The U.S. Attorney’s office in Orlando has sued the Celebration-based Florida Manufacturing Extension Partnership over $12.6 million in lobbying, travel and other expenses dating back nine years ago.
The suit, filed July 30 in federal court, seeks return of $2.86 million in federal money paid to the FLMEP. According to the lawsuit, a 2007 audit of the agency identified the alleged problems. At the time, the agency had claimed total project costs of almost $20 million in two years.
The suit alleges that many of the nonprofit agency’s expenses were unreasonable, including travel, lobbying, training materials, T-shirts, part-time office space in Washington D.C., and bad debt. The suit alleges that some of FLMEP’s consulting contracts were duplicative.
The FLMEP and other state partnerships were formed about 20 years ago by the U.S. Department of Commerce to offer technology training, networking and support for manufacturers. The partnerships get federal funding matched by state funding and by in-kind contributions of labor and supplies.
The suit is based partly on findings by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that the FLMEP failed to maintain adequate documentation about the expenses.
A report from the FLMEP in 2012 said the agency’s work over a four-year period resulted in 2,647 new jobs and 5,205 saved jobs that otherwise would no longer exist, while it boosted sales for Florida companies and spent $191.9 million on modernization and workforce training.
Gene Lussier, chairman of the FLMEP, said the agency intends to fight the suit.
“We believe the entire suit is without merit and look forward to our day in court,” Lussier said.
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