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Business on the Edge

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None of this sat well with Hillier. The bid itself specified that companies should direct all questions to the district manager, not to an elected supervisor with a tie to the business.

If Davis' rather intimate involvement with Brooks was bad, then Supervisor Adams' relationship with C&C Grind, which ultimately won the contract, was worse. C&C Grind was aligned with a tree removal subcontractor named Dennis Sacco, who happens to be a longtime family friend of Adams'. I asked Richard Cummings, Gainesville resident and owner of C&C, how he learned about the bid. "I just came into the area looking for work and showed up at a meeting [PAID] had," Cummings explained.

I asked Cummings if Sacco had told him about the bid. He denied it, though he said that Sacco had given him directions to the PAID building. I told him I found it hard to believe that he went to the PAID meeting on a whim.

"So what if Sacco did tell me about it?" Cummings said, becoming highly agitated with the line of questioning.

I asked Sacco about the bid.

"[Richard Cummings] called me and told me about it," Sacco said. "I didn't know anything about it."

As for Hillier's allegations, Sacco said Hillier was a "sick man" and swore vengeance against him, saying he is going to sue him. "I'm going to own his house, his business, and everything that he's accumulated over his life," Sacco said. "Nobody in Plantation Acres can stand the guy."

Adams himself acknowledged that it was he who told his buddy Sacco about the federal contract and that Sacco had then told Cummings.

The truth, or at least part of it, finally leaked out. I asked Adams if Sacco had ever done any work on his property. "I have never paid for Sacco to do any work on my property," he said.

"Have you ever not paid Sacco to do work on your property?" I asked.

"Well, he was at my house one day [after Hurricane Wilma] and tried to pull a stump out for me after the hurricane," he said.

So Sacco was doing Adams a favor at about the time Adams was hooking him up with the PAID contract. Perfect.

The insider dealing on the federal contract didn't end there. On December 2, Hillier was driving through the Acres and saw Sacco and his crew working on Davis' property, removing three large Norfolk Island pines.

It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon and Sacco was supposed to be working for the district, according to Hillier. Davis says he paid Sacco $900 in cash to remove the trees. I asked him if he thought about the fact that it would appear he was getting a favor from the PAID contractor.

"Absolutely no thought at all," he said.

At the time I spoke to Davis on the phone, he was with C&C Grind owner Cummings — trying to help him deposit a $62,500 district check from the USDA, he said. The other half of the money is expected to be paid this week, after Sacco and Cummings complete the job.

Hillier alleges that Davis was, in effect, stealing the taxpayers' money by taking up the contractor's time to work on his property. And he reported as much in internal documents.

As the tension built, PAID's chairman — who didn't return my phone calls — informed Hillier that he was being suspended until further notice. Hillier, who was still at the helm until the end of the workday, went to the small PAID building on the corner of Hiatus Road and Sunrise Boulevard to get his personal filing cabinet and records in order.

While he was sorting, Davis and Adams stormed into the building. Davis asked for the federal contract file. When Hillier retrieved it, Davis snatched it from his hand. Hillier, who is recovering from recent heart surgery, says that he tried to stop them from taking the file but that Adams got in his way.

"I couldn't get that document back without a physical altercation, and I wasn't going to do that in my state of health," Hillier says.

So he videotaped the two supervisors walking out of the building with the file. On the tape, Davis and Adams both speak on their cell phones while milling about in the sunny parking lot. Davis, holding the file under his arm, walks up to the camera.

"Mr. Hillier has been suspended until we have a board meeting on Friday night," he says. "By the way, Lee, we're having a board meeting at Friday night at 7 o'clock. Do you know that?"

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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