Guest Column: The $9.5 Million Toppino Contracts FKAA Lied About

Issue 115 Acevedo FKAA for web

by Margaret Blank…….

Getting information from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) is like pulling teeth sometimes. Good thing I don’t mind pulling teeth.

A while back, I asked the FKAA to provide a list of subcontractors on all it’s current projects. It is standard practice to require a contractor to provide a list of subcontractors. I got back this response saying that their contract documents include no such requirement. That is so bizarre, I felt compelled to dig deeper.

I read through the contract documents for the Cudjoe Regional projects. It turns out that not only does the FKAA require a list of subcontractors, but they also track local business participation. That means that on these projects, the FKAA went beyond the standard requirement. They required much more than a mere list.

They demanded to know how much the local businesses were being paid, and wanted to ensure a minimum percentage. My purpose is not to dispute that approach, although it can be problematic. My purpose is to demonstrate that the FKAA knew very well how much the Toppino companies were earning off the Cudjoe Regional project. They lied when they said they didn’t require a list of subcontractors. Sadly, I’m zero percent shocked by this.

The clearest language was contained in the Cudjoe Regional Outer Islands contract, and so I sent a public records request for that project in particular. This time I got a substantive, credible-seeming answer. It turns out that the two Toppino companies that I’m aware of (Charley Toppino & Sons and Monroe Concrete) will earn $9.5 million on this project alone. Let’s not forget there are two other Cudjoe Regional projects.

As an appointed board member, Richard Toppino will have influence over these construction projects – whether a formal vote is called for or not. How does an inspector enforce requirements when he knows the company owner is on the board? How does an accountant call out a financial irregularity when she knows the company owner is on the board? Toppino’s mere presence on the board has a chilling effect on staff. They don’t want to get on the bad side of a board member if they want to keep their job.

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. I’m flabbergasted that Toppino was appointed. I’ve always been a fan of Rick Scott, but this appointment is so questionable I am forced to put away my fandom. I am hoping that the governor will make this right. We’ll just have to wait and see.

This information also casts much shade on the FKAA’s attempt to downplay the extent to which the Toppino companies benefit from these projects. In this KeysNews article, the FKAA’s Executive Director, Kirk Zuelch claimed that Toppino was only paid $960,000 or so in the past five years. Zuelch was off by about $10 million. Oops! Those subcontracts make a big difference, don’t they? Maybe Zuelch could have checked into that before making such a misleading claim.

By the way, I didn’t even ask for the information on the other two projects. But I will. Of course, I will let you know how it goes.


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15 thoughts on “Guest Column: The $9.5 Million Toppino Contracts FKAA Lied About

  1. Nice work, Margaret!
    Deceit has become the norm at FKAA. Except possibly for Deanna, all of the responders to the information request knew very well that subcontractors are required to be listed.
    That has not stopped unlicensed contractors from working on FKAA projects. In fact, a large contract was awarded directly to an unlicensed out of state contractor a few years ago, who then hired an unlicensed out of state subcontractor. FKAA management was made aware, but ignored the situation. Why?
    It is totally unbelievable that the responses to Margaret’s request were not known to be false when written. Think about it…
    Top FKAA executives are not aware that subcontractors must be listed on the bid documents?
    Do not one or more of these executives attend bid openings where that specific requirement is checked for compliance before the bid is accepted for consideration?
    Is FKAA not responsible to ensure compliance with Davis-Bacon minimum wage requirements on projects using federal funds? This requirement is specified on all three Cudjoe sewer projects, and although interviews were done with subcontractor personnel that determined many were NOT paid the required Federal wage minimum, the requirement was not enforced and these employees were left underpaid. That is money not available to be spent by the workers locally, so the local economy is adversely affected. There was also no enforcement of personnel being legally entitled to work in this country. One of the major contractors reportedly had two payrolls- one in cash and one on the books. The workers on cash might work every bit as hard as those on the books, but they are not paying income tax, medicare, and social security. Furthermore, the employer is not required to pay the “employer contribution” portion of payroll taxes, nor Workers Comp Insurance for these “invisible” employees. That means that the rest of us taxpayers have to make up the difference for the basics of government, and there is less returned to fund the next project. I especially enjoyed the story about the foreman who was arrested for DUI. Instead of prosecution, he was deported, but was back on the job in 2 weeks.
    In my opinion, that this sort of thing is allowed to continue on multi-million dollar publicly-funded projects indicates gross mismanagement at FKAA. And falsified answers to public information requests seems simply malfeasant and a betrayal of the public trust. Again.
    I doubt we can count on Richard Toppino to remedy any of this because another Bubba on the Board will only add to the problem as I see it. That our State legislators refused to honor the overwhelmingly approved public referendum to have the FKAA board elected is further cause for reflection.” Malfeasance reigns.”

    1. Wow!

      Your comment about Davis-Bacon makes me wonder about their EPA grant. They had a $3.8 million grant to install and monitor onsite systems. But they’ve been steadily converting everything to central whether it makes financial sense or not. I wonder if they’re wanting to forgo the grant to avoid federal requirements.

      Something to check into.

  2. Kind-a sounds like your report on the Dean voting problem with the video of the lady lawyer and the
    commissioners Lopez and Weekly…Is Dean on that board also? He seems to be on everything else.
    How soon people forget !!!

  3. Dec 11 in blue Paper

    2.If I’m connecting the dots correctly, Mr. Toppino’s father, Frank Toppino, serves on the Key West Housing Authority board with Bob Dean, who is currently an FKAA board member. Frank Toppino is also an officer at Charley Toppino & Sons. Mr. Dean’s residency status has recently been called into question. The matter has supposedly been forwarded to the governor’s office for review.

    1. I actually submitted a public record request to the governor’s office asking for the paperwork that was supposed to have been sent to them by Kirk Zuelch. The gov’s office said they didn’t have it. I asked Feldman for it and forwarded it to the governor’s office. Haven’t heard anything since. The Dean residency matter seems to have gone down the memory hole.

  4. Sounds like dealing with FKAA is a lot like dealing with the School District. They won’t hesitate to lie when they don’t want you to know something. However, as you demonstrated, they always get caught. Makes you wonder why they even try.

      1. There is no risk for the Bubbas. Even if they are caught, there are no consequences other than a week or two’s inconvenience. On the upside for them is that they’ll have another funny story to tell.

  5. zuelch needs to do ‘hard time’ …then maybe things would change for the better and the rate payer of monthly bills would be charged fairly. even as states attorney zuelch was abusive and needed some ‘hard time’ there also especially in his loosing criminal prosecution of the ‘duck’s case’. RIH

  6. Margaret,

    Extraordinary work…Cogent, well-written and beautifully put together. Thank you…

    A related issue appearing in the news:

    DETROIT (AP) — The needs of Flint, Michigan, “far exceed the state’s capability,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a request for a federal disaster declaration and millions of dollars that could pay for clean water, filters and cartridges for residents whose water system has been contaminated by lead.

    Snyder’s letter to President Barack Obama paints a bleak picture of the troubled city, describing Flint as an “impoverished area” that has been overwhelmed by the release of lead from old pipes — the result of using the Flint River as the city’s drinking water for 18 months. Nearly 60 percent of residents get food stamps, and median household income is 50 percent less than the statewide figure, according to Snyder’s letter.

    “Mistrust in government is at a heightened level,” Snyder, a Republican, said in a request dated Thursday and released to The Associated Press.

    The application seeks help from all available federal programs. Snyder said 90 days of clean drinking water could cost $10.3 million, and home filters, filter cartridges and testing kits could cost $31 million over a year.

    Michigan Nation Guard Sgt. Steve Kiger, left, of Harrison, Mich., stacks cases of drinking water with Red Cross …

    “The governor has made a request through the formal process, and that’s a request that we’ll consider expeditiously,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday.

    The tap water in Flint, population 99,000, became contaminated after the city in 2014 switched its water supply to the Flint River while a pipeline to Lake Huron is under construction. The corrosive water lacked adequate treatment and caused lead to leach from old pipes in homes, schools and elsewhere.

    Flint returned to the Detroit system in October, after elevated lead levels were discovered in children, and could tap into the new pipeline by summer. But officials remain concerned that damage to the pipes could allow them to continue leaching lead. Exposure to lead can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children as well as kidney ailments in adults.

    Everyone is urged to get a free filter. The National Guard is distributing water, filters and other supplies.

    Over the long term, replacing old lead service lines at Flint homes and other private properties could cost $54 million, the governor told the president.

    “The state has responded, but the response needs far exceed the state’s capability,” Snyder said.

    Separately, at least 10 people have died from Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, due to the Legionella bacteria, although state and local health officials say they can’t make a definitive connection to the water.

    “We’re finally getting the attention that we need and deserve. For so long, our voices have gone unheard,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in response to Snyder’s request for federal disaster aid.

    A state task force recently faulted Snyder’s Department of Environmental Quality for not requiring Flint to treat the river water for corrosion and for its derisive response to the public’s fears. The head of the department and his spokesman resigned.

    State Attorney General Bill Schuette said Friday that his office was investigating if any laws were broken. He declined to elaborate on the scope of the probe. The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating.

    1. That situation in Flint is horrible, isn’t it? I cannot imagine why the governor would sit on this for so long. It is an absolute public health emergency. Can’t even get my head around it.

      Thanks for the kind comments. The whole point of the blog is to dig up verifiable facts and cut through the bs. There’s no way to make smart decisions without getting down to the truth of things. The way things are now, it’s very, very difficult for your average citizen in the Keys to figure out what’s really going on. There’s so much soothing clap trap out there. People either have to just accept what they’re told or try to fill in the blanks with very little accurate information. Not good.

      The county and the fkaa thrive on misinformation. That’s why Cudjoe Regional is a $200 million project instead of a $150 million project like it should have been. And that is why they are forcing an excessive contribution from Key Largo. Somebody has to pay for all this. They’re throwing away a lot of taxpayer money that is needed for other priorities.

  7. Margaret,

    Your courageous and invaluable insight into this ‘dark & troubled’ concern, is providing “The Blue’s” audience with scarce and treasured information that may save their lives.

    Evil is, as evil does. Bringing the darkness to light will forever change this ‘destructive paradigm’.

    Thank you ever so much for pressing forward, in pursuit of an accountable reckoning that will uncover the facts.

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