Clark was friend of politicians
The ex-prisons official knows many members of the GOP.Article published Oct 13, 2005
By Joe Follick and KAREN VOYLES NYT REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS
TALLAHASSEE -- Long before he became the center of an ongoing investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI, former Department of Corrections official Allen Clark was well known to politicians.
Clark's relationships with Republican politicians range from gubernatorial campaigns to "get out the vote" efforts to attending parties with candidates on state-owned property.
In late August, Clark resigned from his $94,000 position as the director of more than one-fourth of the state's prison population in the Panhandle. Clark was a close friend of DOC Secretary James Crosby, who oversaw Clark's rise from a $14,000 corrections officer post in 1988 to one of the agency's highest positions.
The FBI and FDLE are investigating Clark's association with former DOC workers charged in a steroids ring and are investigating Clark's use of funds generated through employees clubs and recycling programs.
In addition, the FBI and FDLE obtained a search warrant for Clark's 1993 Jeep Wrangler last month, apparently investigating potentially illegal work done on the vehicle by DOC inmates using state equipment.
Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he had met Clark a number of times during his campaigns for governor, saying that Clark helped organize events by encouraging turnout and other tasks.
Bush did not provide specifics on his associations with Clark, saying he was "one of literally thousands of people that have helped me get elected."
Bush said he could not remember how many times he'd met Clark, nor could he remember who suggested Bush appoint Clark to the 8t! h Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission. That group reviews judge applicants in a portion of North Florida and submits suggestions to Bush for final approval.
Bush appointed Clark to the Judicial Nominating Commission last year, despite the fact that Clark was a high school dropout with no legal background. Clark resigned from the commission on Sept. 7.
Bush said Tuesday that before appointing Clark to the commission, he was not aware of DOC investigations in 1999 that alleged Clark had misused inmate labor and employees club funds, nor was Bush aware of a previous suspension Clark received for beating inmates.
Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, paid Clark $1,600 in 2000 for campaign work. Bean said Clark, who was then a major at Florida State Prison, helped organize a campaign event featuring Bush at the fairgrounds in Starke.
Clark was paid to pass out fliers for Bean during the campaign and to set up a music and sound system for the event.
Bea! n said he was not well known in the Bradford County part of the district, so he hired Clark to "make contact with" correctional officers in the area.
Bean was elected and has since been re-elected twice.
Bean said he also met Clark in Tallahassee for a campaign event and met with him at the house of Crosby, who was then the warden of Florida State Prison.
Of Clark, Bean said, "He knew a lot of people and I consider him a friend." Bean added that he was "shocked" by the FBI and FDLE investigations. "It's hard when you're running for office, who you associate with and who you hire," Bean said. "You never really know."
Shortly before Clark was named director of the DOC's Region I last year, a party was thrown at staff quarters at Apalachee Correctional Institution in Sneads that featured House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, as a speaker. Attendees said Clark was at the June 22 party.
He moved to the facility with his official appointment as Region! I director the following month.
Also attending the party were Crosby and Florida House candidate David Coley, R-Marianna, a friend and former employee of Bense's.
DOC officials said it was not a political event but was a party hosted by the Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency that naturally attracted politicians during an election year.
Coley's primary opponent, former Rep. Jamey Westbrook, R-Bascom, said he was initially invited to the event but later was told not to attend.
Westbrook said DOC workers were pressured to support Coley, adding that he has never met Clark and had "no ax to grind" with him.
Westbrook called the district's DOC workers "a fine group of men and women" who were "forced into doing this. By who, I don't know."
Crosby on Wednesday angrily said there was no political discussion at the party, saying Bense was invited to discuss legislative business and brought Coley along as his guest.
"Nobody politicked for or against anyone" at the party, Crosby said. "You're not going to find a single person that said I asked them to contribute, and I don't think you're going to find anybody else asked them to."
Coley was endorsed by the influential Florida Police Benevolent Association, the state's largest correctional officers union.
Coley won last year's election and died this year.
State campaign reports show that Coley received more than $4,000 in contributions from donors who listed "corrections" as an occupation within a few weeks of the party on June 22. Westbrook's records show he received no donations from corrections workers.
The FBI and FDLE also obtained a search warrant last month for a vehicle owned by Richard Frye, a colonel at Apalachee who moved to his post after Clark relocated there.
Frye has his own connections to Republican politicians, having served as part of a security team for former President George Bush.
FDLE investigators last week said Frye had allegedly hired a former minor league baseball player to play on the ACI softball team who did not report to work, although he was paid. The player, Mark Guerra, was arrested on charges of theft.
No charges have been filed against Frye.
Joe Follick is a reporter in the Capital Bureau and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org . Karen Voyles is a reporter for the Gainesville Sun and may be contacted at email@example.com .
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