Marco Rubio’s Prison Problem

As the FBI investigates $120 million in subsidies for a new private prison in Florida, the new U.S. senator could end up in the hot seat over close ties to prison operator Geo Group.

Beau Hodai

Newly elected U.S. Senator Marco Rubio delivers a speech during his 'Reclaim America Victory Celebration' at the Biltmore Hotel on November 2, 2010 in Coral Gables, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Jan­u­ary 5, new­ly elect­ed U.S. Sen­a­tor Mar­co Rubio (R‑Fla.) was sworn into office in Wash­ing­ton D.C. But the for­mer speak­er of the Flori­da House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has some unfin­ished busi­ness back home.

investigations into members of the Florida Republican Party, as well into party donors, have resulted in multiple indictments.

Rubio – as well as oth­er state GOP law­mak­ers and par­ty con­trib­u­tors – are cur­rent­ly the like­ly sub­jects of mul­ti­ple wide-rang­ing state and fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions con­duct­ed by the FBI and the Flori­da Depart­ment of Law Enforce­ment (FDLE) into improp­er use of cred­it cards issued by the Repub­li­can Par­ty of Flori­da, as well as tax eva­sion and improp­er bud­getary appropriations. 

Some of the leg­isla­tive actions report­ed­ly being inves­ti­gat­ed by fed­er­al author­i­ties are those that led to the devel­op­ment of the state’s largest pri­vate prison, the Black­wa­ter Riv­er Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty (CF), which opened its gates for oper­a­tion in Novem­ber 2010. The prison was designed and is oper­at­ed by Flori­da-based Geo Group, the nation’s sec­ond-largest pri­vate prison operator.

To date, inves­ti­ga­tions into mem­bers of the Flori­da Repub­li­can Par­ty, as well into par­ty donors, have result­ed in mul­ti­ple indict­ments. On Novem­ber 2, 2010- elec­tion day – fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors sub­poe­naed the party’s finan­cial records. 

Per­haps the most notable indi­vid­ual charged to date is for­mer Rep. Ray San­som (R‑Destin), who while serv­ing as Rubio’s bud­get chief insert­ed lan­guage into the Florida’s 2008 – 2009 bud­get for what was to become Black­wa­ter CF.

While San­som has not yet been indict­ed or offi­cial­ly charged with any wrong­do­ing in rela­tion to Black­wa­ter prison’s devel­op­ment, in Feb­ru­ary 2010, while serv­ing as suc­ces­sor to Speak­er Rubio, he resigned amid crim­i­nal and ethics inves­ti­ga­tions. San­som alleged­ly fal­si­fied the 2007 – 2008 bud­get by insert­ing a $6 mil­lion appro­pri­a­tion for the con­struc­tion of an air­craft hangar for Jay Odom, a Des­tin busi­ness­man and promi­nent Flori­da Repub­li­can Par­ty contributor. 

Indict­ed on charges of lying to a grand jury, offi­cial mis­con­duct, grand theft and con­spir­a­cy in rela­tion to the Odom case, San­som is cur­rent­ly await­ing trial.

Geo’s PAC spending

On March 30, 2010, Elva McCaig, a nurse employed at the Flori­da Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions’ (FDOC) San­ta Rosa Cor­rec­tion­al Insti­tute, and trea­sur­er of Nurs­es Behind the Gate, a prison nurse advo­ca­cy group, wrote a let­ter addressed to U.S. Attor­ney for the North­ern Dis­trict of Flori­da Thomas Kir­win and State Attor­ney for Florida’s Sec­ond Judi­cial Dis­trict Willie Meggs.

The let­ter laid out McCaig’s con­cerns that the devel­op­ment of Black­wa­ter CF was yet anoth­er leg­isla­tive­ly-man­dat­ed hand­out to yet anoth­er promi­nent Flori­da Repub­li­can Par­ty con­trib­u­tor, Geo Group. Geo con­sis­tent­ly reports annu­al rev­enue in excess of one bil­lion dol­lars – all of which it earns through state, coun­ty and fed­er­al con­tracts for the deten­tion of both crim­i­nal offend­ers and immi­grant detainees.

Indeed, Geo is a top Flori­da Repub­li­can Par­ty con­trib­u­tor; through two polit­i­cal action com­mit­tees (PACs), Flori­da Geo Group, Inc. PAC and Geo Group, Inc. PAC, the cor­po­ra­tion gave $85,000 to the Repub­li­can Par­ty of Flori­da from 2006 through 2009, along with tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in addi­tion­al con­tri­bu­tions to oth­er state Repub­li­can Par­ty PACs and cam­paigns of indi­vid­ual Repub­li­can candidates. 

It is also worth not­ing that from 2005 through 2010, Geo, through its PACs, dis­pensed an addi­tion­al $15,000 to the Nation­al Repub­li­can Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, an addi­tion­al $32,000 to the Nation­al Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­r­i­al Com­mit­tee, and an addi­tion­al $10,000 over 2009 and 2010 direct­ly to the Mar­co Rubio for U.S. Sen­ate PAC.

Geo’s PAC spend­ing, how­ev­er, is not the lim­it of their appre­ci­a­tion shown to Rubio.

On Sep­tem­ber 13, 2010, sev­er­al top Geo cor­po­rate exec­u­tives, along with Geo lob­by­ists and sub­con­trac­tors, gave a total of $33,500 in indi­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions to the Flori­da Vic­to­ry Com­mit­tee, a PAC cre­at­ed for the ben­e­fit of three oth­er PACS: Mar­co Rubio for U.S. Sen­ate, the Nation­al Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­r­i­al Com­mit­tee and the Repub­li­can Par­ty of Flori­da. In addi­tion, Geo Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer and founder George Zoley gave Rubio a fur­ther $4,800 in per­son­al con­tri­bu­tions over the course of 2009 and 2010 – half of which Zoley gave to the Rubio cam­paign on Sep­tem­ber 13, 2010 – putting his own per­son­al dis­burse­ments to the Rubio cam­paign for that sin­gle day at $7,400.

McCaig’s let­ter appar­ent­ly con­tained enough salient infor­ma­tion that it sparked the inter­est of fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors. Accord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources in the area, dur­ing the sum­mer of 2010 fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors began mak­ing house calls in San­ta Rosa Coun­ty (home of Black­wa­ter CF) and around the capi­tol build­ings of Tal­la­has­see, ask­ing ques­tions about the ori­gins of Blackwater. 

FBI spokesman Spe­cial Agent Jeff West­cott declined to either con­firm or deny reports of the bureau’s inter­est in Blackwater.

For the rest of this arti­cle, vis­it Beau Hodai’s web­site: DBA Press.

Beau Hodai, a for­mer In These Times Staff Writer, is the founder of DBA Press (dba​press​.com), an online news pub­li­ca­tion and source mate­ri­als archive.
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