FBI sniffing around Sox stadium deal in Florida?
The Boston Red Sox have sealed a sweet deal with Lee County officials in Florida for a publicly funded spring training complex, including a mini-Fenway, that raised a few eyebrows in the southwest coastal region for its generosity. But the FBI may be signaling a hold sign after investigators requested scores of emails from county officials, including some that appear to be connected with the search for a site to build the $80 million state-of-the-art complex (see larger image below the jump).
According to reports, the FBI requested emails in March seeking electronic missives that included such terms as "Edison Farms," “University,” “Galvano,” “Waterman” and “Freeman,” all terms relating to potential sites for the Sox stadium, although "Waterman" likely refers to the site off Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers, owned by Watermen-Pinnacle, a development company in Miami.
None of the search terms included "Red" or "Sox" but the FBI requested county officials include emails containing the terms "Todd" and "Stephenson." Todd Stephenson is director of the Sox Florida operations and sits on a five-person county committee overseeing the search for an 80-acre development site. Stephenson initially told reporters he knew nothing about the emails or the FBI request and said they likely were referring to another Stephenson. He since has declined comment and referred questions to the Sox PR staff.
Susan Goodenow, the Red Sox director of communications, issued a statement saying the team learned of the FBI request Tuesday, but she would not say anymore.
"The request was directed to Lee County and, as such, we will not have any comment," the statement says.
The emails were sought from the accounts of officials such as Lee County Manager Don Stilwell, public works director Jim Lavender, transportation director Scott Gilbertson and public works operation manager Don DeBerry. It remains unclear exactly who or what the federal bureau is eyeing. In recent public meetings, several officials have expressed their support for developing an environmentally sensitive site in south Lee County known as Edison Farms.
The site has been offered for free to trigger development in the surrounding area but building the complex would require major infrastructure construction including roads and walkways. Not only have the feds sought emails, one investigator sat in on a county commissioners meeting on March 17 taking notes as the board debated the final four sites.Another sidelight to the FBI involvement is what, if any, impact it will have on the looming deadlines written into the development contract. According to the agreement, the county must have a site in hand and a budget in place by June 1 or they will be considered in default. If the FBI inquiry — still too early to call it an investigation — derails or delays the decision, which was expected at the end of the month, the Sox can not only void the development and lease agreement, they also get to stop their lease payments at City of Palms Stadium and are freed from having to pay the $1 million buyout written into that lease for early termination. Even if they don't void the agreement for the new stadium, they can still play rent-free in City of Palms if the county misses the June 1 deadline.
County officials all say they haven't a clue if there's anything behind the FBI probe or if it's a fishing expedition. But everyone who spoke said they are confident there is nothing untoward in the process.