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    Man mum on lottery profits

    A consultant facing questions in a lawsuit over a lottery 900 number tries avoiding comment on his love life or pay.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 15, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- Lobbyist Frank Mirabella is refusing to disclose how much money he makes as a lottery consultant or talk about his relationship with former Lottery Secretary Marsha Mann.

    The questions arose during a Circuit Court hearing Monday. Lawyers for a Clearwater man who filed suit against the lottery say Mirabella should answer the questions about his dealings with ICN, a Delray Beach company that operates a 900 telephone number to dispense information on winning numbers and payouts.

    The suit alleges that the 900 contract violates a law limiting what the state can charge for public records and questions whether the lottery contract was legally awarded.

    Mirabella, a widely known lottery lobbyist, was questioned in May and refused to produce a copy of his consulting contract with ICN or disclose how much he is being paid.

    State lottery officials entered into the contract with ICN in 1995 after the Legislature cut $1-million from the lottery budget that had been used to operate a toll-free 800 number and ordered the lottery to dispense the information from a 900 number that now costs callers about 77 cents a minute.

    The contract has provided the state with about $8-million in revenue since 1995 and provided ICN with about $5-million.

    At the heart of the lawsuit is the question of whether the winning numbers and payout for each combination of numbers is a public record that should be more freely available.

    The state's public records law requires government agencies to make records available at a cost that is no more than the cost of producing the record.

    Circuit Judge Terry Lewis will decide whether the 900 number violates that law.

    Clearwater lawyer Richard T. Heiden questioned Mirabella about the ICN contract in May. Heiden represents Ralph DeLuise, a Clearwater man who contends that he and others who have called the 900 number are entitled to a refund.

    Mirabella insisted that he serves as a "consultant" and not a lobbyist for ICN. He said former Republican Party Chairman Van Poole does the lobbying for ICN.

    Mirabella also is the lobbyist for Automated Wagering Inc., a company that operates the computer system for the state's computerized games like Lotto.

    Mirabella refused to disclose how much money ICN pays him or discuss whether the company pays him a percentage of each call.

    Heiden says a contingency contract based on whether ICN won the contract and how many calls are made would violate Florida law.

    Peter Antonacci, the Tallahassee attorney who represents ICN and Mirabella, said the information is part of "a financial privacy privilege" and should not be made public.

    Antonacci ordered Mirabella not to answer questions about the contract or his relationship to Mann, who had left the lottery in January 1999.

    In a hearing before Judge Lewis, Antonacci said the questions are part of a tactic of "harassment and humiliation."

    "The questions about Mr. Mirabella's sex life should not be asked in this case," Antonacci said. "Nor is his income relevant. He urged the judge to issue a protective order limiting such questions.

    Lewis said he'll schedule hearings to determine whether certain documents and Mirabella's salary should be disclosed.

    Heiden said he has not inquired about Mirabella's sex life, but does want to know about his friendship with Mann and whether he illegally influenced lottery officials to give the contract to ICN.

    In May, when Mirabella was asked whether he has ever dated Mann, Antonacci ordered him not to answer the question.

    "I don't care," Mirabella replied. "The answer to that is no, it never happened. That was a very vicious rumor."

    Heiden said the Lottery Department's initial request for proposals required all bidders to disclose the names of lobbyists involved in the contract and what they were being paid, but Mirabella and his fees were not disclosed.

    Antonacci said ICN is withholding copies of the contract and payments made to Mirabella because they are "trade secrets."

    "I want to know what he was doing," Heiden said. "These lobbyists were out there telling the lottery what to put in the bid. We think it affected the fairness of the bid."

    Heiden wants to expand the lawsuit into a class action case if Judge Lewis determines that the lottery acted illegally when it established the 900 number.

    People who want to learn the winning lottery numbers must now call the 900 number, buy a newspaper, go to the Lottery Department's Web site or visit a lottery office or vending point to obtain the winning numbers.

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    From the Times state desk