Which of These Stories Will Get the Most Play? We’re Betting on the Third One

Three huge news stories greeted Floridians this morning.

First we found out what Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) was doing up in Washington all this time. We knew he wasn’t involved with efforts to benefit Florida but we weren’t sure how he was filling the time, other than chairing the Republican National Committee. Now, thanks to Scott Hiaasen at the Miami Herald, we know.

Both the current and future occupants of Florida’s junior Senate seat are corrupt, partisan double-dealers who have made personal fortunes helping themselves to public money

Sen. Mel Martinez’s office repeatedly intervened in a 2007 legal dispute between the Defense Department and a company owned by a top Republican fundraiser who is now at the center of a campaign-finance investigation…

In a series of phone calls and e-mails, a Martinez aide urged Pentagon contract officers to seek a “fair resolution” to $14 million in contract claims sought by the International Oil Trading Co., a fuel-supply company co-owned by Harry Sargeant III of Boca Raton.

[IOTC is one of the top fuel suppliers to American forces in Iraq, earning more than $1.4 billion, records show. Following a congressional inquiry last year, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., accused Sargeant’s company of “war profiteering” and asked the Pentagon to investigate IOTC’s contracts.]

At one point, Pentagon officials told the senator’s office it was “not appropriate” to discuss any settlements while the company’s lawsuit was pending in court, records show.

As Martinez’s staffer was lobbying the Pentagon, Sargeant and his wife donated $50,000 to the Republican National Committee — then headed by Martinez. At the time, Sargeant was the finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida…

Sargeant’s company ultimately received $3.2 million from the Defense Department — settling claims the Pentagon had initially denied entirely.

Sargeant’s name might ring a bell.

Sargeant gained notoriety last year as a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whose campaign returned $50,000 in suspicious donations solicited by a Sargeant business partner. In February, an employee of a Sargeant company was indicted on federal charges of funneling illegal contributions to several candidates, including McCain and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — a college buddy of Sargeant’s.

The employee, Ala’a al-Ali, is accused of using straw donors in California to steer about $55,000 in illegal contributions to candidates.

Speaking of buddies of Gov. Charlie Crist, here’s newsflash number two, again courtesy of the Miami Herald. After Mel Martinez announced he wanted to return to private life (and before we knew how much more profitable it could be for him), Crist chose his BFF and former chief of staff George LeMieux to replace him. The previously behind-the-scenes string-puller is in the open, and it turns out George has been…industrious.

  • The law firm [of Gunster Yoakley], chaired by LeMieux, helped foreign workers get visas last fall to help build a high-rise hotel and condos in Miami, depriving dozens of Florida workers of jobs at a time of rising unemployment. CBS4 News in Miami first reported the law firm’s efforts, which included persuading the U.S. State Department that the Mexican workers had special skills that Americans didn’t…
  • While serving as Crist’s chief of staff in 2007, LeMieux helped secretly negotiate a lucrative gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court as unconstitutional…LeMieux recently helped negotiate a second compact that the Legislature will consider this fall…
  • Two weeks before LeMieux left Crist’s office, Gunster Yoakley landed a $500,000 contract representing the state Department of Transportation on two matters. DOT general counsel Alexis Yarbrough, who signed the contract on Dec. 20, 2007, is the wife of Shane Strum, a deputy chief of staff who reported to LeMieux when he worked for Crist…
  • After leaving Crist’s office in December 2007, LeMieux earned about $150,000 over a 13-month period as an adviser to state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, a lucrative sideline that has led some to label LeMieux a “political consultant.” He will not discuss what he did to earn that money, which was paid from the party’s federal account to his firm, MTC Strategies (named after his sons Max, Taylor, and Chase).
  • For the past 15 years, West Palm Beach-based Gunster Yoakley has represented U.S. Sugar Corp., which for months negotiated with Crist’s office to sell much of its land to the state and federal government to clean up polluted runoff in the Everglades. LeMieux said he avoided any involvement in the U.S. Sugar deal while working for Crist or afterward. The state’s chief negotiator was Eric Eikenberg, a LeMieux protege who succeeded him as chief of staff.

To sum up: both the current and future occupants of Florida’s junior Senate seat are corrupt, partisan double-dealers who have made personal fortunes helping themselves to public money while espousing the Republican line about saving taxpayers from government waste by letting old folks eat cat food.

* Sigh *

And the third piece of earth-shattering news, you ask?

Van Jones, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs, was forced to resign after it was discovered that some years ago he signed an online petition asking for an investigation into whether the Bush Administration (which allowed members of the bin Laden family to fly home after grounding all air travel) had anything to do with the events of 9/11.

One comment

  • joesdaughter
    September 7, 2009 - 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, I fear, Mr. Beck will trump most any real news stories – for several days.

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