Did State Senator Aaron Bean stand to personally profit from a $1 million “secret” appropriation for a long-time friend, or is this just another case of a lawmaker helping a friend get much-needed funding for a worthwhile mental health project?
The first option is unethical, perhaps even criminal. The second is just business as usual. But the answer to the question remains elusive in the wake of a blockbuster story published earlier today by Arek Sarkissian at the Naples Daily News, because Bean himself hasn’t shed much light on the subject.
The story lays out a strong case that Bean helped secure a million dollars in taxpayer funding that would be used to build a pilot program for mental health assessements, and the program included a web application called Celphie that would later be sold or licensed to school districts and other government jurisdictions to help diagnose mental disorders.
Sarkissian doesn’t quite have a “smoking gun” that proves Bean would make money in the scheme. But there is some incriminating circumstantial evidence. The most damaging email, sent from Bean’s friend, Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew, suggests Bean would profit directly from his role helping the company. Here’s the relevant graph directly from the Naples Daily News story [emphasis mine]:
“I am truly looking forward to this partnership and FINALLY everyone making money together from a product that will help the community,” Drew wrote to Bean and the others in the email obtained by the Daily News through a public records request for Bean’s Senate correspondence.
Of course, without context, that email by itself proves nothing. It’s completely plausible that Bean was inadvertently copied on the email as a courtesy – something that happens all the time. And without direct evidence proving he would profit from the company, it’s unfair to ask Bean to prove a negative. If he truly didn’t stand to profit from the venture, then asking him to prove such a non-existence is a logical fallacy.
But the viability of that line of defense wilts in the face of the other evidence against Bean. Sarkissian’s story includes a second email that proves beyond all doubt that Bean agreed to do marketing work to help sell the “Celphie” program, built with Florida tax dollars, in other states:
“This is the presentation that you will take on the road with you to other states as well as the one that we will use in the Florida Legislature,” Drew wrote to Bean. “We have chosen not to advance further with the design until you provide direction.”
Two days later, Drew sent Bean an email, “Are you ready to sit down and give Daigle some marching orders on what you want your marketing material to look like? Content? Etc.” And Bean responded, “Yes, week after Christmas.”
In another email, Drew asked Bean to help him create a marketing flier for the Celphie app.
The phrase “your marketing material…” isn’t something that can be shrugged off as yet another mistaken email, especially when Bean responds that he’d make himself available for the task.
Perhaps the Celphie program is indeed worthwhile. Even so, it’s hard to imagine that Bean believes in it so much that he would do this marketing work completely for free (and in other states, no less). That doesn’t pass the smell test, but if it’s true and there’s a perfectly good explanation, then Bean would be much better off laying all his cards on the table.
Instead, he’s directing media inquiries through Sarah Bascom‘s very capable public relations hands, and answering Sarkissian’s inquiries through email rather than talking openly about the program. In fact, in one email, his response doesn’t square at all with the fact that he’s volunteered to take up marketing the program in other states:
“I told [FSU President John Thrasher] this was a worthy project and told him it was worthy of his consideration,” Bean offered in a written response. “To imply that I did so out of anything other than constituent support or support of a worthy effort would simply be untrue.”
How does Bean square the claim that he’s only doing it for “constituent support” when he’s agreed to take up marketing the program in other states? Those two statements don’t square up. If he’s volunteering (or being paid for) his time to promote it, that’s MUCH more than simple “constituent support.”
Then there is the epic game of “hot potato” featuring State Representative Halsey Beshears tossing the steaming spud out of his lap as soon as Sarkissian throws it at him in the closing paragraphs of the story:
“That isn’t one of the projects I was passionate about for North Florida, but I’m sure there was a good reason for the money, and I trust Sen. Bean,” Beshears said.
Beshears initially told Sarkissian that Bean asked him to request the money, then when Bean denied doing so, Beshears said he didn’t remember the details.
The story gets weirder: official forms filed by Beshears actually list Florida State University lobbyist Kathleen Daly as the official requester for the funding, since FSU would be used as a cut-out to get the money in the first place. But even she denies any involvement in the process:
Daly said through an email sent by FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks she did not make the request and her email listed on the form was wrong.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of a million-dollar program run through Florida State University. In fact, it’s starting to look a lot like people – especially Senator Bean – may have something to hide.
If that’s not the case, then Aaron Bean has a duty to explain exactly how taxpayers spent a million dollars on a supposedly “worthwhile” program that nobody really wants to claim, and more importantly, why he agreed to market the company in other states in an email to company officials while telling his constituents his involvement is nothing more than “constituent support.”