Amid concerns about the company founder, the state will consider bids from competitors.
TALLAHASSEE - A South Florida technology company founded by a former drug smuggler no longer has a lock on a $1.6-million contract to develop an antiterrorism network.
Three other technology companies want the business and have submitted proposals to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
On Aug. 1 FDLE indicated it was entering into a $1.6-million no-bid deal with Seisint Inc., a Boca Raton company that has been given access to the state law enforcement agency to develop Matrix, a multistate network. Additional federal money is expected to take the cost of the system to more than $8-million.
New proposals have come from Knowledge Computing Corp., Tucson, Ariz., EWA Government Services Inc., Chantilly, Va.; and Logic Pros, LLC, Sarasota. Two of the companies have extensive contracts with other government agencies.
Meanwhile, officials at FDLE are investigating the background of Hank Asher, founder of Seisint and other technology companies. Asher was identified as a pilot and former smuggler in several drug smuggling cases prosecuted in the mid-1980s.
In one federal case brought against 17 men in Florida, court records filed in 1987 list Asher as an unindicted co-conspirator in a group responsible for bringing more than $150-million worth of cocaine into Florida in a single year. Asher was never charged with drug smuggling but became an informant for state and federal authorities.
Labeled a technology genius by his friends and business associates, Asher, now a wealthy Boca Raton businessman, established a close friendship with former FDLE director James T. "Tim" Moore, who retired at the end of July to enter private business.
Asher was the only non-law enforcement official on the agenda for Moore's retirement party last month. The event included a presentation of a framed picture of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp with pictures of Asher and Moore substituted for the heads of Masterson and Earp.
That appearance sparked a series of letters to Gov. Jeb Bush from FDLE agents who complained about the Asher-Moore relationship.
Daryl McLaughlin, interim director at FDLE, ordered the expansive background check. The agency did a less extensive review of Asher's background in 1993 when it began doing business with one of his companies. But it did not do the same sort of background check it usually does before entering into the new agreement.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Asher approached FDLE officials to offer help identifying terrorists. He has been working with the agency since then to develop the new system, which will give law enforcement agencies speedy access to millions of records on individuals.
Critics say the system would allow too much personal information, including things like credit reports, to get into the hands of law enforcement agencies. FDLE officials say the system gives them unparalleled access to information that could lead to the arrest of terrorists.
Asher's drug smuggling past surfaced in 1998 when DBT Online Inc., a publicly traded company that Asher founded as Data Base Technologies in 1992, forced him to sell his shares in the company. The action came after officials at the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration canceled contracts with DBT citing Asher's prior involvement in drug smuggling.
A lawsuit pending in Palm Beach County Circuit Court accuses Asher and his new company, Seisint, of illegally taking his former company's technology to create a competing product.
Asher also violated a clause in agreements he signed pledging to keep the company's technology confidential, the suit filed by Choicepoint Inc. alleges.
Seisint's product, Accurint, has features similar to Auto Track, which has been produced by DBT, a company which now operates as Choicepoint, the suit alleges.
Choicepoint contends Asher and Seisint are using confidential business information they developed and costing Choicepoint sales and profits. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and attorney's fees.