Before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate, George LeMieux benefited from a contract awarded in December 2007 by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to his law firm, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, to advise the state on the purchase of right of way on the tracks of the Florida East Coast Railroad.
Gunster Yoakley obtained the contract on Dec. 20, 2007, just eleven days before LeMieux left his position as Gov. Charlie Crist’s Chief of Staff and rejoined the firm. LeMieux’s name was listed in the fee schedule in the contract signed on Dec. 20.
On Jan. 1, 2008, attorney Robert Hackleman scheduled a meeting between LeMieux and FDOT General Counsel Alexis Yarbrough, according to FDOT email records. Nine days later, LeMieux emailed Yarbrough to discuss adding attorney Bill Perry to “our team.”
It must have been convenient to leave government only to step through the Revolving Door and immediately into a government contract. But Gunster Yoakley should never have been awarded this contract because it was publicly available knowledge that the firm also represented the railroad’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI).
Gunster Yoakley has denied that a conflict of interest exists, asserting that the firm’s relationship with FECI ended two years prior to the contract being signed.
However, by using the Internet Wayback Machine, it’s easy to find archived versions of Gunster Yoakley’s website and find that the firm’s website listed FECI and its real estate arm, Flagler Development, as clients as late as August 22, 2008.
While other clients were removed from the list and the page’s copyright year changed, FECI and Flagler remained on the list.
It’s not believable that Gunster Yoakley would accidentally showcase these companies in their Representative Clients section on its website for three years after the firm had stopped representing them, especially if they were concerned at all about the appearance of a conflict.
Gunster’s current website and the Aug. 2008 archived clients section, which features a 2007 copyright, both list Franklin Templeton as a client. Franklin Mutual Advisers was FECI’s largest shareholder when the company was purchased by Fortress Investment Group in July 2007, according to South Florida Business Journal.
If Franklin Mutual still held a stake in FECI when Gunster Yoakley obtained the contract with FDOT, then the firm is swimming up to its eyeballs in conflicts.
FDOT paid Gunster Yoakley $562,813.00 between February 22, 2008, and June 8, 2009, according to FDOT invoices. Roughly $12,350 of this figure went to LeMieux.
Here is a video demonstrating how to access the client list featured on Gunster Yoakley’s site on August 22, 2008:
And here is a screenshot taken of the site as it appeared on August 22, 2008: