St. Petersburg Times Continues to Create False Controversies Involving Republicans
By Spartacus Thrace
David DeCamp, Staff Writer for the St. Petersburg Times, is trying to create the impression of controversy involving Republicans where none exists, as he has in the past.
In a June 7, 2011 article titled “Pinellas Housing Authority land purchase could yield commission for former member,” DeCamp does not state, but strongly suggests without foundation, that members of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee (PCREC) engaged in illegal or unethical activity involving a proposed real estate purchase. The truth of the matter is clearly and demonstratively otherwise.
The facts are straightforward: The Pinellas County Housing Authority Board of Directors has been looking for land for a housing complex for veterans. Housing Authority Chairman Joseph Triolo asked Jay Beyrouti, a Florida licensed realtor for over a decade, if he knew of any land the Authority could purchase. Beyrouti told Housing Authority Board Executive Director Debbie Johnson about a 13-acre plot on Lake Seminole (about a mile from the Bay Pines Veterans Hospital) owned by Cornerstone Community Bank which had originally been purchased for $4.3 million and for which the bank wanted $2 million. Johnson recommended the purchase to the full Housing Authority board of directors at an open meeting on the record, and the Authority made an offer to the bank of $1.5 million. The bank refused the offer and the land was not purchased. No money — taxpayer or otherwise — changed hands and, if the deal had gone through, any rightfully-earned commission paid to Beyrouti would have been paid by the bank in accordance with standard business practices. Everything was done out in the open and on the record, and there was nothing illegal, unethical, or immoral about anything that any of the persons involved did — period.
DeCamp’s article is reprehensible in that it demonstrates a reckless disregard of, or lack of attention to, the truth that would tend to mislead or deceive another person or persons. The very title of the article is misleading in that it suggests that the land had been purchased (when it had not) and in positing as newsworthy that a former member of the Authority’s board “could” get a commission from the deal when in fact the deal never went through.
The article is also loaded with innuendo: At the beginning of the article, DeCamp finds that the board’s offer to the bank is “notable” because “It could result in a $45,000 commission to real estate agent J.J. Beyrouti, chairman of the Pinellas Republican Party [sic],”* without telling the reader that any such proposed commission would have been paid by the bank — not the Authority — and would have been lawful and in accordance with the standard practice in the real estate business, and without demonstrating any relevance to Beyrouti’s Republican Party affiliation or activities. Without informing the reader that any commission to Beyrouti would have been paid by the bank, or that Beyrouti had no business relationship with the Authority, DeCamp makes material omissions in his article that leave the reader to assume that Beyrouti was in such a business relationship and was going to be paid a commission by the Housing Authority.
DeCamp also exaggerates the amount of the commission Beyrouti would have received: According to Beyrouti, the commission would have been 2% on the $1.5 million purchase price, which is $30,000 and not the $45,000 amount stated in the article.
In his article, DeCamp gratuitously notes for the reader’s benefit that “A former board member, Beyrouti landed a piece of the deal after suggesting the land to board chairman Joe Triolo, a Republican precinct committeeman…” without telling the reader that Beyrouti is a licensed realtor, has no legal relationship to the Housing Authority, and is entirely permitted under the applicable law and rules of ethics to freely conduct business with the Authority if he wants to, and without explaining how Triolo’s political affiliation is relevant. DeCamp then sweetens the scent of conspiracy by asserting that “[E]xplanations of how Beyrouti gained a role — the agency already had a real estate firm — have been inconsistent or unclear,” without telling the reader that the Authority, like any other business in the market for real estate, is entirely free to seek and obtain information about real estate purchases from any source.
DeCamp then continues to cast aspersions on the Republicans involved by stating that “The authority board — which also includes Republican committeeman Alan Swartz — has approved the purchase offers, subject to receiving a new appraisal. But board member Charles Samaha has criticized the deal, … he complained about the ‘smell’ of the deal in April” without telling the reader what “smell” Samaha was referring to (Samaha was not accusing anyone of anything illegal) or explaining why it was significant to identify Swartz as a “Republican.” Further on, DeCamp writes that “This month [June], however, [Samaha] said he wasn’t as concerned about ethical issues with Beyrouti [emphasis added] because a one-year federal limitation on doing business with past board members has passed,” DeCamp plainly suggesting that there are ethical issues present when in fact there are none.
Perhaps DeCamp is sincere but simply inept at reporting the facts. Perhaps DeCamp is just another unelected liberal elitist in the mainstream media with no experience in government or business who feels that, despite his lack of knowledge or experience and the fact that all concerned were in full compliance with the law and all ethical rules that apply to such situations, he knows better than those who make and enforce the law. Regardless of his state of mind, DeCamp’s article is nothing more than a contrived controversy that squarely qualifies as a political “hatchet job“: It is factually inaccurate and misleading, falsely and wrongfully impugns the integrity of several people based upon their affiliation with the Republican Party, and it has inspired the posting on the internet version of the article of racist, xenophobic, and hateful comments directed against Beyrouti personally, and open accusations of graft and corruption against the other Republicans involved, that remain on the St. Petersburg Times website with the apparent approval of the Times as recently as June 13, 2011. The DeCamp article also comprises an attempt to obstruct the purchase of land for new housing for veterans borne of the author’s zeal to attack the Republican Party and its members.
The Times owes Beyrouti, the other people smeared along with him, and the PCREC an apology for the DeCamp article.
* Jay Beyrouti is currently the Chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee (PCREC), which represents the Republican Party of Florida in Pinellas County, not the “Pinellas Republican Party.”