On Sunday the St. Petersburg Times wrote a blistering story on District 3 Tampa City Council candidate Michael Ciftci and his group, United for a Sustainable America (UFSA), which received $100,000 in state funds to build 50 homes in Haiti and create 150 jobs half to go to Floridians.
The story by Times reporter Jack Nicas details how Ciftci "overhauled" the proposal a month after the $100,000 was allotted, shifting expenses so that $13,000 would go to "each of three green business summits" and "$12,000 each to Ciftci and three USFA colleagues." In the story's sixth paragraph, Nicas states that UFSA received $12,000 to upgrade an orphanage with green materials, and that "[s]o far, that money has brought just 140 solar light bulbs to Haiti." Much later in the story, Nicas refers to an energy audit organized by UFSA and a purchase of three solar-powered ovens; Ciftci tells CL that the $12,000 was used for the audit, the ovens and for a water treatment plant that Nicas did not mention. Ciftci also says that the original proposal Nicas writes about was an "early, early, early draft copy."
Upon reading Nicas' article, local GOP political consultant Chris Ingram (who is already involved in a legal issue with Ciftci) said today that he has written a letter to Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate the matter, as well as the state lawmakers mentioned in the story (including Darryl Rouson, Mike Fasano, Rich Glorioso and David Rivera) who approved Ciftci's original proposal. Ingram seizes on the $100,000, saying it only went to light bulbs, and doesn't mention the energy audit or other expenses.
Ciftci doesn't have much to say about Ingram's charge, but he's very angry at the Times piece, calling it "wholly inaccurate." He's upset with Jack Nicas for not writing about the response that the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development (OTTED) ultimately sent to the Times, after a lengthy delay. Nicas wrote that"for more than two weeks, state officials have declined to answer questions on why the state authorized the new plan."
Ciftci claims the that OTTED responded to the Times on Friday. He sent us a copy of the response, in which Katherine Morrison, the official overseeing the funding, said that "both the Haiti project and the green business summits worked to create economic development."
Nicas says he never received that response.
Upon hearing that, Ciftci still is upset, saying, "I don't know how you can go to print without getting an answer from the state."
Another bone of contention for Ciftci is Nicas' report that Ciftci was suspended by UFSA in January.