Okaloosa County Commission Chairman Don Amunds, Commissioner Wayne Harris and representatives of The Zimmerman Agency and Lewis Communications will be subpoenaed to testify before the state’s Joint Legislative Auditing Committee in early March, state officials said Wednesday.
“I imagine (the rest of the subpoenas) would be finalized over the next couple of days,” said George Levesque, general counsel for the Florida Senate. “Obviously, we need to get them signed by the presiding officers and shipped over to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office for service.”
Levesque said Harris, Amunds and representatives of Lewis and Zimmerman will be expected to appear before the Auditing Committee in Tallahassee on March 4.
The committee voted to subpoena Harris and members of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council when they didn’t voluntarily attend a hearing Monday. The committee had summoned them to answer questions about the Mark Bellinger fraud scheme discovered in May 2012.
Committee members originally said they wanted the officials back before them Feb. 17. But the tight turnaround didn’t give state officials enough time to finalize the subpoenas and serve them before Monday, Levesque said.
“Just in general fair play, it’s kind of bad form to subpoena somebody and only give them two or three days notice that they need to drop everything and appear,” he added.
Levesque said former and current TDC members still could be subpoenaed to testify before the Auditing Committee.
“What we’ve heard back from those members is that many of them are willing to appear voluntarily,” he said.
Amunds, who with several other county officials voluntarily appeared at Monday’s meeting, is being subpoenaed “because he’s an elected official” and the committee wants “to make extra sure that he’s there,” Levesque said.
Amunds said late Wednesday he had not heard about the subpoena and said he had no immediate plans to hire an attorney.
“I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong,” he said. “I don’t think I need counsel right now.”
Harris, who has hired an attorney, declined to comment on the pending subpoena.
Lewis Communications, based in Mobile, Ala., and The Zimmerman Agency of Tallahassee are marketing and advertising firms that held lucrative contracts with the TDC.
The Zimmerman Agency’s attorney sent a representative to Monday’s hearing. The representative said he had no knowledge of the TDC scandal and was unable to answer questions.
Attorney Gus Fontenot of Mobile, who represents Lewis Communications, said he was unaware of the Auditing Committee’s plans.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I can’t comment on it.”
Authorities have said Bellinger used the two firms to make and conceal purchases, both illegal and unauthorized, from county commissioners.
FBI investigators say Bellinger used the Lewis Communications contract to purchase a four-bedroom home in Destin with $747,000 from a BP oil spill grant in the summer of 2011. The invoice for $747,000, issued to the county by Lewis Communications, described a national advertising campaign to be paid for with BP funds.
Okaloosa County sheriff’s investigators have said Bellinger used The Zimmerman Agency contract to pay for a $710,000 Marquis yacht not authorized by the county commission. The invoice charging the county for the 40-foot yacht included a vague description of a marketing promotion Bellinger had devised.
The county terminated the firms’ contracts in September 2012.