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Commerce job led to overseas ventures


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 20, 1998

In a 20-month stint as Florida Commerce Secretary in 1987 and 1988, Jeb Bush led trade missions from Latin America to Asia promoting economic development. Bush also made international contacts.

One key introduction was to Richard P. Lawless Jr. A former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department, Lawless by the late 1980s was swapping an intelligence career in Asia for the more lucrative world of foreign business consultant in the nation's capital.

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Bush and Lawless quickly established a relationship that from 1989 through 1993 would bring Bush more than $500,000 in fees from commercial real estate deals.

Under Bush, the state commerce department in 1987 put out for bid a $160,000 contract to promote Florida exports in Asia. Among seven competing companies, the contract was awarded to Lawless and U.S. Asia Development Corp., his newly formed consulting business in Washington, D.C.

In September 1988, Bush left the commerce department to help his father's presidential campaign. Lawless dropped out of the state contracts but stayed close to Bush. When Bush became head of the Beacon Council, Miami's influential pro-business organization, Lawless received two Beacon contracts worth $60,000 to set up trade missions to Asia for Dade County.

By 1990, the Bush-Lawless connection strengthened. Lawless set up U.S. Asia Realty, which guided Asian buyers looking to invest in U.S. commercial property. Bush and his brokerage company handled the real estate for Lawless in South Florida. One buyer was Japan Development Corp., or JDC, a large investor in South Florida and other metropolitan areas nationwide.

As investment deals multiplied, Lawless formed a series of corporations with names like U.S. Asia Florida, U.S. Asia of South Florida and U.S. Asia Broward. Together, Bush and Lawless formed Hubic Partners, a real estate concern. Bush said the volume of corporations was typical in real estate: one company for one deal, to limit the danger of a troubled property affecting others.

In 1993, one of Bush's last commissions on a deal with Lawless totaled $213,000. Bush says little more about Lawless, except that he is "a good friend and business partner." Bush once called him a "patriot."

Lawless, 52, declined comment on his business ties. But his financial commitment to the Republican cause is substantial. Lawless corporations were cited in the New York Times and other national media as large contributors of "soft money" to the Republican party. Lawless also contributed $35,000 to the Florida Republican party through Glennlevit Development Corp., one of his Virginia-based companies.

Lawless is expanding his own business as well. Recent corporate literature describes U.S. Asia as a company "specializing in telecommunications projects in Asia." Lawless also serves as chairman of a private company in Cambridge, Mass., called Online Environs Inc., that specializes in Internet Web site design. Among its clients: the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.


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