The Florida Times-Union
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Altered documents filed with Jacksonville City Hall in 2006 helped lieutenant governor candidate Jennifer Carroll's consulting firm appear eligible for a city program that annually gives out tens of millions of dollars in city contracts to small businesses, a Florida Times-Union investigation has found.
Carroll, 51, is the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott. Before that, she was a member of the Florida House, from Clay County, for seven years.
When the city reviewed Carroll's application for the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business program, it included lease documents that were altered to show her firm was eligible because it had a Duval County address. That address belonged to an empty office space.
Carroll also submitted a lease in 2006 that showed her business had been at that address since 2002. She told the Times-Union on Friday night that the lease was created in 2006 during the time she was applying for the program.
Ultimately, her consulting firm, JC and 3N, was approved for the program from early 2007 until May. The company never tried to obtain city contracts.
The altered documents included a letter apparently showing that Carroll's firm had been subleasing space in a Duval County office park. That letter was dated Feb. 17, 2005, eight months before the office complex being sold to its current owners. Those owners were listed as signees on the February 2005 letter.
The Times-Union first contacted a Carroll spokeswoman about this story Tuesday. Carroll called the Times-Union on Friday and gave a brief interview. When asked about specifics of the altered documents and her company's residency, she said she could not answer in-depth questions until she saw documents related to the case. After documents were e-mailed to her on Friday afternoon, she issued a statement that did not address the letter.
In 2006, the review of applications for the program was handled by the city's Equal Business Opportunity Division. That department was dismantled in June amid allegations that its top staffers, including former head Ivy Johnson, forged documents.
When reached briefly Friday, Johnson, who approved Carroll's application, said she knew Carroll but would not say if they were friends. She also said she was unaware of issues surrounding the altered documents.
To qualify for the program, which in 2009 alone gave out $69 million in city contracts, a non-Duval County resident has to have a company established in Duval County for three years and be a resident of a surrounding county. Carroll lives in Clay County, which neighbors Duval.
In addition, the Times-Union review of nearly 300 documents related to JC and 3N's application for the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business program found:
A letter dated "8/22/2006'' from the owners of Crescent Hill Office Park, where Carroll claimed her business was located, said that "we will approve the sublease'' between Carroll's company and another firm leasing space in the park. The letter was provided by Glenn Forhan, owner of Crescent Hill, after he was contacted by the Times-Union.
A letter dated “February 17, 2005'' on file with the city is almost identical to Forhan's original, with a few significant exceptions. Along with the different date, it states that Crescent Hill "approved the continuation of the sublease'' with the other firm, Rivers Constructors. The letter on file with Crescent Hill does not include the word “continuation.''
"As far as I know, there was no one subleasing with Rivers before the (August 2006) letter,'' Forhan said.
The letter on file with the city lists Glenn Forhan and his wife, Tamara, as signees. The couple did not own the office park until Jan. 1, 2006, and thus could not have approved a sublease in February 2005.
A 2002 sublease agreement given to the city as more evidence that Carroll's firm was eligible for the program includes the name JC and 3N, which was not the legal name of the company then. State records show the company officially changed its name from Carroll and Carroll Consulting to JC and 3N on Feb. 17, 2005, the same date listed on the altered letter. Carroll said she began renting in 2002 when the company was Carroll and Carroll Consulting, but did not have a formal sublease. In a statement, she said Johnson told her it would be all right to have a lease that "showed the entire rental term.''
Carroll said though the name was not official, her company at the time had been using the JC and 3N name, which is why it was listed on the sublease.
Forhan said at the time he was approached about the sublease, Jennifer Rivers, president of Rivers Constructors, told him that Carroll was only going to be setting up an address to accept mail and not doing regular business from the location.
Forhan is a dentist who has financially supported GOP candidates in the past, including John Thrasher and Stephen Wise when they were members of the Florida House.
Johnson, now being investigated by the FBI, was directly involved with the review of Carroll's application, documents show.
After officials reviewing Carroll's application discovered an empty office where both Carroll and Rivers claimed to run their businesses, they "presented findings to Ivy Johnson,'' according to a report outlining the 49-day review of Carroll's application.
Carroll denies that the specific office she used was empty.
"How would they know?'' she asked on Friday. “I leased an office inside another office. How could they see it?''
Those red flags caused Johnson to recommend that Carroll withdraw her application, which she did on Aug. 16, 2006, documents indicate. The denial warning is not uncommon.
"If it goes to denial, they have to wait another year to reapply,'' explained Devin Reed, director of the city's Department of Central Operations.
Roughly a month after she withdrew her application, Carroll reapplied _ and 20 days later Johnson approved her for the program.
Reed, who was not involved with the application process in 2006, said because the original file is returned to the applicant, it is impossible to tell what changes were made from the original application.
"I could not find any documentation in the file to explain what happened,'' he said after reviewing the file at the Times-Union's request.
He called it “compelling'' that there was no furniture in the office space, and said it should have sparked further investigation, which never happened.
Johnson said she could not confirm or deny anything related to Carroll's company because she did not have the documents. After she was sent copies, she sent an e-mail defending her department's handling of the case.
"In addition to an audit of the documents submitted for certification, a site visit was also conducted,'' she wrote.
Since 2006, when an address listed as JC and 3N led city officials to an empty office, little has changed.
The company has moved, but its listed address, less than three miles from its earlier Duval location, belongs to an office owned by Jennifer Rivers, according to county records.
The building has a blue and white “Rivers Constructors, Inc. -Construction Services of Orange Park, Inc.'' sign outside the door, but no indication that JC and 3N is located there.
A Times-Union reporter went to the office on four separate occasions, as recently as Friday, and the door was locked and the lights off. Neighbors said they rarely see people in the building, and believe no regular business occurred there.
"I every once and a while see a young lady come there. It's never more than once a week,'' said Julia Sisk, a broker with Continental Reality of Jax Inc., which shares a building with Rivers Constructors.
Rivers Constructors also lists a Clay County address, which includes a 2,900-square-foot building. When a reporter visited the site this week, there were cars in the parking lot, and a large truck was making a water delivery.
Rivers has received three contracts worth $836,123 since 2009 from the program, records show. The largest was $782,886 for renovation on the city-owned Clanzel Brown Community Center.
The city's Reed said his department would look into the validity of Rivers' business locations.
"This is something we need to investigate. This is an issue this person has indicated to us that this is their headquarters from all of the evidence that is coming forward it may not be,'' he said Thursday.
Because Carroll's company is no longer in the program, he was not sure if she could face any ramifications from the city.
As part of her application, Carroll had to provide invoices for four of the largest projects her firm had completed over a two-year period. The biggest invoice was $4,685 for "computer consulting'' for E. Vaughn Rivers Inc. That company, state records show, is owned by the same people who own Rivers Construction. This year, Carroll also listed Allied Veterans of the World Inc. on the financial disclosure report she filed with the state.
Her firm's work ranged from “procurement'' to “marketing and public relations.''