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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010 5 years ago

Audit finds no baseball bid rigging

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Although it recognized a high-level county employee had personal contact with a company bidding on a county contract, an audit conducted by the Sarasota County Clerk of Court’s Office found nothing improper in the bidding process.

The report, released Thursday afternoon, states: “We did not find any instances of … non-compliance with the Sarasota County procurement code or procurement manual.”

County Administrator Jim Ley requested the audit after a Sarasota Observer story in April revealed that Larry Arnold, the county’s director of community services, had personal contacts within two companies bidding on two separate projects related to spring-training baseball.

In August 2008, when the county was still pursuing the Boston Red Sox, Arnold was on a selection committee to choose a facilitator to help negotiate with the baseball team.

Arnold told committee members he had received some wording for the county’s bid request from a source of his. After receiving a bid from Barrett Sports Group, fellow committee members discovered that his source was Barrett Sports Group itself. The language in its bid was identical to the language that Arnold said came from his source.

Barrett was awarded the contract.

Then in July 2009, when the county was searching for an owner’s representative to look after the county’s interests during negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles, one of the bidders was International Facilities Group.

Arnold told selection committee members that a friend named Jerry recommended IFG.

Jerry is Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls and father of IFG executive Michael Reinsdorf. Jerry Reinsdorf apparently treated Arnold to dinner before IFG submitted its contract bid.

At least two people working with the selection committee were concerned about Arnold's involvement, and the county’s chief financial planning officer, Jeff Seward, said he felt Arnold was “meddling.”

But Arnold was still appointed to the evaluation committee that would grade the owner’s representative candidates.

Arnold gave IFG a perfect score, and the company was awarded a $500,000.

Ley said he was disturbed by those revelations. He removed Arnold from any more dealings with spring-training baseball and ordered the audit.

Despite Ley’s reprimand, the auditors found “no evidence in the public record of undue influence” in the process. Although, they did say the contract-bidding process could have been better managed.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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