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Nancy Smith

Two Top Lobbyists Fall Victim to Disney's Anti-Gambling 'Mafia Tactics'

September 18, 2013 - 6:00pm

In case you still doubt the Mouse runs the show in Orlando, check out the lobbying contract the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority awarded Wednesday to a Disney "friend" (wink, wink).

Entertainment conglomerate Disney first told Authority board members who they couldn't consider to lobby for them, then who they had to consider.

It's nothing they did openly. That's not how the Disney people work. They've got pals to do their bidding -- in this case in the mayors' offices and, as it happens, in the person of Authority Board Chairman Frank ("Boss Hogg") Kruppenbacher.

Maybe the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority doesn't have important business with the Legislature this year. Maybe Authority board members think the Disney aura is magic enough to absorb their needs in the coming session. Maybe they trust in Boss Hogg's clout. Or, maybe they truly believe Lena Juarez, daughter of local lobbyist Oscar Juarez, can do a better job than two of Tallahassee's most prominent lobbying firms, Ballard Partners and Capital City Consulting.

Nah, I don't think so. And neither do some of the Authority board members, one of whom calls the Disney influence 'mafia tactics.'

Brian Ballard and Nick Iarossi, principals of their firms, each submitted a bid to lobby for the Authority. Ballard Partners and Capital City Consulting, both among the largest lobbyist groups by revenue in the state, never got through the Authority's front door.

Well, no. Actually, their bids (RFPs) got through the front door, they just were never opened, never read, never considered.

"We were told they didn't want to consider us because we represented gambling interests," Ballard told me. "It's weird they didn't put 'gambling lobbyists need not apply' in their RFP. We could have saved a lot of trees and time."

The firm chosen is a study in Central Florida nepotism.

The winning bid, as of Wednesday, was due to go to JEJ Associates, whose principal is Lena or Julia Juarez. JEJ Associates has nine clients and a post office box address in Tallahassee. Let's see if I understand the relationships correctly:

Dismissing Ballard and Iarossi, Boss Hogg added Juarez's firm to the lobbyist consideration list. Juarez is the daughter of local lobbyist Oscar Juarez, who is "one of the major finance chiefs for County Mayor Teresa Jacobs." Juarezs other daughter, Tanya, works for the city of Orlando and Mayor Buddy Dyer. So what, you ask? Well, both Dyer and Jacobs serve on the board of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and -- surprise, surprise -- they voted for Chairman Boss Hogg.

When the Don expresses "a sincere hope," as apparently Disney did, that the Authority would "stay away from lobbyists with gambling ties," and you're Board Chairman Kruppenbacher, you're going to tell Ballard and Iarossi to take a hike.

On the other hand, by all accounts Boss Hogg Kruppenbacher fits the description of Disney's consigliere, a man who fancies himself second only to the Mouse as Central Florida's manipulator. In the employ of Morgan & Morgan, he's in with Disney, in with Charlie Crist, in with Gov. Rick Scott and apparently he has the cojones to brag about it. Jacob Engels did a nice job of connecting the dots in his Tuesday story in the East Orlando Post -- on Disney, the fate of airport lobbyists and Boss Hogg.

It was Boss Hogg Kruppenbacher, in a tirade before the board, who shut out Ballard Partners and Capital Consulting.

Interesting, incidentally, that one of Disney's lobbyists is Chris Dudley, who is also registered to represent PCI Gaming, the corporate entity that wants to bring casino gaming to the I-10 corridor through the Poarch Creek Indians -- never mind his dog track clients in Jacksonville.

The absurdity of this story isn't that Ballard or Iarossi didn't get the contract. It's that neither one of them, offered a chance to compete, was even considered. The deck was stacked to bring in a ringer. Whose ringer is a good question. But the bottom line is, if taxpayers think their money was going for a professionally run Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, they might want to focus behind the scenes a bit.

Looks like this Authority is little more than somebody's convenience.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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