TALLAHASSEE — State Reps. Jamie Grant and Ben Albritton were cleared Wednesday of ethics violations regarding their involvement in a project to bring high-tech jobs to a poor, rural Florida county.
The state Commission on Ethics found no probable cause that the lawmakers misused their elected position to benefit themselves in the Hardee County development project, according to a news release.
Grant is a Republican who represents eastern Pinellas County and northwest Hillsborough County in the Florida House of Representatives. Albritton, a Wauchula Republican, represents DeSoto and Hardee counties and part of Polk County.
The commission also dismissed a complaint against Hardee County Commissioner Sue Birge that she had “misused her position to … benefit herself and her son and that she voted on matters that inured to her son’s special private gain.”
Commissioners found no probable cause in that case either. Probable cause means it is more likely than not that a violation of law has occurred.
The matter grew out of local complaints that Grant used county economic development grant money, funded by phosphate mining fees from a private company, instead of private venture capital.
The grant money funded his start-up company, LifeSync Technologies.
That company eventually produced CareSync, a Web and mobile application that lets people store and control their medical records online.
The commission also cleared Grant of an allegation he had a conflict of interest when he voted on legislation that related to excise taxes on phosphate mining.
Grant, 31, is a Stetson Law graduate and tech entrepreneur.
“I welcomed the investigation and fully expected this finding,” Grant told Tribune/Scripps in a telephone interview. “Nobody did anything but for the benefit of Hardee County and for health care as a whole.”
Albritton could not be reached at his district office Wednesday.
Birge, also a Republican, said in an email to Tribune/Scripps that she was “relieved that the Ethics Commission has brought these questions to a close.”
“Citizens in Hardee County can know that an independent set of eyes looked at the complaint and found no basis for it,” she said. “I’m blessed to serve our county. This is where I have invested my life and raised my family. I want us to move forward together and get back to the business of improving this community.”
County officials put a total of about $5 million into the economic development project. Grant received about $70,000 in salary from that pool of funds, records show.
LifeSync Technologies received its first $2 million in funding in October 2011.
Grant’s start-up agreed to oversee development of what would be called the TechRiver Center, located in the county’s former Peace River Electric Cooperative building, and to develop CareSync there.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement included allegations of wrongdoing against Grant in its investigation into Hardee County’s Industrial Development Authority.
The department closed its nearly two-year-long inquiry last November, saying “no sustainable criminal allegation was established,” according to an 83-page investigative report Tribune/Scripps obtained through a public-records request.
The local State Attorney’s Office had closed its own investigation in October 2012, finding no fraud or criminal activity.
Grant later sold his firm to Continuum Labs, a Wesley Chapel-based application developer, and now works as a consultant to his former company.
Continuum Labs previously had hired relatives of Birge, authority Chairman Jim See and county Economic Development Coordinator Sarah Pelham, according to reports.
Ben Albritton’s brother, Wauchula insurance agent Joe Albritton, was a member of the Hardee authority’s board, which awarded the grant.
Albritton declared a conflict of interest and abstained from voting on the grant because he thought he would later invest in CareSync, Grant told the Tampa Tribune in May.
Both Albritton brothers denied last year they had any financial or ownership interest in Grant’s company, which Grant confirmed at the time.