TALLAHASSEE - Florida State University offered Wednesday to repay $200,000 from a secret appropriation received this year but could offer few details about how the $1 million in taxpayer money was spent by a psychological firm run by the friend of a state senator.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, asked FSU to provide documents clearly identifying how the university and Florida Psychological Associates spent $1 million that was secretly included in this year’s state budget.
In response, FSU President John Thrasher sent a letter saying he does not suspect a “breach of trust” occurred between FSU and the Fernandina Beach business, but he couldn't provide expense details showing how Florida Psychological Associates used the money.
But FSU would return $200,000 it received from the $1 million payment, Thrasher said.
“My instructions to the staff here are to absorb those costs, and we will return those dollars to the general revenue fund in the state treasury,” Thrasher wrote in a letter to Corcoran.
Corcoran also sent a letter to Florida Polytechnic University on Monday demanding details into how taxpayer money was used for an online hazing program operated by Miami-based Educational Management Services.
The university and the company, based in a lobbyist's office, received a total of $3 million from the state budget. FPU kept $1 million and the company kept $2 million, the Naples Daily News has reported.
The Educational Management Services program served fewer students and received more state money than a similar program operated by the University of Central Florida, records show.
FPU had not responded to Corcoran's letter as of Wednesday. The speaker gave the university a Thursday deadline.
Both the programs funded through FPU and FSU were among dozens that received money through secret appropriations tucked inside university budgets.
Lawmakers secured $315 million for special projects over the past seven years, the Daily News has reported.
Both projects had money in next year’s state budget, but they have since been cut.
Thrasher's response to Corcoran's request for spending details on the psychological program included an electronic file made up of more than 200 pages of documents, including some invoices, FSU’s contract with Florida Psychological Associates and some blank pages.
There were also emails between FSU officials and the psychological firm as the two sides came to a deal on the project.
Other information requested by Corcoran — including payroll, a list of contractors and invoices for equipment — were not included in the file.
Thrasher said Florida Psychological would be responsible for providing other information to the speaker. FSU's contract with the business, however, includes language that allows the university to demand the same information requested by Corcoran.
FSU and the company both have denied requests from the Daily News for similar spending details.
Corcoran was still reviewing FSU's response Wednesday, said his spokesman, Fred Piccolo. He said the psychological firm received a copy of Corcoran’s letter and is expected to respond.
Florida Psychological Associates is operated by a friend of Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who helped secure the $1 million through the secretive budget process that avoids public scrutiny.
With the money, the business planned to conduct mental health screenings on a total of 7,200 schoolchildren and criminal court defendants, but it failed to meet benchmarks outlined in its contract with FSU, the Daily News has reported.
Naples Daily News