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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
AP Florida

Ex-Expressway board member guilty of bribery

Published:   |   Updated: August 27, 2014 at 09:29 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) A former Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board member could be headed to prison after being convicted Wednesday of offering a multi-million dollar agency contract to a consultant on the condition that his friends were also hired.

An Orange County jury found 38-year-old Richard "Scott" Batterson guilty of two second-degree felony charges. He faces 15 years in prison and fines on each of the counts of bribery and solicitation for receiving unlawful compensation. Judge Jenifer Davis set sentencing for Oct. 17.

Batterson was stoic as the verdict was read, and remained that way later when he was fingerprinted, handcuffed and led away by deputies.

"It's never easy or good when a public official is convicted of a crime," said chief assistant state attorney Richard Wallsh. "Some cases just need to be tried, and the message needs to go out to both the public and public officials that it really is a sacred trust. They need to be held to higher standard, and if not they need to face justice."

Though he wouldn't say what length of sentence the state would recommend, Wallsh said he believes "the guidelines do call for a state prison sentence."

The prosecution called five witnesses during the three-day trial. The defense chose not to call any witnesses.

Defense attorney Amy Tingley said she plans to appeal the verdict.

"We're very disappointed," Tingley said. "The state's main witness lied and admitted that he was a liar."

During her closing argument Tingley said Batterson did not qualify as a public official under the Florida bribery statute. She said that's one of the grounds she would explore in her appeal.

Batterson was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011. He was suspended after his indictment in April. The Expressway Authority was replaced by a regional operation last month.

The prosecution's key witness was Mark Callahan, a consultant for the engineering firm CH2MHill. Callahan testified that during a July 2013 meeting at a local sports bar Batterson asked him if he had interest in becoming a general consultant for the Expressway Authority.

Callahan said he told Batterson he was interested, but asked how that was possible because the Expressway Authority already had a contract with another general consultant. Batterson allegedly informed Callahan that "things may change" and also said he was "highly confident" he would become chairman of the Expressway Authority board. He also allegedly boasted about working with the governor's office to fill the seat that authority member Max Crumit vacated in September 2013.

After being offered the consultant position, Callahan said that Batterson told him that if that were done he may want Callahan to consider putting certain people on his consultant team.

Tingley dismissed Callahan's testimony as "lies" during her closing argument to the jury.

The prosecution argued that Batterson offered Callahan a classic quid pro quo.

"He had no problem offering the contract as long as (Batterson) was going to put friends on (Callahan's) team," assistant state attorney Deborah Barra said during her closing argument. "He was a public servant who refused to serve the public. He only wanted to serve himself."

Batterson faces a separate trial in October for allegedly violating Florida's open meeting laws. The misdemeanor charge in that case is for allegedly conspiring to oust Crumit in 2013. Batterson has denied wrongdoing.

Also facing an October trial date in that case is former Florida House member Chris Dorworth. A charge against former Florida Department of Transportation public affairs worker Rebekah Hammond was dropped last month.

Former Expressway Authority board member Marco Pena was also charged with the open meetings violation, but took a plea deal in June to avoid jail time and probation.

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