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FDLE should put "disgusting" convicted witness tamperer Ralph Arza under oath in the Corcoran/DoE/Jefferson scandal
The disgraced former legislator, previously shunned by Ron DeSantis as too racist, took part in a corrupt DoE/Jefferson meeting about MGT in which he had no legal or stakeholder standing. Why? How?
Ralph Arza is director of governmental affairs for the Florida Charter School Alliance (FCSA). Empowered by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Arza is a de facto K-12 chancellor for the Florida Department of Education.
I think the record shows that Arza, through his friendship with Corcoran and patronage from Jeb Bush’s education empire, wields far more real world education power than actual K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva or the former “innovation” chancellor Eric Hall.
Ralph Arza is also a racist convicted criminal witness tamperer. Ron DeSantis’s 2018 campaign called Arza’s racist criminal behavior “disgusting” and banished him from hosting a fundraiser.
And yet, in late 2021, because of the power Ron DeSantis, Richard Corcoran, and Jeb Bush’s education empire have given Arza as DoE’s de facto chancellor of grift, Arza is a major player in the DoE/Jefferson scandal.
Arza had enough DeSantis and Corcoran-backed power to insert himself into a crucial official meeting at DoE on Nov. 1 about the corrupt MGT contract; and four of his relatives work for Somerset Charter in Jefferson County. [More in a moment on what FDLE should ask Arza — and Corcoran and Oliva — about that meeting under oath.]
None of this is surprising when one understands that DoE/Jefferson is really a comprehensive Florida education scandal, from top-to-bottom. It reveals and culminates a 25-year generation of vile, soulless cynicism and exploitation of children, teachers, and communities by people like Arza and his even more powerful patrons.
“You ain't nothing but a bitch, brother.”
As a sitting legislator in 2006, Arza and his cousin drunk-dialed Republican state Sen. Gus Barreiro to threaten him as a “snitch” with a string of racial and gender slurs. This call itself related to accusations that Arza called former Miami-Dade superintendent Rudy Crew, who was black, the n-word.
Arza denied calling Crew that; but he was caught on tape saying the following to Barreiro, over two different messages. Please excuse my reprint of his full appalling language. But this is the voice that the FCSA board — including Jeb Bush’s close historical allies John Kirtley and Patricia Levesque — has freely chosen to push Big Charter’s government and financial interests:
"Hey bitch, You're nothing but a bitch. You're a bitch. You're nothing but a bitch. God bless you, bitch."
"Hey bitch. You're nothing but a bitch. You ain't nothing but a bitch, brother. My nigger. Fuck."
Arza pleaded guilty to misdemeanor witness tampering and was kicked out of the Legislature for it. Full background on that episode — including the audio recording and Arza’s never-ending post-conviction thuggery on behalf of charter schools — can be found here.
Education reporters should be asking Patricia Levesque, and John Kirtley, and Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio if they support Arza’s continued role as FCSA government affairs director. They should get them all on the record, now, about the Jefferson County charter failure and corruption and Arza’s role in it.
Arza, apparently Corcoran’s top surrogate, used to be too racist and “disgusting” for Ron DeSantis. What happened?
In addition to having the blessing of John Kirtley (the father of Florida’s corrupt and failed voucher program) and Patricia Levesque (who runs Jeb Bush’s foundation), Arza is also a “friend” and apparent official DoE surrogate for Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
Arza has access to and influence over Corcoran that appears to far exceed even that of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"Ralph Arza’s name was removed because of hurtful and disgusting racial slurs that he has used in the past. He is not affiliated with our campaign," the DeSantis campaign said in a written statement, issued after The Miami Herald first reported the fundraiser fallout.
And yet, Arza is deeply affiliated with DeSantis’ corrupt state government and corrupt state education leadership. Today. Right now.
The governor clearly does not now consider Arza too racist and “disgusting” to have participated in a crucial 2022 government meeting in a corrupt bidding process with $4-5M in public money at stake for the MGT education consultant group and Jefferson County, as documented by the blockbuster Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald DoE/Jefferson report.
Why is that, governor? And what legal or official standing did Arza, who is not a public official, have to participate in this corrupt DoE/Jefferson meeting? \_(ツ)_/¯
The answers to those questions are not clear because Florida law enforcement of all kinds seems afraid to investigate Arza, Corcoran, and the DoE/Jefferson/Florida scandal. But on the surface, I see no standing at all. Yes, four of Arza’s relatives have jobs with Somerset Charter in Jefferson County. But that means he has a personal conflict, not a legitimate government purpose.
It’s also not clear, because law enforcement is apparently afraid to ask him, what Arza advocated for in that meeting in relation to the majority black student body of Jefferson County. But one wonders if the guy who said this:
"Hey bitch. You're nothing but a bitch. You're ain't nothing but a bitch, brother. My nigger. Fuck."
… actually has their best interest at heart.
As Corcoran and DeSantis and Sen. Manny Diaz (also neck deep in DoE/Jefferson) try to pass a “no discomfort for Florida’s white snowflakes” law, one is compelled to ask about Corcoran’s top henchman: why is Arza, your henchman, so comfortable with racist discomfort? And why does your boss — Gov. No Racial Discomfort — tolerate it?
In any event, USF and UF or any state college (I even hear Flagler College attracted his attention) that Corcoran sniffs for its presidency should know that Arza is likely part of the package. Perhaps Corcoran will appoint him vice provost for racist criminal witness tampering.
“Ralph’s a friend”: a Corcoran/Arza Polk County precursor
This is not my first rodeo with Ralph Arza.
He unsuccessfully sought to publicly and politically intimidate two of my female School Board member colleagues after they joined me in voting down the grifty BridgePrep Charter School that wanted to locate in fast-growing Northeast Polk. Perhaps predictably, the guy so fond of the word “bitch” ignored me and my vote in his blustering.
He addressed it solely to the women — cuz he’s a big, tough man.
Not long after Arza sent his insulting and politically threatening letter to the Polk board members, he also named-dropped Corcoran — and his access to DoE — in a call to our School Board attorney. Our School Board attorney emailed board members about it, “at Mr. Arza’s request.” Excerpt:
He mentioned that he had met with Richard Corcoran yesterday and informed him if the vote Tuesday, and said that Commissioner Corcoran had suggested he contact the district.
We basically laughed at this “Look how important I am” note — although my follow up with School Board Attorney Wes Bridges about this conversation with Arza indicated the most heavy-handed possible intention on Arza’s part.
In retrospect, this Polk episode sounds like a milder form of Arza’s “surrogate” relationship with Corcoran on display in Jefferson County. In Jefferson, that allowed Arza to act like a government official in official government meetings about corrupt contracts and bids involving access to millions in public money meant to help children because … reasons?
And yes, a racist criminal convicted witness tamperer that DeSantis supposedly considers “disgusting” seems a strange choice for a powerful surrogate for DeSantis’ Education Commissioner. Perhaps someone could ask the governor about it.
I asked Corcoran, face-to-face, when the Board of Education came to Lakeland in summer 2019, about his relationship to Arza.
He told me: “Ralph’s a friend.” And he added that Arza has “a big heart.”
Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, this is what Corcoran said about Melissa Ramsey and Andy Tuck when they resigned over their corrupt Jefferson County bid back in November.
“They have great hearts and they have done wonderful things in education for the state of Florida,” Corcoran said. “What they did was not malicious, it was just gross negligence. As soon as they were shown the error they both did the right thing and resigned. I wish them both nothing but the best.”
It’s unclear to me what makes Corcoran an expert on the “hearts” of corrupt actors.
Questions a reporter or a grand jury or an FDLE agent should ask about Arza and the Nov. 1 meeting
I increasingly think the Jefferson part of the Florida Education Corruption scandal centers on the Corcoran/Arza relationship. But there is much I don’t know, still. Here’s the really sketchy MGT/Corcoran/Trey Traviesa part of the scandal documented in The Times/Herald reporting. Note the parts in bold:
State law prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts when a company has an “unfair competitive advantage,” defined as having “access to information that is not available to the public and would assist the vendor in obtaining the contract.”
The fact that state officials were already discussing the work with MGT before it opened the bidding appears to violate the spirit of the competitive procurement process, said Ben Wilcox, co-founder of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
Based in Tampa, MGT provides consulting services to state and local governments on technology and schools. Since 2009, 10 state agencies in Florida, including the Department of Education, have paid the company more than $11.4 million for various services.
Traviesa, its CEO, is a former GOP lawmaker who was once registered on a business, Step to Success Inc., with Corcoran and his wife, a founder of a Pasco County charter school. The mission of the company, according to corporate filings, was to provide “at-risk students the tools needed to succeed in kindergarten.” (Corcoran said it was a nonprofit.) Traviesa’s business connection with Corcoran was first reported in a Substack post by former Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend.
Traviesa served in the Florida House of Representatives at a time when Corcoran was chief of staff to then-House Speaker Marco Rubio.
MGT had a leg up on the competition for the Jefferson County work: It had been in talks with the Department of Education for at least a week before the procurement was announced, and it was apparently tailor-made for MGT.
On Nov. 1, a week before the state opened the project for bids, the Department of Education hosted a meeting to discuss the transition plan with Jefferson County school superintendent Eydie Tricquet, Jefferson County’s current charter school operator and Traviesa.
Also included was prominent charter school lobbyist Ralph Arza, a longtime close ally of Rubio and Corcoran who resigned from the Legislature in 2006 after using racial slurs during a drunken tirade. Arza has four relatives, including his brother and sister-in-law, working in Jefferson County for the company currently operating the schools.
Arza told the Times/Herald that he was at the meeting on behalf of his job with the Florida Charter School Alliance, which advocates for charter schools, and did not stand to benefit financially if MGT won the award.
On Nov. 5, a Department of Education employee was told to draft the request for proposals. She was given a proposed agreement between MGT and the department and told to base the request for proposals on that document, according to a subsequent report by the department’s inspector general. The employee told the inspector general that Jacob Oliva, one of Corcoran’s top deputies and the head of K-12 education in Florida, gave her the document.
No one has published a first hand account of the now infamous Nov. 1 meeting with Arza. And as I read the Times/Herald story closely again and apply my own observations and background on the Corcoran/Arza relationship, here are some questions I would ask if I were FDLE and/or a grand jury.
Reporters should also ask these questions relentlessly until there is a clear first-hand account:
What does “the Department of Education hosted” mean? Who, specifically, was there, other than Arza? Oliva? Corcoran?
Did DoE officials defer to Arza?
Was Arza leading the meeting? Was he just an observer?
Did Corcoran delegate any authority to him? Can he legally do that?
Is it illegal for a private individual to act on behalf of a government official in an official government meeting about public dollars?
Was Arza impersonating a government official by acting with delegated authority? Is that illegal?
Was Arza advocating or expressing an official DoE position? If so, what was that position?
Did Arza support or oppose the transition from Somerset back to Jefferson County?
Did Arza’s four Somerset-employed family members stand to benefit financially from his advocacy?
Was MGT going to work for Somerset or Jefferson or DoE?
Reporters and activists are more than doing their jobs on this story. We’ve made it a thing. Law enforcement and politicians — of both parties — have failed so far to elevate and do anything about it — except for Allison Tant and Jason Shoaf.
This failure is particularly acute for the supposed opposition party, which has no political incentive except weakness to duck this massive, massive corruption scandal. It wounds DeSantis right in the heart of “education,” which he wants to talk about superficially and in racially-polarized ways for the next two years.
The three Democratic gubernatorial candidates, all three of whom are in government and could bring official focus and narrative, seem too disinterested or lazy to act on this civic/educational disaster and political gift. That needs to change; but it probably won’t. Democrats have no apparent interest in winning the power to kill the corruption they whine about — and from which they often get scraps.
At the same time, state-level law enforcement agencies seem so compromised by politics and institutional fear that Christina Pushaw just openly laughs at them about the MGT bid-rigging and Arza meeting. It’s a “few weeks too late” to ask for answers, she says.
Trump will get the DeSantis/Arza education corruption narrative, eventually
That leaves Trump.
He’s getting madder and more jealous of DeSantis; and he’s already weaponized Arza once against Marco Rubio back in 2016. From Politico:
In 2016, Rubio’s campaign tried to keep Arza away from the candidate because he was considered toxic. President Donald Trump in a Florida TV ad singled out Arza for "lobbing racial slurs and being convicted of witness tampering.”
Eventually, Trump and his minions are going to figure out that Arza is back and neck deep on Ron DeSantis’ behalf in this much much much bigger education corruption scandal — one that also makes DeSantis a toy for “low energy” Jeb through Corcoran and Arza.
This Trump narrative about DeSantis/Arza/Corcoran/Jeb corruption will be 100 percent true
Trump will wound DeSantis deeply in ‘24 when he figures out he can say this at rallies:
Ron DeSantis is soooo corrupt and phony that he hired Eric Hall, a CRT-guy who ran scam “innovation” schools into the ground in North Carolina (see here), to help Richard Corcoran “innovate” and run education into the ground in your “free” state; and then he turned around and let Corcoran and that racist convicted criminal Arza help Corcoran try to defraud poor rural children of millions on behalf of a bunch of Marco Rubio’s big city buddies. Then he covered it up all out in the open through his trash talking flack. You can’t make this stuff up.
This guy…. I tell you, he’s so corrupt he doesn’t even know he’s in debt to or what critical race theory he believes. Drain his swamp.
Whatever you want to say about Trump, inciter of the Capitol Lynch Mob, he knows how to drive a narrative. And unlike most of his narratives, this one’s all entirely true — right now.
As soon as Trump starts talking about it, all hell will break loose.
That’s without law enforcement ever putting Arza or Corcoran or Oliva or Ramsey or Tuck or anybody else under oath in a law enforcement investigation. But every day they don’t is more embarrassing and more fodder and a bigger cover-up in plain sight.