Naples Daily News by Arek Sarkissian
October 12, 2017
A state House panel unanimously agreed Thursday to subpoena financial records from a TV production firm hired by Visit Florida, citing concerns about possible fraud in the use of up to $18 million in taxpayer money.
House investigators said Tallahassee-based MAT Media did not respond to repeated requests for information during their investigation into the television contracts, which produced a cooking show with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Members of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee voted unanimously to demand documents from the producer detailing how it spent the money on the Visit Florida contracts.
“During the course of the House investigation, we uncovered these contracts that raised questions about whether the state has been the victim of possible fraud,” Fred Piccolo, House spokesman, said in an interview after the committee meeting. “Although this was not the subject of our original investigation, the Florida House will chase down any fact and follow every lead in order to protect the taxpayers’ money.”
House General Counsel Adam Tanenbaum told committee members he asked Pat Roberts, owner of MAT Media, for information over the phone and in writing.
“What we got was silence,” Tanenbaum said. “We made phone calls and sent letters. Nothing.”
Roberts said in a recent interview that he was not aware of a House investigation. Efforts to reach him Thursday by phone and text message failed. There was no one in the Thursday committee meeting to speak on his behalf.
The contracts former Visit Florida President and CEO Will Seccombe signed with Roberts, which started in 2012 and ended in June, only required proof of production and airings to receive payment.
Piccolo said the inquiry started as a review of contracts made public through stories by the Naples Daily News. Roberts’ decision to ignore House staff members caused them to become even more concerned about where the money went, Piccolo said.
Tanenbaum also told the committee that Roberts collected between $10 million and $18 million for the show, which is different than the $11.6 million identified in documents Visit Florida provided in response to public records requests from the Daily News. [READ MORE]