A bit of history. On April 15, 2011, the Tampa Bay Times, known then as the St. Pete Times, wrote of then County Administrator David Hamilton, “Facing yet another barrage of headlines about someone the county hired without finding the skeleton in the closet, several county commissioners on Friday had more hard questions for the county administrator.” The “skeleton” was a contractor the county hired with a criminal history. Hamilton lost his job soon afterwards.
Now, let’s go back a little further. In 2004, the ‘Times’ led the charge in outing a business owner who had a “lengthy criminal history” according to their investigation, which in turn caused the county to rescind their contract with the company, “TVSS Manufacturing Inc.”
Contrast that “storied history” of investigative reporting with the ‘Times’ of today who desperately wants the county to buy their $4.4 million dollar building (realtors tell FNF it’s worth about half that) on Cortez Boulevard.
When Florida News Flash (FNF) wrote an article announcing a deal the county had negotiated to bring a new company to the airport and noted that the company, Transformation Aviation Services (TAS), had just been incorporated using a UPS Store address in Lakeland, the ‘Times’ very quickly countered with a glowing article about David Doyle Tidwell, the owner of TAS.
But, after very little investigation by FNF staff, problems and issues began to quickly appear.
First, the county began stonewalling when we asked for information. In trying to research this company, and David Doyle Tidwell, the county refused to cooperate with FNF and denied every public records request made concerning TAS except for documents that were already posted on the county website. No phone numbers, no business addresses, no financial history, and no business application. When we asked for the same information the ‘Times’ used to write their articles, we were told that the county did not provide that information to them. We were told that the information was protected by “Confidentiality Agreements.”
Think about that. That means someone at the county, a commissioner or staff, is breaking the law by disclosing information that is protected by the “Confidentiality Agreements” which the county then uses to block FNF from getting the same information.
Back to David Doyle Tidwell, 58, of Lakeland.
First, Tidwell appears to have a criminal history according to emails and documents provided to us from the Florida Dept. of Corrections, Florida Office of Community Corrections (Probation Office), and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. The conviction stems from an arrest for ‘Lewd and Lascivious Act Upon A Child Under 16.’ (Click here to see the Polk County Sheriff’s documents)
At the time of the arrest, David Tidwell was working as an aircraft mechanic for Page AVJet in Orlando. This seems to validate a statement in the ‘Times’ article that Tidwell has “been in some aspect of the (aviation) business since the early 1980s.”
To lure the new company (TAS) to Hernando County, our county administrator, Len Sossamon, and county commissioners, agreed to let TAS have a 21,000 square foot hangar and a 4,500 square foot “state-of-the-art” welcome center rent free for three years.
The press release announcing the deal from the county states, “TAS is a premier provider of interior modifications and light maintenance for head of state and VIP corporate jet aircraft with more than 70 years of aviation experience.”
Yet, in researching TAS, we found that the company was just recently incorporated December 19, 2014. TAS has no business track record. The company used a UPS store address, located in Lakeland, for their incorporation papers. The incorporation papers show David D. Tidwell, 58, as the CEO and Registered Agent in Florida.
Another company that appears to be owned by David D. Tidwell, Flying Eagle Aviation Support, also uses a UPS store for their business address. The two UPS stores are located 2.8 miles from each other in Lakeland. FNF can find no physical business address for either company anywhere in the country.
Tidwell’s Linkedin page for Flying Eagle Aviation Support states that he has been Self-employed since May 2011 (4 yrs 3 mths), has a vast knowledge of corporate aircraft, and his specialty is large transport category completions and delivery. The page also returns a business location as the Greater St. Louis Area. Again, this was mentioned in the ‘Times’ article. However, there is no mention of how many employees Flying Eagle Aviation Support employs, if any.
The Linkedin page appears to match statements Tidwell provided to the ‘Times.’ The Linkedin page is the only, repeat, only internet reference we can find involving Tidwell and these companies. The companies have no website, no phone numbers, no physical address that we can document, or anything establishing that they are a going concern.
“I am excited to welcome Transformation Aviation Services to our community,” County Administrator Len Sossamon said in the prepared press release. “Manufacturing luxury planes is a niche market and I’m proud they chose Brooksville for its headquarters.”
The incentive package Sossamon negotiated with TAS includes 36 months of free rent. This equals $377,028 given to Transformation Aviation Services (TAS) over the three year period. The day the deal was approved by commissioners, TAS CEO David Doyle Tidwell remarked, “This was a lifelong dream.”
In making his presentation to the county commission, David D. Tidwell showed the commission 17 slides, 8 of which were before and after pictures of completed airplanes, that yielded virtually no information about the company or the people involved. The one tidbit of info contained in the document was Tidwell having over 40 years of aviation experience and that the founders and key management of the company have over 85 years of combined experience in the aviation business.
Several people watching the presentation that day wondered aloud, were the before and after pictures in the slide show actually of planes Transformation Aviation Services had completed?” Through FNF’s investigation, we now know that TAS could not have completed the jobs shown on the slides.
There are a lot of people in the community who question whether $377,000 spent on Transformation Aviation Services was a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Note: The only County Commissioner to return our calls for comment was Commissioner Jim Adkins. “This is the first I’ve heard about any criminal record,” Adkins responded.
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