House deal gets federal scrutiny
By JEFF TESTERMAN and CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- A federal grand jury will investigate the construction of a South Tampa luxury home by Steve LaBrake, the city's business and community services chief, and Lynne McCarter, his fiancee and a top aide.
Three subpoenaes were served Thursday on City Attorney James D. Palermo. They seek the personnel records of LaBrake and McCarter, documents pertaining to the 4,200-square-foot home being built by LaBrake and McCarter and any "opened e-mails" involving them.
Delivered to Palermo by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent, the subpoenas command the city's custodian of records to bring the documents and testify before a federal grand jury Sept. 13.
The subpoenas list Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill as the federal prosecutor overseeing the grand jury investigation. O'Neill has specialized in public corruption and organized crime cases. He successfully prosecuted former Tampa Housing Authority executive director Audley Evans and contractor C. Hayward Chapman for bribery and illegal gratuities. Now, O'Neill will ask a grand jury to look into the circumstances behind the construction of the two-story brick home, pool and spa at 3608 W Corona St.
McCarter, 31, who advanced rapidly with LaBrake's help to a $55,723 annual salary, obtained a $230,000 mortgage to buy the lot and begin building the home in January. Much of the construction is being handled by Ryan Construction at a cost of about $30 per square foot -- about a third the price of similar homes in South Tampa.
Ryan has gotten more than $1-million in business from LaBrake's department in recent years. The company also did a $12,000 roof truss job on a home LaBrake built on Davis Islands two years ago. Ryan also received several city-related contracts to renovate low-income homes without bids.
LaBrake, 50, is a $105,000-a-year city administrator and father of three in the midst of a divorce with his wife of 27 years. LaBrake initially denied a romantic relationship with McCarter, but since has acknowledged that she is pregnant with his child and that he intends to move into the Corona Street home with her. In city records, he listed her as his fiancee and the beneficiary of his deferred compensation.
One of the subpoenas seeks "complaints and action files" on the neighboring home at 3610 W Corona. A neighbor, Dave Strickland, says he was hit with a city code-enforcement violation after complaining about workers on McCarter's lot knocking down his fence.
The subpoenas also seek personnel records of several other employees under LaBrake, including planner Corine E. Linebrink, Community Development Agency manager Vernell Campbell Savage, assistant manager David Snyder and housing employee Jo Ann Blount.
Linebrink, 40, was charged with possession of crack cocaine and obstruction of justice in 1998 after police raided a party at the house of a Linebrink friend. Linebrink was fired but reinstated when all charges were dropped.
Linebrink obtained a city-backed Challenge Fund loan of $45,600 to purchase a Bayshore Trace condominium in 1996. McCarter prepared the loan package for Linebrink's loan, city records show.
The subpoenas also seek e-mails involving Linebrink, Snyder and Fernando Noriega Jr., who is LaBrake's boss and the city's administrator of development.
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