The Buzz 11/21/19
On Nov. 4, the former manager of the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) was arrested for stealing over $510,000 worth of recyclables from ECUA and allegedly funneling the proceeds to a shell company he owned.
According to the arrest report, Jarrell Lamar Reynolds was hired by ECUA in September 2018 to run the MRF at the Perdido Landfill—“ECUA believed that hiring Reynolds would increase the efficiency of the recycling operation and increase their revenues through the introduction of new customers for their recyclable material.”
On Dec. 5, 2018, Reynolds chartered JAT Recycling in Georgia. He allegedly used the company, of which he is the sole officer, according to the report, to receive funds from three ECUA customers and converted the sales to his personal use. From the report, it appears the management of two of the vendors were “led to believe that JAT was acting as a broker between ECUA and their companies.” Instead of keeping a commission for its work, JAT kept all the proceeds.
Reynolds left his position suddenly in January 2019 after an ECUA auditor began to ask questions. Reynolds/JAT promised to make payments to ECUA in emails.
Bank records showed the three vendors paid $510,685 to JAT Recycling from Oct. 15, 2018, to Feb. 20, 2019. The payments were for recyclable materials taken from the ECUA facility. Reynolds withdrew $482,330 from the account up to March 4, 2019. He made a down payment on a 2016 Porsche during that period.
When the ECUA assistant director of finance sent an invoice to JAT Recycling in March 2019, the utility got his reply—“Payments are pending due to the criminal investigation of Jarrell Reynolds. All commodities were legally sold to JAT Recycling, and we take full accountability of funds due. Please cease and desist all criminal actions against Jarrell Reynolds so we can move forward with getting this paid.”
That was the last correspondence between ECUA and JAT Recycling, according to the arrest report. Reynolds posted a $100,000 bail bond and was released Nov. 5. ECUA issued no press release about the arrest.
Inweekly reached out to ECUA and several of its board members after we posted the arrest report.
ECUA Executive Director Steve Sorrell said, “This is a criminal matter, so any comments must be restricted at this point. I will say that we are strongly and actively pursuing criminal prosecution in this matter, in order to protect our ratepayers’ interests. The ECUA staff swiftly found the concern and communicated with law enforcement officials in order to seek justice. A confidential internal audit was initiated by the ECUA staff, at which time Mr. Reynolds quickly and unexpectedly left his employment. We will continue to cooperate with the authorities in this matter and assist in any way we can.”
District 4 ECUA board member Dale Perkins called Inweekly and said that ECUA staff had told him that an auditor had caught irregularities and the utility had kept quiet about the issue because it didn’t want to interfere with Escambia County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation.
District 1 ECUA board member Vicki Campbell said, “The administrator has kept us abreast of the case as it has unfolded. It appears (Reynolds) was doing this with others besides ECUA. Thankfully, our ECUA finance auditor figured it out and started asking questions and thwarted any further theft from the ECUA or its vendors … I was very happy to hear they had arrested him last week, and I hope he is prosecuted to the fullest for what he has done to the utility and others.”
Campbell added, “Our recycling program has had its fill of trouble this year, but the market went up for the first time this year in October. Let’s pray that trend continues.”
Last week, U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe announced that David C. Williams pled guilty to using interstate facilities for purposes of racketeering, transporting women for prostitution, harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain and being involved in a money-laundering conspiracy.
“Human trafficking is high on the list of the most heinous crimes because its perpetrators treat people as property to be abused and monetized,” stated Keefe. “Consequently, this office, and all of our law enforcement partners, will be vigilant and diligent in the prevention, pursuit, prosecution and punishment of human trafficking.”
Williams was arrested by the FBI in August in connection with his operation of multiple Asian massage parlors in Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Along with the arrest of Williams on these federal charges, over a dozen search warrants were executed at massage parlors linked to Williams in these three states.
This included multiple federal search warrants in Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and Gainesville, all of which are located in the Northern District of Florida. Over half a dozen seizure warrants were also executed on bank accounts linked to Williams.
During his guilty plea, Williams admitted operating Asian massage parlors that maintained Chinese females illegally present in the United States who were offering sexual acts at the parlors in return for money. The investigation revealed that Williams was using the now-defunct website backpage.com to run tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of advertisements for his illicit businesses.
Records obtained from financial institutions and airlines also confirmed that Williams paid for the travel of the Chinese females throughout the United States and, particularly, to locations where he maintained illicit massage parlors. The records from financial institutions also revealed that Williams and his conspirators laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars through bank accounts that were opened in nominee names in an effort to distance Williams from the illegal activity.
“Human trafficking is a crime that happens all around us, often in plain sight, impacting the
safety of our neighborhoods and our quality of life,” said Rachel L. Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division.
“When human beings are treated as commodities, they are not only being abused physically, but emotionally and financially as well,” added Rojas. “The FBI and our law enforcement
partners will continue to collaborate at every level to disrupt and dismantle organizations
responsible for this illegal activity.”
Williams faces up to 10 years imprisonment on charges related to transporting females for
purposes of prostitution and harboring them for financial gain. He also faces up to five years imprisonment for racketeering conduct and up to 20 additional years of imprisonment for engaging in a money-laundering conspiracy. As part of his guilty plea, Williams will also forfeit over $125,000 in currency that was seized from his massage parlor locations and related bank accounts.
Sentencing has been set for 1 p.m. on Feb. 7, 2020, at the United States Courthouse in Pensacola.
UWF Foundation Openings
The University of West Florida Foundation, Inc. nominating committee announced openings on its Board of Directors beginning in Summer 2020. Individuals with fundraising and leadership talents and an interest in supporting the university and making a difference in the community are invited to apply for membership on the UWF Foundation Board of Directors. Applications will be accepted online until Feb. 1, 2020.
“Our board members are passionate UWF advocates whose partnership we rely on to support our interests on campus and in the community,” said UWF President Martha D. Saunders. “Our members’ fundraising skills are vital in bolstering UWF’s new and existing programs. The culmination of their individual support moves UWF forward.”
Currently, the board is comprised of 28 dedicated alumni and friends who serve as advocates for the university, encourage philanthropic support and manage the investments and business affairs of the foundation.
If you’re interested in nominating yourself or someone else for the UWF Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors, fill out the online application prior to Feb. 1, 2020, for an appointment beginning in July 2020. All directors are elected by the full board and approved by the UWF president and Board of Trustees. If you nominate another individual for membership on the board, the foundation staff will contact the applicant to confirm availability and willingness to serve. All applications are received and reviewed by the president of the UWF Foundation.
For more information about UWF Foundation, Inc., visit uwf.edu/foundation.
Cast Iron Celebration
On Nov. 8, Pensacola Energy celebrated the completion of a large-scale underground pipeline replacement project that spanned three years of construction and five project areas around downtown.
In September 2019, Pensacola Energy replaced the last of its centuries-old cast iron piping system under Pensacola. Cast iron pipe installation began in the late 1800s around Pensacola, primarily for natural gas lighting. Installation continued into the early 1900s, until bare steel piping became the norm. By the early 20th century, a total of 88 miles of low-pressure cast iron gas main was installed, supplied by seven regulator stations.
In September of 2016, Pensacola Energy began the first of five project area gas main upgrades in the downtown area. Over the next three years, Pensacola Energy replaced the remaining 80.2 miles of main; 3,527 services; 3,419 residential customers; and 108 commercial customers with new, leak-free, high-pressure service. All upgrades were installed in compliance with the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and completed in September 2019.
American Magic Returns
New York Yacht Club American Magic, U.S. Challenger for the 36th America’s Cup, has returned to the Port of Pensacola for its winter training. American Magic is bringing back the Mule, the team’s 38-foot test boat, along with its full-size AC75 boat. The team was formed in 2017 to win the America’s Cup, the highest prize in sailing and the oldest trophy in international sports.
The Port of Pensacola offers a wide and deep channel, plenty of dockage space, indoor and outdoor storage, direct rail access and a full range of cargo handling equipment .
The 36th America’s Cup match will take place in Auckland, New Zealand, in March 2021. Prior to the America’s Cup, American Magic will compete in several America’s Cup World Series events and the Prada Cup, the Challenger Selection finals. The Challenger who wins the Prada Cup in early 2021 will earn for the right to face the current defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the America’s Cup match.
Mark Your Calendar
Women for Responsible Legislation will hold their monthly meeting from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 21, at Pensacola City Hall, 222 W. Main St. This month’s speaker will be Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who will be addressing the issue of pesticide effects on human health, particularly on children. WRL meetings are always open to the public. Refreshments served at 11:15 a.m.
Architectural Review Board will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Pensacola City Hall, 222 W. Main St., Hagler-Mason Conference Room, Second Floor.
Community forums on expectations of appointed school superintendent will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Pensacola High School cafeteria, 500 W. Maxwell St.
The 42st Annual Christmas Creation Arts & Craft Show will be held 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the First United Methodist Church, 80 E. Wright St. Over 50 handmade vendors will be there, including pottery, monogramming, silk, jewelry, soaps, Christmas decor and much more. Lunch served both days. Santa will be there 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday.
Downtown Improvement Board will meet 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the Bowden Building, Room #1, 120 Church St.
The Santa Rosa County Writers’ Guild seeks poems for Issue IV of the Blackwater Literary Journal. For a limited time, the Guild is looking for poems from residents of Santa Rosa County. To be considered, the poems should be pasted onto the body of an email and sent to SRCWG@mediacombb.net.
The Pensacola MESS Hall will be open for extended hours during the upcoming school vacations. During the week of Thanksgiving, November 25-30, the museum will be open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., except for Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. To learn more, visit pensacolamesshall.org.