In case you need reminding why WTSP-TV reporter (and former Shadow of the Stadium blogger) Noah Pransky is the best, he spent two years looking into Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan’s behind-closed-doors talks with Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg on a new stadium deal — including following him around for an entire day while Hagan refused to answer questions — and yesterday came up with this:
However, the secret details of where Hagan and the Rays were planning to put a new stadium were not secret to every member of the public – one key developer was given access to the information that should have been available to all. Hagan had a county staffer draw up maps of the exact location in Ybor City, where the team is now campaigning to put the stadium, as far back as 2016.
The developer used that information to buy land at a discounted rate, put himself in position to profit off the new stadium announcement, then became a significant contributor to Commissioner Hagan’s re-election campaign. At no time were Hagan’s fellow commissioners – or members of the public who requested the public documents – provided the maps.
That is … holy crap, that is borderline solicitation of bribes, if Hagan actually leaked the information to the developer — Darryl Shaw, who got the information via Hagan’s paid consultant, Irwin Raij — with the intention of getting kickbacks from Shaw’s profit on the stadium land via Hagan’s campaign fund. And even if Hagan was just doing a favor for a friend and didn’t expect to get several thousand dollars in his campaign tip jar as a result, it’s an extraordinarily dereliction of public duty, and one that could conceivably result in criminal charges:
Ben Wilcox, research director for watchdog group Integrity Florida, says ethics violations are civil in nature and punishable with fines of up to $10,000. However, if law enforcement finds evidence of a quid pro quo where favors were exchanged, criminal corruption charges could follow.
“This should be thoroughly investigated,” Wilcox said. “The public’s money is being used to facilitate this deal, and for the public to have confidence their money is being used above-board, there needs to be complete transparency.”
Hagan has also received campaign checks from Sternberg and Major League Baseball officials, Pransky has previously reported. Even if all this isn’t technically illegal, hiding information from the public and your fellow commissioners while giving it to a pal who could turn a profit on it is technically icky, and should be prosecuted to the fullest available extent of our ridicule.