Davis: Scandal touches Smith

He calls on his gubernatorial opponent to return $30,000 aprison kickback suspect gave a committee supporting him.

Published July 7, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Linking his opponent to an unfolding prison scandal, Democratic candidate for governor Jim Davis on Thursday called on Rod Smith to return $30,000 in "tainted contributions."

A vending company run by Smith's close friend, who was implicated Wednesday in the prison kickback scheme, gave the money to an independent political committee backing the state senator's bid for governor.

"Rod Smith's cronies in Tallahassee concocted a fundraising scheme that would make Jack Abramoff proud, but it's the kind of corruption that's left Florida voters unhappy with the direction of our state," Davis spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.

Smith should give the money "back to its rightful owner: the taxpayers of Florida," Earnest said.

Davis, a Tampa congressman, declined to be interviewed.

Smith said it is not his money to return.

The money from Eddie Dugger and his Gainesville prison vending business, American Institutional Services, went to a committee backing Smith, not the campaign.

"I don't have the $30,000," Smith said. "I don't control an independent expenditure, as everybody knows."

Smith's campaign said Davis' attempt to link Smith to revelations that former Corrections Department chief James Crosby admitted taking kickbacks in exchange for prison contracts was evidence that Davis is in a "free fall" and "bringing Washington-style smear politics to Florida."

Dugger's name is not mentioned in the federal charges against Crosby and his protege, former regional prisons director Allen Clark. But it is clear that Dugger is the person referred to in court documents as "the conspirator" who met with Crosby and Clark and arranged to pay them more than $135,000 in kickbacks for a contract with the prisons.

American Institutional Services obtained a subcontract with Keefe Commissary Network, the vendor that runs canteens at all Florida prisons. The Keefe contract, awarded in 2003, has also come under scrutiny in the investigation and has been criticized by state auditors.

Crosby and Clark have agreed to cooperate against others targeted in the continuing investigation, which spells trouble for Dugger.

Smith acknowledged the potential political consequences of the scandal. Not only is he friends with Dugger, he has been a Crosby supporter as well.

"There is no way you can inoculate yourself from this," Smith said. "That's just the politics of it. I stand by my record as a lawyer and as a prosecutor. People know my ethics. I'm not worried about that."

The political committee Dugger supported, Floridians for Responsible Government, conducted a poll, made automated phone calls and distributed fliers supporting Smith's candidacy before the committee was shut down last month after the FBI raided Dugger's offices as part of the prison investigation.

Smith's campaign acknowledged it provided photos and was aware of the committee's actions.

At the time, Smith said he would return about $2,500 in direct contributions from Dugger and his business. Smith said he doubted his friend knowingly did anything wrong.

Smith portrayed the vendor scandal as evidence of the state's privatization failures. He said the charges against Crosby should make it easier for Florida's next governor to derail the rush to privatize services the state should be performing.

"Privatization leads to a likelihood of these kinds of things happening," Smith said Thursday.

"When you are contracting with the state, these kinds of thing don't happen so easily. With private contracts you lose control; you lose accountability."

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.