Krishna Lawrence was 22 and making a living trimming trees in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew when he met Seminole Tribal Council member David Cypress.
In the 15 years since, Lawrence, who is not a member of the tribe, has started more than a dozen companies, many catering to the Seminoles. He has done construction and remodeling for the tribe and installed security cameras, home theater systems, lighting and generators.
Lawrence's landscaping business, Five Points Corp., received $18.7 million from the tribe from January 2006 through this May. Three other Lawrence companies received $2 million between October 2006 and May, according to tribal records obtained by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
In April, the tribe traded property with a Lawrence company, giving him more than 500 acres next to its Big Cypress Reservation, valued at $1.7 million. In September, Lawrence sold off a little more than half of the property for just under $3 million, land records show.
He made a $1.3 million profit in five months and still owns about 200 acres.
Council member Max Osceola Jr. told the Sun-Sentinel he still thinks the trade was good for the tribe.
"If you buy a house, you want to flip it, is there anything wrong with that?" Osceola said. "That's called an entrepreneur."
Lawrence's landscaping business grew from eight to about 100 employees in the past three years, working on the Big Cypress Reservation where David Cypress has been the elected representative for almost two decades.
Lawrence and Cypress owned a gym together and were directors in two companies. Cypress has introduced and supported council resolutions benefiting Lawrence, records show.
Cypress declined a request for an interview.
In interviews with the Sun-Sentinel, Lawrence described Cypress as a "great friend."
Asked if he had benefited from his relationship with Cypress, Lawrence said, "Does a friend help a friend?"
Lawrence, 37, grew up in Miami's impoverished Liberty City and dropped out of Hollywood Hills High School in ninth grade. He now lives in a 6-bedroom, 5-bath house in Davie that was on the market in May for $3.2 million.
He has traveled for free on the tribe's Gulfstream IV jet with Cypress. Lawrence flew "approximately eight times, always at the invitation of David for either David's personal business, maybe a birthday celebration or something like that, or on tribal business when David was taking the Gulfstream somewhere… and asked Kris if he wanted to come along for the ride," said Lawrence's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn of Coral Gables.
Lawrence met Cypress on the tribe's Hollywood Reservation.
"He wanted work done out on the Big Cypress Reservation," Lawrence said. They "were having problems getting people to come out there to work, so I went out."
Today, Five Points trucks and crews are visible all over Big Cypress, planting and maintaining the meticulously kept grounds of tribal public buildings and some members' houses, including the compounds of Cypress, his brother Mitchell Cypress, who is Tribal Chairman, and their relatives.
Invoices obtained by the Sun-Sentinel from September 2006 show Five Points billed the tribe $142,567 to landscape a new home for a tribal member and $53,590 for landscaping at the home of David Cypress' daughter, Marcia Cypress. Her bill included $26,250 for two live-oak trees, $13,090 for sod and $6,075 in mulch.
Before Five Points Corp., another Lawrence-related company received millions from the tribe for landscaping on Big Cypress.
Tree trimmer with links to tribal leader runs multimillion-dollar businesses
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