Federal agents broaden probe involving M.M. Parrish Construction

Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 11:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 11:09 p.m.

LAKELAND Federal agents have broadened their investigation into the Polk County School District's facilities division, subpoenaing thousands of documents involving its business with five contractors including Gainesville's M.M. Parrish construction from 2003 to 2008.

Three of the contractors M.M. Parrish among them are the school district's largest builders. M.M. Parrish is based in Gainesville, but is not related to M.M. .Parrish Realtors.

The Department of Justice requested the information in a 12- to 15-page subpoena just before winter break in December.

Ron Ciranna, assistant superintendent of human resources, said federal investigators gave the district a deadline of Jan. 15 to gather the information.

"It's a very broad and encompassing subpoena," Ciranna said. "We are complying as best we can."

The investigation surfaced Nov. 18 when six agents seized computers and documents from the department. Other agents searched Parrish Construction offices in Gainesville and Winter Haven in an inquiry to determine whether the contractor received special treatment from the district.

During the past five years, M.M. Parrish has been the School District's largest building contractor, receiving $160 million and far outpacing Rodda Construction, which had $69 million. Marcobay was paid $43 million, while Nujack Development and Manhattan have been paid $6.5 million and $11 million, respectively, over five years.

Nujack's Chief Operating Officer Tim Jackson said he was questioned by the FBI in November.

Jackson said agents asked him about a lack of openness during the bidding processes and the disparity in the number of contracts awarded to companies.

Jackson told agents he was "greatly disappointed" in the amount of work Nujack has received from the district.

"When I'm getting less than 1 percent (of the work) over 17 years, it calls a lot into question," Jackson said.

Jackson said he never figured out how Bob Williams, the assistant superintendent of facilities, picked contractors.

"You had no idea what the process was," Jackson said.

In other districts in Florida, the bidding process is more open, Jackson said, with a group picked to rate each contractor, with the scores then placed online.

Three school district employees, including a longtime assistant superintendent, have resigned, effective Tuesday, as a result of the inquiry.

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