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Jupiter Official Worked for Company That Got Town's Backing for 350K Loan

Why go through all the trouble of vetting a company that wants a big pile of cash from the town when the town has a high-ranking official who can vouch for them?

If you said "conflict of interest" then congratulations! But you'll never make it in Jupiter.

Today's South Florida Business Journal has an article that reveals (in the subscriber-only section) that Jupiter's finance director Mike Villella worked for a vitamin maker, Sancilio & Co. from 2003 till spring 2008.

So it's quite a coincidence that he should occupy a lofty position in the town where his former boss, Frederick Sancilio, would have the good fortune of getting town officials to back a $350,000 loan. This despite the spectacular collapse of a past Sancilio venture, AAIPharma in North Carolina, amid charges of fraud by the company's former chief operating officer.

Could it be that Villella's familiarity with Sancilio played a role in securing the town's backing for the loan?

Earlier this summer the Biz Journal's Bill Frogameni reported being told by Villella and the town manager Andrew Lukasik that they had entrusted the vetting of Sancilio to the bank that was loaning him the money. But what the hell reason would the bank have for doing a thorough vetting of Sancilio and Co. when all the risk belonged to Jupiter? From the bank's perspective, who cares if Sancilio's making the interest payments or Jupiter?

And yet as fraught with hazards as that transaction was, another north county city took an even more perilous $350,000 leap of faith with Sancilio: Palm Beach Gardens approved a direct loan to his company for that amount last week. And Palm Beach Gardens also skimped on due diligence, trusting the assurances of a economic development official, Andrew Duffels, who just happens to sit on a board with Sancilio and who neglected to mention the implosion of Sancilio's company in North Carolina when asking for City Council votes.

But then Palm Beach Gardens is a mess. For those who want to hear a presentation about its corrupt past and the shadowy present, check out the audio from the August 20 meeting where, at about the 12-minute mark, City Councilwoman Jody Barnett gives a presentation about the ethical deficiencies of the city manager, Ron Ferris.

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Thomas Francis

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