposals. The Legislature, in its 2008 budget, approved the construction of the private Blackwater River
Correctional Institution, responding to predictions that the state's prison population would jump more
sharply than it has. The state-of-the-art facility now stands empty. Saturday, the House agreed to Senate
budget chief JD Alexander's plan to cut state prison beds and eliminate more than 300 positions, mostly
vacant, in the state Department of Corrections to fill 2,224 Blackwater prison beds. That's 224 more beds
than the facility was designed to hold, raising concerns about crowding. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said the
state can avoid that problem by "double-bunking" dormitory space. Ken Kopczynski, political affairs
assistant for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, questioned whether it is ethical to turn
incarceration of prisoners into a profit-making industry. With 4,000 beds or more available in the state's
public prisons, Kopczynski said, there's no reason to open a private one. Alexander disagreed. "I just
couldn't, in all conscience, sit there with a brand-new, $120 million facility and not find a way to use it; it just
doesn't make sense to me. I think this is a reasonable compromise."

April 24, 2010 Tampa Tribune
House and Senate budget chiefs agreed Friday on money for Florida Forever and a range of other issues,
but will spend the weekend haggling over items ranging from crisis pregnancy counseling to trading state-
run prison beds for private ones. The popular-but-pricey Florida Forever program won $15 million Friday
after losing in budget negotiations last year. When the House refused in 2009 to provide new money for
the land conservation program, its line item, to the alarm of environmentalists, vanished from the budget.
This year, the House initially left the program out of its budget plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Janet Bowman of the Nature Conservancy said environmentalists are grateful for the $15 million "bridge"
funding. The proposed cash infusion, she said, will pay for land appraisals and allow the state to negotiate
with land owners. Other issues on which Senate and House budget chiefs agreed during the past several
days: •Spending $10 million on Everglades restoration. •Repealing a shoreline fishing fee lawmakers
passed in 2009. •Cutting state payment rates to nursing homes by 7 percent. •Spending $200,000 on a
new Innocence Commission to study why innocent people have wound up in prison and prevent future
cases. •Spending $11.7 million on aid to libraries, less than the full $21 million funding the Senate
proposed earlier. All decisions on the budget remain unofficial until the end of conferencing. The nursing
home rate reduction is among a handful of recent agreements considered tentative, given concerns in
both chambers about potential harm to nursing home residents. House and Senate budget chiefs will likely
wrap up their negotiations on Sunday, at which point they forward any remaining sticking points to House
Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater for final decisions. Public versus private -- Among
the issues still at play this weekend: How to handle the opening of Blackwater River Corrections Institution,
a private prison in Santa Rosa County. The Legislature authorized construction of the low-cost, highly
efficient prison in response to predictions that the prison population would jump more sharply than it has.
The Senate is proposing to shutter less efficient state facilities and eliminate more than 300 vacant
positions in the Department of Corrections to open 2,224 beds at Blackwater. That is 224 more beds than
facility was designed to hold. Carter Goble Lee, the Atlanta-based firm contracted as Blackwater's project
manager, warned the state Department of Management Services in an April 2 letter that the extra beds
would place the state at risk of litigation by violating an industry standard of "25 square feet of
unencumbered space per inmate." Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said Friday the state
can avoid overcrowding by "double-bunking" dormitory space for lower-risk inmates. "It's typical of the kind
of structure that we have in our publicly operated prisons, so we felt like that was a good, efficient move to
contain costs." The Senate proposes more than $24 million in cuts to the state corrections budget to offset
the cost of opening Blackwater. Meanwhile, the state has 4,000 to 5,000 vacant beds available in the
existing state system, said Ken Kopczynski, political affairs assistant for the Florida Police Benevolent
Association. "There's no need for this prison," Kopczynski said. "They should let it sit until they need it."
Alexander said that's not acceptable. "I believe it will save us money," he said. "It's unconscionable to me to
have a $120 million facility sitting empty - the newest, most state-of-the-art facility. I don't know how I would
tell the taxpayers that that's OK." The House has agreed to the corresponding reduction in prison staff
vacancies, but not the extra 224 beds.

April 23, 2010 WEAR TV
It cost taxpayers over 120 million bucks and one state agency says it's not needed. Now the deal to build a
new prison in Milton is attracting the attention of federal investigators. Dan Thomas/dthomas@weartv.com:
"Take a look we're out here at the site of the new state prison in Milton and construction is full speed
ahead out here today. It's 120 million taxpayer dollars being spent to build it out here. It could mean up to
400 jobs here to the local economy. One major problem with the project though? The State Department of
Corrections says they don't need any of this. It's a situation that one report out of Tallahassee says has
piqued the interest of the FBI." An unnamed source close to the investigation, says the FBI is curious
about the prison deal. One of many dealings of former house speaker Ray Sansom currently under
scrutiny. We know the FBI has spoken to at least one person locally about the matter. County
Commissioner Don Salter says Federal agents have not talked to him but he expects the whole thing to
blow over soon. Don Salter/Santa Rosa Commissioner: "Hopefully everything is going to workout, I suspect
after august after the primary election and in November it'll probably calm down and everything will go
forward." The state senate wants the Blackwater prison open with prisoners shipped in from existing
facilities. Meanwhile the house didn't allocate any money to run it. Salter says the state may have no
choice but to open the prison. Don Salter/Santa Rosa Commissioner: "It's my understanding that GEO
bonded this project. The state guaranteed those bonds. So one way or the other the taxpayers of Florida
will pay for this facility." Dan Thomas/dthomas@weartv.com: "And just what the legislature decides to do
with this facility and those 400 jobs is expected to be decided next week." No matter what the legislature
decides, construction is expected to be complete in July. If the facility is opened. They could start taking
prisoners by November.

April 23, 2010 Florida News Network
The FBI is asking question about former House Speaker Ray Sansom’s involvement with a legislative deal
to build a private prison. The news comes as the feds investigate Sansom, Marco Rubio, and former GOP
Chairman Jim Greer for spending millions on Republican Party of Florida credit cards. As Whitney Ray tells
us, the trouble for the GOP keeps growing. A legislative plan to close as many as five state prisons and
ship inmates to a private prison run by GEO Group was scaled back last month by public out cry. Former
House Speaker Ray Sansom originated the deal with an amendment in the 2008 state budget. On March
30th, a concerned citizen filed a complaint with the US Attorney’s Office calling for an investigation. A
source familiar with the complaint says the FBI has been asking questions. A GEO Group Lobbyist says
the feds haven’t questioned him. “I never heard anything like that at all,” said Smith. According to our
source the feds may be searching to see if Sansom received any kickbacks from the company. GEO
Group, formally known as Wackenhut, gave Sansom’s campaign 500 hundred dollars for his 2007
campaign. The company gave 145-thousand dollars to the Republican Party of Florida in 2008, and
another 130-thousand in 2009. Neither Sansom’s lawyer nor the FBI returned our requests for interviews.
Plans to house 22-hundred inmates in the private prison are moving forward in this year’s budget
negotiations. The Police Benevolent Association says lawmakers should halt the prison plan. “The
legislature would be smart to the taxpayers if they stopped this deal and took another look at it,” said
Puckett. Earlier this week news broke of an FBI investigation into spending by Sansom, and several other
high ranking Republicans on party issued credit cards. Questions about the prison deal may have
spawned from their current investigation.

April 2, 2010 WEAR TV
A prison nurse in Santa Rosa County wants a federal and state investigation into the deal to bring the
private Blackwater prison to Milton. Elva McCaig has compiled a lengthy and detailed account of the
legislative moves former state representative Ray Sansom made in the 2008 budget to make the deal
happen. She points out that the state bought the property for the prison from the Geo Group for $1.6
million. The state also awarded Geo the contract to build the facility for $110 million. She goes on to allege
a number of other "back-room" transactions. McCaig is a nurse at the state-run jail next door to the site of
the new facility, and she strongly opposes privatization of prisons.

March 31, 2010 Tampa Tribune
GOP leaders in the Florida Senate appeared Tuesday night to back off on a controversial budget proposal
that would force the closure of two state prisons in order to open a cheaper private one. Senate Minority
Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said Senate budget chief JD Alexander and Senate President Jeff
Atwater have agreed not to require the state to shutter two as-yet unnamed prisons and privatize one to fill
the private Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa County. That privatization plan, from
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Alexander, appears in the proposed 2010-11 budget that the full
Senate will begin considering today. Lawson, who filed an amendment late Monday that would strip the
Blackwater plan from the budget entirely, said Tuesday night that he will file another that will leave it up to
the state Department of Corrections how best to fill the private facility. Alexander and Senate President Jeff
Atwater indicated Tuesday evening that they would accept such an amendment, said Lawson, R-
Tallahassee. Lawson's district includes at least one small town fearing the loss of a local prison rumored to
be a target of closure under Alexander's plan. "This will remove the panic," Lawson said. Blackwater still
would open this year, he said, but without an estimated cut to prison budgets of $20 million. Alexander, R-
Lake Wales, said Tuesday that he still needs to see the language of Lawson's amendment but that they
mostly have agreed on a different approach. The Legislature authorized construction of the low-cost highly
efficient Blackwater facility in 2008, responding to predictions that the prison population would jump more
sharply than it has. There is no version of the privatization proposal in the House. The two chambers will
have to negotiate a final budget before the end of the session.

March 30, 2010 WJHG
More than 400 people showed up at a rally in Sneads this afternoon to protest a Senate budget-cutting
proposal. The plan would supposedly save $68 million dollars by closing two state prisons and privatize a
third. But some of the money would go to pay a private company to operate the new 2200 bed Blackwater
Correctional Institute in Santa Rosa County. Folks in Jackson County are worried Apalachee Correctional
Institute will become a victim of what they're now calling the 'Blackwater Bailout.' More than 400 people
showed up at a rally in Sneads this afternoon to protest a Senate budget-cutting proposal. The plan would
supposedly save $68 million dollars by closing two state prisons and privatize a third. But some of the
money would go to pay a private company to operate the new 2200 bed Blackwater Correctional Institute in
Santa Rosa County. Folks in Jackson County are worried Apalachee Correctional Institute will become a
victim of what they're now calling the 'Blackwater Bailout.' Jackson County Commission Chairman Jeremy
Branch didn't sugar-coat his feelings about Blackwater Correctional Institution. "Let me tell you what I hope
it does: I hope it stays there and I hope it turns into a tombstone for privatization, I hope it's a monument to
help symbolize the death of privatization in the state of Florida." The new prison in Santa Rosa County is
90% complete. The state owns it, but is planning to let a private company operate it. Branch and others,
including the top State Corrections official, hope Blackwater never opens its doors. DOC Secretary Walter
McNeil says, "I will not stand idly by. We're gonna fight until our little fingers are down to the bone to make
sure that this does not come to fruition." Former State Representative Loranne Ausley asks, "when our
communities are experiencing the worst employment, foreclosure rate, our budget is the worst it has been,
how is it you can find 160-million dollars to build a prison that you don't need?!" If the state taps ACI as one
of the two prisons that will close, community leaders say it will mean 640 workers will lose their jobs and the
Sneads economy will be devastated. James Baiardi of the Police Benevolent Association, says "this is
wrong, it's nothing more than a corporate bailout, that's all it is. They made the mistake and they want you
to pay, your community to pay and they want the Correctional officers to pay for their mistake." 74-year-old
Reverend Willis Raines Sr. has lived in Sneads his whole life. He raised 17 kids and knows firsthand ACI's
impact on the local economy. "It creates communities where people get their jobs and support their families
in our communities which is very, very important." Others are concerned the state could close as many as
5 prisons and will begin the early-release of inmates to compensate for the lack of prison beds. But former
State Representative Curtis Richardson says, "we're here to say not 'NO' but 'HELL NO!' We will not take it
anymore. They can keep this deal in Tallahassee. We're not gonna have it." Richardson went on to blame
former House Speaker Ray Sansom for the situation. Sansom filed the 2008 budget amendment that
issued state bonds to build Blackwater and hire a private company to operate it. Richardson said there's
no question this can be tied to the kind of back room, smoke filled room, dirty deals Ray Sansom has
become associated with.

March 30, 2010 Palm Beach Post
Once again, a Tallahassee lawmaker is playing hide and don't seek with Florida's budget. This time, the
perpetrator is Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander. Last week, the Lake Wales Republican bypassed
standard procedures to amend the proposed spending bill to close at least two state-run prisons, open a
new private prison and privatize others. Sen. Alexander claims moving prisoners from state-run facilities to
private ones will save $42 million a year. Why, then, didn't he bother to notify the Department of
Corrections? Surely, the DOC should know about such a drastic change. Sen. Alexander's last-minute
move would benefit Boca Raton-based GEO Group, the company likely to run one of the facilities. Sen.
Alexander's amendment continues budget sleight-of-hand begun by former House Speaker Ray Sansom.
That Santa Rosa County Republican slipped into the 2008 budget a $110 million appropriation the state
used to pay GEO Group to build the private prison in his home county. That's the prison that Sen.
Alexander now hopes to open. Mr. Sansom resigned last year as speaker and this year left the House after
indictment on charges related to another deal he tucked into that budget — $6 million to build an airplane
hangar for a major contributor to himself and the Republican Party. The GEO Group, which runs the South
Bay Correctional Institution, has had a number of inmate deaths and riots at its prisons. Last year, a Texas
appeals court upheld a 2006 $40 million wrongful death judgment concerning an inmate fatally beaten in
2001. Unless other prisons close, there aren't enough inmates to fill the 2,224-bed prison near the
Blackwater River in Santa Rosa County. Also, the company, which contributed $158,000 to Florida
Republicans and $17,000 to Democrats during the 2008 election cycle, saw its stock price drop as much
as 8 percent earlier this month when the Federal Bureau of Prisons canceled plans to house illegal aliens
convicted of crimes. GEO Group expected those inmates to fill a facility it operates in Michigan. An analyst
pointed out at the time that all was not bad for GEO Group because the company's earnings from the
Blackwater facility had not been included in its 2010 forecast. Sen. Alexander, whose amendment would
help Blackwater's profits, also did not include the impact it would have on prison overcrowding when he
forecast the savings privatization would bring to the state. Secretary of Corrections Walt McNeil estimates
the amendment would shutter five prisons and force the department to release about 2,500 inmates early.
"Everybody," Mr. McNeil said, "should be concerned about it." Everybody also should be concerned when
legislators conduct state business under the cover of darkness. Obviously lawmakers should discuss
prison projections and clear up serious disagreements about the numbers before acting. Last year, the
grand jury that indicted former Rep. Sansom condemned the Legislature's clandestine budgeting process
that lets a select few lawmakers make decisions behind closed doors. Sen. Alexander should read that
grand jury report and take notes