Michael Ciftci reacts to St. Pete Times story — and the Times responds back

Ciftci claims that's not true, saying that he took a mutually agreed-upon leave of absence from the company to run for Tampa City Council. CL contacted Adam Schlachter, the executive director for USFA, on Tuesday morning, and he confirmed that Ciftci and UFSA had agreed to have him step down to run his race.

But that's not what Schlachter was telling Nicas last month. Neither was Anthony M. Cannon, USFA's president. In an e-mail written by Cannon to Nicas on February 17, Cannon confirms that Ciftci was suspended by the group:

Michael Ciftci was the only member of UFASA's staff to deal directly with OTTED, until his recent departure as this entire process was a michael driven initiative.  My role, as the President and a board member, was to convey the project to to the board and garner their support for Michael's initiative.  Michael like many things in his life, failed to execute even after arguments, harsh emails and calls by me to get the products to Haiti. Michael's lack of accountability, his campaign dreams, the fact that he wasn't up front with us, and his lack of dedication to his duties, such as getting the products to Haiti, were the reasons that we suspended him [CL's emphasis]. Now, complications of shipping, protests in Haiti, people going on trip scared to go due to the cholera outbreak, and other things hurt our fund raising efforts and UFASA almost had to cancel  trip, which had already been rescheduled. While the issues outlined above definitely made it difficult to get the products to Haiti, Michael's lack of commitment did not help either.

But later that same day, Adam Schlachter writes to Nicas that no, Ciftci hasn't been suspended.

We wanted to ask for you assistance with some of the language in the article.  Given the amount of dedication required to achieve the goals of our project, the board asked Michael to take a leave of absence while he campaigned for Tampa City Council, to avoid mixing politics with our mission and to ensure our team was wholly focused without distractions, and Michael agreed

Ciftci believes the Times has a vendetta against him because "they think I got off light on that Veterans thing," referring to the Jeff Testerman-penned stories regarding the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, an organization whose leader, Bobby Thompson, was been indicted in Ohio on charges of corruption, theft and money laundering.  Ciftci said he met Thompson at a 2008 Tampa fundraiser for John McCain, whose presidential campaign Ciftci worked for that year.

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.

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