TALLAHASSEE — State House candidate Mike Miller of Winter Park was involved in helping save the contract of a company whose owners were convicted of fraud in federal court in a case arising from foreign language training at MacDill Air Force Base.
MiLanguages was a firm started by Eduardo Blanchet and Daniel Guillan as a way to secure a $100 million small business contract they were not eligible to bid for, according to a 2012 news release from the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa announcing their three-year federal prison sentences.
A separate Orlando-based company owned by the two had already secured a $50 million contract in 2002 to teach foreign languages at MacDill. That contract stipulated that companies related to the first firm were not eligible for additional small business contracts.
To get around that, Blanchet and Guillan formed MiLanguages and established “sham” ownership — altering corporate records and state filings, the indictment alleged — but maintained financial and day-to-day control.
Along with the prison sentences, the court ordered that the two had to return nearly $11 million to the federal government.
One month before the June 2011 indictment was unsealed, the company hired Washington-based lobbying firm Jenkins Hill Consulting to help them keep the contracts. Their business was steered toward the firm by Miller, who helped Jenkins Hill with “business development” from Central Florida.
Miller is running against Mo Pearson in the Republican primary for House District 47 in central Florida. It’s one of only a handful of contentious GOP primaries in the race for Florida Legislature. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Linda Stewart.
Miller, who works as director of athletics marketing at private Rollins College, said he knew nothing about MiLanguages but did refer them to Jenkins Hill after he was contacted by former state Rep. Allen Trovillion, R-Winter Park.
“He asked if I knew anyone that had a federal lobbyist,” Miller said. “I told him I did business development for them.”
Jenkins Hill was brought in for one reason: to save the contract a federal court later found the company lied to obtain.
“The gentlemen that owned the company and had been involved for a number of years got indicted,” Scott Barnhart, a partner with Jenkins Hill, said in an interview Wednesday. “The company turned to us to and another law firm to help them keep the contracts.”
MiLanguages held the contract until late 2013 after Jenkins Hill helped it secure an extension in 2012. State records showed the company dissolved in September 2013.
At one point, on its website, MiLanguages said it was providing nearly 400,000 hours of classroom instruction annually to more than 3,000 government students as well as private industry.
Barnhart said MiLanguages had done good work teaching foreign language to special operations troops across the globe before the fraud was uncovered, which is why the contract was extended. MacDill is home to the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command.
Barnhart said Jenkins Hill worked with U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
“We mostly worked with the investigative committees on the House and Senate sides trying to get them to continue the contract,” he said.
Because he referred MiLanguages to Jenkins Hill, the lobbying firm listed Miller as a federal lobbyist on May 2011 registration forms. Miller says he did not know he was ever registered as a lobbyist until contacted by the Tribune/Scripps Capitol Bureau.
“I contacted them and they told me I was registered out of an abundance of caution,” Miller said during an interview Thursday.
Barnhart confirmed that the company’s general counsel registered Miller out of an “abundance of caution.” The company filed 15 registration forms related to work with MiLanguages from 2011-2013 and Miller was only listed on one.