Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 1:02pm

Lake Schools Extort Money from Subcontractors

Posted by admin

The best way to describe what’s happening is to start with a letter sent by Austin Pella, Assistant Project Manager of PPI Construction Management (“PPI”), to many of the subcontractors that worked on Lake Minneola High School.

Dear (Contractor Name),

Attached you will find the failed inspection fees we received from the Lake County School Inspection Department related to your scope of work for the Lake High School BBB project.  There is a total of $(amount) in fees due to Lake County Schools.

In order to keep this positive, Lake County Schools has requested that all subcontractors with failed inspections donate their failed inspection fees to Lake Minneola High School.  Please write a donation check to Lake Minneola High School in the amount of your failed inspection fees and mail this check to us.  We will submit your donation check to the School and provide you with confirmation that your inspection fees have been paid.  Because of this being considered a donation, you will be able to use this as a tax deduction. 

The School District has requested that all donation checks be received by 11/18/2011.

If you have any questions, please give me a call.

Thank you,

PPI Construction Management

A local subcontractor, who spoke with our group on the condition of anonymity, said a large final payment on the job was held up by PPI, the project’s construction manager, until this “donation” was made.  He contacted PPI and asked if the back charges could be deducted out of his final payment; he was told that he had to make a “donation.”

Citizens for Better Government, L.L.C. made a public records request (click for records) to the Lake County School District asking for any record relating to PPI and subcontractor donations made to Minneola High School.  Our investigation has produced conflicting information.

In a September 20, 2011, email from Melissa Metz-Moore of the Lake County Schools Facilities Department, Metz-Moore writes, “I have tallied up the fees for failed inspections at High School “BBB” as instructed and the total for all failures is $4800.”

However, a Lake County Schools Report of Monies Collected, dated February 6, 2012, shows 13 subcontractors made “donations” totaling $3,300 to the principal fund.  There is an unexplained $1,600 variance, and – if anything – there should have been more back charges discovered from September 20, 2011, to February 6, 2012.  This indicates money could be missing.

Our group reached out to Chris Patton, communications officer of the Lake County School District, for answers to some very serious questions.

Question: Who at the Lake County School District knew of these “donations,” and who authorized them?

Patton: The department protocol to charge a fine for re-inspections was established   

              in 2005 under Gary Parker, director of Facilities Department.

Question: How long has this practice of forced “donations” being going on?

Patton: Another question you posed Thursday was the contractors on previous 

                    construction jobs of Gray Middle (Allstate) and Sorrento Elementary     


Question: When were the subcontractors paid by PPI, and were they coerced to make a “donation” in order to get their large final payment for the Minneola High project?

Patton: All waivers for this project will be released by CPPI after the job is closed, which is expected in the next 60-90 days.

According to Patton, Parker was the person responsible for this policy of forced “donations,” despite information from others in the school district and Lake Minneola High School.  Even more alarming is that the school district has been practicing this policy regarding its construction projects since 2005.

Mr. Parker, you need to get the tag number of the bus that just ran you over.  Patton also wanted no part of any discussion in which subcontractors were forced to “donate” despite the email from Metz-Moore, which told the PPI group their tallied amount.

Now that you have the facts, let’s break down the problems with these forced “donations:”

  1. Where’s the money?  It sounds like direct unaccountable cash flowed into the schools and was put in a principal slush fund.  What was this money used for?
  2. The back charge discrepancies from September 2011 to February 2012 look very  suspicious.  The amount of back charges should have gone up; instead, it went down – money appears to be missing.
  3. Any back charge money should have been reduced from the construction price of the school.  This was not done, so that impact fee money could be funneled into the operations.  This is yet another example of impact fee abuse, which was noted in the last school district audit.
  4. The school district employed the inspectors who failed the inspections and issued the back charges.  How many failed inspections were legitimate, and why weren’t those back charge dollars used to offset the payroll expenses of the inspectors?
  5. According to our source, hundreds of thousands of dollars were held up in final payments to subcontractors until the back charge checks were written to Lake Minneola High School.  A source close to the matter calls it extortion.
  6. A taxpayer would have to suspend belief to think Parker, the director of facilities for Lake County Schools, was the only person who knew about this slush fund.  Administrators and principals in the upper levels had to know.  Why is Patton so eager to throw Parker under the bus?
  7. The folks at the Internal Revenue Service may get a little concerned to find out these tax deductible “donations” were being made under a ruse.
  8. What is the true number on total “donations” from other construction projects since 2005, and where was that money funneled?
  9. How did the Lake County School District cover up these forced “donations” from state auditors?

These are serious, legitimate questions about this practice, and it concerns us greatly when money is laundered in an effort to divert dollars.  All involved in this matter demonstrate a total disregard for ethics.

Lake County Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Moxley and the school board face a real problem, which could lead to an avalanche of other questionable business practices.  If Dr. Moxley and/or the school board attempt to circle the wagons to cover up these “donations” then they could get tangled in the legal spokes.  We urge the leadership of the Lake County School District to take the following actions:

  • Contact the State of Florida Auditor General’s office and ask for a complete audit of all projects since 2005. Focus on the practice of back charges and money paid directly to the schools from construction and subcontractor companies that directly worked on school projects.
  • Dr. Moxley needs to contact the Florida State Attorney’s office and advise them of the situation with these forced “donations” to determine if a formal independent investigation is needed.
  • The school district needs to notify the Internal Revenue Service of the letter sent from PPI and the circumstances behind the “donations” to ensure no laws were violated.
  • Lake County Schools Facilities Director Parker and Lake County School District Chief Financial Officer Carol MacLeod should be immediately suspended pending an investigation as to where the money went, and if they withheld information from state auditors.
  • The Lake County School District needs to immediately get all subcontractor payment records from PPI to determine if subcontractors were coerced to make “donations” in order to receive final payments for jobs.
  • The Lake County School District should employ an independent arbitrator to interview all subcontractors who worked on district construction projects since 2005. They must ensure other types of “donations” were not required to get work or to receive final payment.  For many years now, our group has been told that subcontractors for the Lake County School District were coerced to make political contributions to school board members in order to get work – this scenario seems probable in the wake of these back charges.

Based on our conversations with subcontractors, these “donations” could be the first exposure of an overall culture of corruption in the Lake County School District.

In Thursday’s The Right Side of the Lake, we summarize the abuse of school impact fees collected by the Lake County School District and the total disregard of proper accountability.  These factors paint a damning picture of school administrators.

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5 Responses to “Lake Schools Extort Money from Subcontractors”

  1. Tin Can living Richard Riker knows everything. Thats why the Tea Baggers and Marilyn Bainter and everything he comes in touch with loses. He bumps those gums without putting that lack of a brain into gear! Do you know how many schools PPI aka CPPI built for Lake Taxpayers? Do you know how much bond money the school boand borrowed to pay for the schools? Do you know how much interest we are paying on this bond debt? Do you know why “they” built schools in all the wrong places with way to many “seats” in some schools and not enought in others?

    No you Don’t!

    So Richard ” let me ask you a question. A horse, a cow and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?” If you can’t answer this question it proves you don’t know ****! Please go and count the Jimmy Conner buses hauling the dope from Willow Street in Zellwood to the Eustis Plaza and leave the hard work of keeping governent accountable to those that are working and paying taxes and spending their own money on websites and such to make this world including Lake County a better place to live. You talk about Obama but you are in fact the very kin of person he loves. A drain on society drawing SS, medicare, medicaid and anythng else you can while taking advantage of anyone and everything you can.

  2. So, it seems the liberal writer of this blog has learned an important lesson from Obamas’ ex-White House Chief Rahm Emanuel who declared, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste, even if you have to manufacture one.” A crisis of $4800 dollars, WOW. He couldn’t even manufacture a crisis of any sizable amount.

    Forced “donations,” really? What this blogger describes in his own words sounds more like penalty fees charged against subcontractors. I don’t see any use of the word “donation” in any communications from the school district, the term was used by PPI. As PPI points out, as a donation it’s tax deductible, so everyone wins. Good deal.

    This blogger obviously doesn’t understand how the construction industry works or who has responsibility for what. Wait a minute, isn’t this bloggers vocation in the construction industry? His lack of understanding seems to cover not only his avocation but also his vocation. He also gets a grade of “F” in math, $4800 minus $1300 does not equal $1600, unless he is using Obama math.

    If he ever showed up at a school board meeting or workshop and sought an answer to anything he wanted to know this blogger could have saved himself some time manufacturing this crisis but it takes a little backbone to face those he wants to accuse, especially when his prime motive is not to inform but rather to satisfy his own self aggrandizement.

  3. PPI Construction Management and Charles Perry Construction Join Forces

    GAINESVILLE, Fla.– In a strategic industry move, longtime contracting affiliates Charles Perry Construction, Inc. (CPC) and PPI Construction Management, Inc. (PPI) have joined forces as Charles Perry Partners, Inc. (CPPI) to become the 4th largest Florida-based general contracting and construction management firm with revenues of $202 million, based on ENR Southeast magazine’s latest survey published May 2010.

    Founded by visionary industry icon Charles R. “Chuck” Perry, and operated separately since 1968 and 1993, respectively, under the ownership of Principals Breck A. Weingart, John V. Carlson, Domenic E. Scorpio and Brian Leslie, the award-winning companies have long shared estimating/cost management staff, with CPC offering general contracting and design-build services and PPI offering construction management services. The companies specialize in commercial, educational, healthcare, governmental and institutional construction, with a client list that includes HCA, (SEE HCA CORPORATE FILING BELOW) the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, University of North Florida, University of South Florida, as well as other colleges, K-12 school districts, and state and local governments.

    The company’s many outstanding projects include: the new $96 million University High School in Volusia County; The Village Retirement Community Expansion; the $50 million Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and SkyBox Expansion; the $42 million University of Central Florida Physical Sciences Building, Phases I and II; the $38 million University of Florida Veterinary Education and Clinical Research Center (Small Animal Hospital); the $25 million University of South Florida Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions; the $11 million Florida Innovation Hub now under way at the University of Florida; and countless others. Also worthy of special note is the $21 million University of Florida Heavener Football Complex, the first LEED Platinum building in the State of Florida and the first LEED Platinum athletic facility in the United States.

    In making the announcement, CPPI CEO and Principal John V. Carlson stated, “Uniting our operations serves to better reflect our statewide industry standing and also unifies the unmatched brand of quality and service we deliver to our clients. Advocating for the best interests of our clients is the basis for our success, and proudly, over 80 percent of our clients are repeat customers.” Carlson added that all projects currently under contract will be seamlessly completed by the original contracted entity, whether CPC or PPI, and that all newly-awarded projects will be constructed by CPPI.

    “Evidencing our commitment to continuous improvement in serving clients second to none,” added CPPI Chairman and Principal Breck A. Weingart, “this move formalizes recent combined efforts by our family of companies that have proven successful across the board. Having test-marketed our combined operations both administratively and in the field,” Weingart continued, “we have further improved our utilization of resources and project team personnel, resulting in complete client satisfaction. As a dynamic company that continues to excel, our new name, CPPI, allows us to market as a single brand to our specialty market segments regardless of project type, location or delivery method. Moving forward, this streamlining allows our team to be even more client-focused and performance-driven, which have become the hallmarks of our success since 1968.”

    Recognized as a powerhouse of innovation, sustainability, craftsmanship and expertise, the company has more than 50 LEED Accredited Professionals as designated by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and has delivered over 35 LEED-Certified projects. Currently with over 150 employees, the company also operates offices in Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa, as well as a new office outside of Athens, Georgia.

    “For more than four decades, the success we have achieved statewide and locally is due in large part to our dedicated employees and our many valued clients, design team members, subcontractors, suppliers and vendors, for whose support we are forever grateful”, concluded Weingart.

    Weingart, a 2008 inductee into the Construction Hall of Fame at the University of Florida’s M.E. Rinker School of Building Construction, began his career at Charles Perry Construction in 1983 after earning his Bachelor of Building Construction degree at the University of Florida. Prominently named Builder of the Year in 2001 and 2004 by the Builders Association of North Central Florida, he has long served as majority owner, President and Principal of Charles Perry Construction as well as a Principal of PPI Construction Management. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of M&S Bank and the Executive Advisory Committee of UF’s M.E. Rinker School of Building Construction, and has served on the Board of Directors of Alachua County Boys & Girls Club.

    Carlson, President of PPI Construction Management, Inc. since 1997, was formerly Director of Facilities Planning at the University of Florida, and earlier in his career served as Community Planner for the City of Gainesville having earned a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Design/Planning from Iowa State University. His many business, civic and community leadership interests include the Wells Fargo Bank Board of Advisors, the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, as well as former chairmanships of the Alachua County Planning Commission, the Gainesville Housing Authority, and numerous others.

    Scorpio, CPPI President and Principal, has been Vice President and Principal of PPI Construction Management since 2001, having earlier joined Charles Perry Construction in 1995. Recipient of the 2006 University of Florida Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, he holds a Master of Building Construction degree from UF’s M.E. Rinker School of Building Construction as well as a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Florida. A LEED BD+C Accredited Professional as designated by the United States Green Building Council, he currently serves on UF’s M.E. Rinker School of Building Construction Executive Committee as well as the Board of Directors of Gateway Bank, the Builders Association of North Central Florida, Alachua County Boys & Girls Club, and others.

    Leslie, CPPI Executive Vice President and Principal, has served as Vice President and Principal of Charles Perry Construction, having joined the company in 1993. He holds a Bachelor of Building Construction degree from the University of Florida’s M.E. Rinker School of Building Construction, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Builders Association of North Central Florida where he also served as President in 2008.

  4. Wow. RSOL taking on the powers that be. Well done. You guys have been fighting the good fight for quite a while. Who needs forensic auditors while we have the RSOL? Keep it up!

  5. Wise Guys says:

    As you can see by the response from Chris Patton PPI is now “CPPI.” If you remember Chris Patton was the Lake County Government spokesman who was fired from the county. He was running around telling everyone if they didn’t take care of him he was going to rat out a bunch of stuff. “The Boss” Bob McKee gave him this job as the school board spokesman so you can figure from that Chris Patton is very knowledgeable about PPI aka CPPI and how they work. You should also be able to figure out that you can’t expect too much truth out of him.

    Remember that PPI was the contractor on the parking garage who painted the arrows in that structure with cheap paint that was worn off in just a few short months. They refused to repaint with FDOT quality road wear worthy paint and we the taxpayers had to pay to have the directional arrows repainted. They also refused to correct some sod problems around the structure without being compensated.

    But still after building McKee and Havill’s office building ($9 mil) the parking garage ($20 mil)
    The courthouse expansion ($who knows that’s top secret?) The jail renovation and the judicial center renovation ($Lord Only Knows!) And of course don’t forget they have the contract to build that useless not needed EOC center that McKee has had on his want list since SOUTH TAVARES CAMPUS IN 2004.Meanwhile just like he did Chris Patton Bob McKee slipped CPPI right into building some school projects also!

    CPPI President – DOMENICO EMILIO SCORPIO – Arrested for the Thanksgiving Day Gator-Seminole SKY BOX FRACUS – His well connected friends pulled some strings the charges evaporated! Video is still floating around out there in the internet! He was able to get those charges dropped but not able to get this TRESPASS WARNING on the UF Campus dropped even though as CPPI president his company is presently building on campus property!

    Case Summary
    Address 35 NORTH MAIN STREET
    City/State/Zip GAINESVILLE, FL 32601

    Additional Fields
    Originating Agency/Jurisdiction UNIVERSITY POLICE DEPARTMENT

    Number 01 1991 CF 004129 A
    Status CLOSED
    Filed 12/10/1991
    Incomplete No

    Agency Code Agency Description Agency # Type Agency #

    Case Parties
    01 1991 CF 004129 A – FELONY Closed – JD
    Name Type Disposition Special

    01 1991 CF 004129 A – FELONY Closed – JD
    16 records found

    File Date Docket Text Amount Amount Due
    07/10/1992 CLOSED CASE
    07/09/1992 NOLLE PROSSED AS TO CNT: : Seq #: 001
    04/09/1992 PRE-TRIAL DIVERSION AS TO CNT: : Seq #: 001
    03/23/1992 PTI DOCKET SET FOR 042292
    02/20/1992 PTI DOCKET SET FOR 031892
    02/11/1992 ARRAIGNMENT SET FOR 031792
    02/11/1992 CAPIAS SERVED
    01/07/1992 CAPIAS ORDERED
    01/07/1992 CAPIAS ISSUED
    12/10/1991 INFORMATION FILED ON CNT : Seq #: 001

    Given the criminal history of the president of CPPI one DOMENICO EMILIO SCORPIO (there is more than shown) it is very easy to see how CPPI could be involved in EXTORTION.
    It’s a way of life for these “wise guys.”

    Oh Yea! That $1600. Bucks you guys were missing in the Lake County Schools Report of Monies Collected, dated February 6, 2012 – That’s Bob McKee’s little 33% fee he gets for running everything Lake County. You don’t think he does that for free do you? Remember those debt service interest payments you were talking about last week? Someone figured them at about 34% interest on the amount of debt.

    Now do you think some numb skulls too poor to leave Lake County and forced to stay there might get their heads back into the daylight and realize they are up to their necks in corruption? I doubt it the people are too dumb to walk and chew gum and these organized criminals know it. They also know nobody has any “nads.” Even worse they know they are untouchable an no matter how hard anyone complains or how much evidence people can produce one phone call from******* to *******and it all disappears just like it never happened.

    Ok, for all you rational people out there; all both of you! Why in the world would a contractor build a $45 Million project and take the time to demand the sub-contractors pay the sum total amount of $4800. for such a stupid scheme as this? Just three big shots from CPPI spend more on coffee and donuts while inspecting the progress than that. They could have worte it off too!

    Before any legitimate sub ever does any work for CPPI again they should do just a smidgen of homework on them. They are connected and using those connections they are worming their way into every local government that has the corruption in place to help them pull of their schemes. I guess you know by now Lake County was a perfect incubator for the care and propagation of their organization.

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