Politics

Ex-Expressway Authority Board Member Pleads Guilty

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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) — A former Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority board member has pleaded guilty to violating Florida’s open meetings law and could testify before the grand jury as part of an ongoing state attorney’s office investigation into the agency.

Marco Pena didn’t appear in court Wednesday but his attorney entered the plea on his behalf to a misdemeanor count of violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. As part of the plea agreement, Pena is avoiding jail time and probation, paying a $500 fine and will not try to seal his court file.

State attorney’s office Executive Director Richard Wallsh declined to provide details on Pena’s crime, citing an ongoing grand jury which was meeting Wednesday. He also refused to say if Pena was going to testify before it.

“I can’t tell you whether he is or not,” Wallsh said. “Primarily because of grand jury secrecy, but also because I truly do not know … If the grand jury would like to hear from him, he will be available.”

The state attorney’s office said Tuesday that Pena had provided State Attorney Jeff Ashton with sworn testimony regarding the Sunshine Law violations involving Expressway Authority business.

Pena’s attorney, Warren Lindsey, declined to comment further Wednesday morning citing the ongoing grand jury proceeding.

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

The state attorney’s office began investigating Expressway Authority board members for possible open meeting law violations following claims that Pena and current board members Scott Batterson and Noranne Downs conspired to oust former member Max Crumit, who left in September 2013.

All three have previously denied wrongdoing. But Wallsh did tell Judge Carolyn Freeman that the Sunshine Law offenses Pena pleaded to Wednesday occurred between June and August of 2013.

Pena was appointed to the board last year by Gov. Rick Scott.

Pena resigned last month, shortly after Batterson was indicted on felony bribery and two felony counts of solicitation for receiving unlawful compensation.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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