Politics

Expressway Board Member Indicted For Bribery

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File photo of a gavel in a courtroom. (Credit: Thinkstock)

File photo of a gavel in a courtroom. (Credit: Thinkstock)

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — An Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board member was indicted Thursday on felony bribery and two felony counts of solicitation for receiving unlawful compensation.

A grand jury returned the indictment against board vice chairman Scott Batterson after hearing from four witnesses, including board chairman Walter Ketcham, board member and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and board member Noranne Downs.

Batterson faces a maximum of 15 years in prison on the second-degree felony charges.

Batterson, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, was not immediately in custody. But state attorney Jeff Ashton says Batterson’s attorney has been notified. Ashton says he expected Batterson to complete the booking process and post bond soon.

He declined to offer specifics about the charges, citing an “ongoing investigation.” But the grand jury is expected to meet at least one more time, Ashton said, with more indictments possible.

“The work of the grand jury is not done,” he said.

A message left with Batterson’s attorney was not immediately returned.

Scott announced that Batterson was suspended shortly after the indictment was handed down.

“All public officials must be held to the highest ethical standards — and we support State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s efforts to hold public officials accountable,”Scott said in a statement.

The indictment doesn’t offer specifics of the allegations against Batterson, but one of the statutes he is charged with violating is described in part as “the hiring of, subcontracting with or participation of individuals, firms or other entities” that he suggested. He then allegedly benefited from those arrangements.

Asked Thursday afternoon about his testimony to the grand jury, Ketcham declined to offer any specifics, but said he wasn’t surprised by anything he was asked and was simply led to talk about certain topics and areas.

“They were very interested, very knowledgeable and very astute,” Ketcham said. “For the most part they let me talk.”

The Expressway Authority handles the operation of toll roads in Orlando and Orange County.

Ashton’s office began investigating board members for possible open meeting law violations following claims that board members Batterson, Downs and Marco Pena conspired to oust former member Max Crumit, who left in September 2013.

All three have previously denied wrongdoing.

Steve Precourt, who has represented parts of central Florida in the Florida House since 2006 and served as the majority leader in 2013, was voted in as Crumit’s replacement in early January. But he declined the position because of the state attorney’s investigation.

Thursday’s indictment was separate from that investigation, which is ongoing, Ashton said.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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