Controversial County Commissioner Dale Holness wants Broward County government’s help raising big bucks for his pet project known as the Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCE). On Tuesday the County Commission will take up Holness’ agenda item #101 which asks the County’s Office of Economic and Small Business Development (OESBD) to supervise the expo which would “allow OESBD to solicit co-sponsorships greater than $30,000 for FITCE.” The FITCE website says the top sponsorship level is currently $25,000 for a “Signature Sponsor.”

According to documents submitted to the County Commission, FITCE “will welcome local and international companies for a unique opportunity to engage high level government leaders, international trade experts and delegations from around the world.” Holness claims the October 2017 expo will feature 200 international businesses, 400 local businesses and representatives from 35 countries. The two-day event will be held at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center.

Holness submitted a proposed budget for the event. FITCE will spend $29,000 on audio visual equipment and lighting. The expo will spend $16,000 on food and beverages and $17,000 on advertising including billboards, newspapers, radio and websites. The total FITCE budget comes in just under $108,000.

Don’t worry about the costs. Holness says FITCE will bring in $107,750 in revenues. The money comes from $51,000 in sponsorships, $6,750 from 150 businesses buying exhibit tables at $45 each and a whopping $50,000 from the Broward County Commission.

So, if FITCE will break even, why does need Broward County’s help raising bigger sponsorship dollars?

HOLNESS GOES ROGUE

In August 2015, REDBROWARD exposed Dale Holness’ questionable ties to the FITCE Expo. This reporter uncovered evidence which showed Broward County Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness owns websites for the Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo. In June 2014, Holness asked the County Commission to support the Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCE) with funding used to celebrate the County’s Centennial celebration. Holness needed his fellow Commissioners’ approval for funding and use of the Broward County Convention Center.

Holness told Commissioners the expo attendees would, “learn directly from community leaders how to establish and grow their business in South Florida. The overall goal is to educate, promote and welcome international businesses to Broward County.” Holness claimed his expo would costs at least $250,000 to plan.

Broward County Commissioners were high skeptical.

Commissioner Lois Wexler accused Holness of “going rogue.” She said, ” I support the concept, but I — I — I really object to a Commissioner going out rogue.  I really do.” She objected to Holness’ partners in the expo.

Wexler said, “And the names that I see on this list, some of them I’m absolutely appalled, particularly since some of them are lobbyists. And — and — and — and I just don’t get it.  I just don’t get it.”

Commissioner Stacy Ritter was appalled by Holness’ budget. She said, “the budget is — is staggering.  It’s a huge investment from Broward County.  And we have limited funds. I’m not sure that we should be the ones to facilitate this, be the sponsor.” Ritter even questioned the need for the expo, stating, “If there’s a need for this, I wonder why it hasn’t percolated from the private sector.”

In December 2014, Holness brought FITCE back in front of the County Commission. Lois Wexler wondered why Holness did not include an October 2014 letter from County Staff regarding the expo in his presentation. She said, “Well, this was a critical piece that wasn’t part of your packet, Commissioner Holness, because this really doesn’t recommend that we should move forward on this.”

Wexler referred to an October 2014 review by the County Administrator’s office which said FITCE “appears not to be feasible. “Wexler said the letter stated,” that there are many, many events.  It actually gives the number, fourteen conferences, that are similar and three that are scheduled that are almost identical in nature.”

Despite the issues, the County Commission approved Holness’ plan

MASTER OF HIS DOMAINS

REDBROWARD found the domain name for the Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCEXPO.COM) is owned by County Commissioner Dale Holness. The domain name was purchased on February 14, 2015 from GoDaddy.com. REDBROWARD uncovered at least seven other Holness-owned websites which redirect to the FITCE main site. Also purchased in February 2015, these domains include: FITCE.BIZ, FLORIDATRADEEXPO.COM, FLORIDATRADE.NET, FLORIDATRADEEXPO.NET, FLORIDATRADE.ORG, FITCEEXPO.BIZ, FLORIDAINTERNATIONALTRADE.BIZ and FLORIDAINTERNATIONALTRADE.COM.

Two years ago, REDBROWARD asked why Dale Holness, a local real estate agent, was buying so many international trade website domains. Domain names are not free. Did Holness pay for these domain names out of his own pocket?

Was Holness paid for the use of these domain names?

Is Commissioner Holness running the FITCE website?

Is Commissioner Holness being paid to run the FITCE website?

Is Broward County Commissioner Dale V.C Holness making a single dime off an event held at a taxpayer-owned facility?

Broward taxpayers never got answers.

ROGUE TWO

Broward taxpayers still deserve answers. Did OESBD approach Commissioner Holness with this idea? Or, did Dale Holness come to OESBD with the proposal? Did Dale Holness already secure these $30,000 sponsors? Do they currently do business with Broward County? Did Dale Holness meet with any lobbyists representing these high-priced sponsors?

What about Dale Holness’ numbers? Did anyone at Broward County verify previous attendance records? Do they really think 600 businesses will show up at the convention center? How many businesses attend other expos at the convention center?

What about the advertising money? In the past, Dale Holness has rewarded friendly media outlets, with a miniscule Caribbean audience, with advertising dollars.

HOLNESS PORK PROJECT

In April 2013, RED BROWARD exposed Dale Holness’ “pork project” which funneled $15,000 worth of taxpayer dollars to Community Access Center for cultural events. According to state records, Commissioner Holness is the vice president of Community Access Center, Inc. (CACFL).  Broward taxpayers also provided $1,700 worth of mailing and web site design services. However, it appears the CACFL website has not been updated since 2013.

According to the media agreement obtained by RED BROWARD, Community Access Center would produce two taped interviews with officials of the Children’s Services Council. The interviews would “promote CSC Broward Aware Campaign and Summer Safety in the Haitian Community.”  The agreement indicates these interviews would air on “CAC’s ‘Tele-Access Show’ in Creole (Island TV-Comcast Channel 578).” The Children’s Services paid $2,200 to have thirty minutes of airtime on the Comcast public access channel.

A review of the Island TV website and YouTube channel indicates as severe lack of viewers. Dubbed “your gateway to the Caribbean,” the Island TV website is a collection of old videos and a link to watch a “live” broadcast. When you click the link you’re taken to a three month old video. The Island TV YouTube channel has just 69 videos and only 139 subscribers. Most videos feature topics related to events in Haiti and Miami such as an interview with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

Children’s Services Council gave Community Access Center taxpayer dollars to purchase advertisements in a “Haitian Newspaper.” The agreement calls for two 1/2 page black & white advertisements in Le Floriden. According to its website, Le Floridien has been “an important part of the day for the haitian population’s most sophisticated readers” since 2001. The Children’s Services Council paid $1,000 for two ads. The first ad, touting the “Broward Aware” event, was to run in the March 16-31, 2014 edition. However, that edition does not contain the half-page advertisement. The issue has advertisements for Community Access Center and Island TV, but nothing about “Broward Aware” or the Children’s Services Council.

The Community Access Center appears to be in the radio business as well. The Children’s Services Council paid Community Access Center $1,800 of taxpayer dollars for “Haitian AM Radio-Interviews.” The interviews  were to be spread out among three radio stations: WSRF 1580, WLQY 1320 and WJCC 1700. The agreement called for ten minute “in-studio” live interviews regarding the Broward Aware event in March and again in June for “Summer Safety.” Each interview was priced at $300 each.

On February 5, 2014, Community Access Center submitted the $5000 invoice to the Children’s Services Council of Broward County. On the left hand side of the invoice, Commissioner Dale Holness is clearly listed as a member of the Community Access Center board of directors.

Will Dale Holness use these County funds to hire the same questionable outlets?

Can County Commissioners trust Dale Holness?

STICKY WICKET FOR TAXPAYERS

Earlier this month, REDBROWARD covered the controversy surround the cricket stadium at the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill. In July, a press release announced the Jamaica Tallawahs of the Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) was sold to Worldwide Sports Management Group. The release stated Krishna Persaud is the founder and president of Worldwide Sports Management Group (WSMG). Published reports stated the Tallawahs, reigning defending champions of the CPL, would be relocating to Lauderhill. ESPN reported the new owner was “keen” on moving the team to Broward County. ESPN cricket reporter Peter Della Penna wrote the team, “[M]ay soon become the Fort Lauderdale Tallawahs, or find a new name altogether, if the team’s new owner has his way. Florida-based businessman Kris Persaud… declared his intentions this week to hopefully shift operations for the franchise from Jamaica to Lauderhill where the team would call the Central Broward Regional Park their new home. It would make them the first USA-based cricket franchise in any of the major T20 franchise leagues.”

Krishna Persaud was a big donor to Dale Holness’ 2016 campaign.

Last August, REDBROWARD exposed Persaud’s financial support of Dale Holness’ re-election campaign. The Latino Vote political committee was  funded by Persaud, the director of Oxbridge RE Holdings, a Cayman Islands-based reinsurance company. Even though the political committee was formed in July 2015, it did not receive any contributions until August 2016. Four of the five contributions were tied to Krishna Persaud.

According to their website, Oxbridge RE Holdings is a “Cayman Islands reinsurance holding company that provides reinsurance business solutions primarily to property and casualty insurers in the Gulf Coast region of the United States. Through our wholly owned Cayman Islands reinsurance subsidiary, Oxbridge Reinsurance Limited, we write fully collateralized policies to cover property losses from specified catastrophes.” Basically, Oxbridge insures waterfront properties from risks posed by hurricanes. Oxbridge is closely tied to Homeowners Choice, Inc. (HCI) a private Tampa-based insurance company which is supposed to help Citizens Insurance. Published reports claim nearly all of Oxbridge’s revenue comes from dealings with HCI. Persaud is the former director of HCI and Oxbridge chairman Paresh Patel is the founder of HCI.

The four contributions to the Latino Vote group were made by real estate companies owned by Krishna and Sumentra Persaud. These same companies and others owned by Persaud have made direct contributions to Holness’ campaign. In Broward county, Persaud has regularly purchased foreclosed developments at bargain prices.

According to the Broward Supervisor of Elections website, Latino Vote made two $1,000 campaign contributions to the Dale Holness campaign.

By December 2016, Dale Holness was urging his fellow commissioners to bypass their usual process and accept a no-bid contract with Persaud. Over objections from County staff, Commissioners ultimately gave the Guyana-born Persaud control over events at the County owned park.

Isn’t it time for the Broward County Commission to tap the breaks on Dale Holness’ wheeling and dealing with foreign businesses and leaders?

Shouldn’t Dale Holness be focused on the issues facing his real constituents in Lauderhill, Fort Lauderdale, Plantation and Melrose Park?

Does anybody even care?