VR Labs has deadline to pay money back
FORT MYERS, Fla. -
Now an update to a situation we've been telling you about involving Lee County government. You may recall a deal it made in 2010 with VR Labs to bring over 200 jobs to the county by 2016. That hasn't happened. So, where's the money it got?
According to a letter obtained by FOX4 News, VR Labs has until next Wednesday to pay back $4,694,548. That's what's left of what VR Labs was given to bring jobs to the county. But that's only part of the story. We're learning about all this because of a lawsuit that was re-filed last week.
"They were given approximately $5 million and that money was provided up front which was a departure from Lee County's normal protocals," said Benjamin Yormak, who is a Fort Myers employment attorney. "Typically the money was dolled out in chunks according to how many jobs were created".
Yormack is an attorney who's filed suit against Lee County claiming the VR Labs case is what started the problems he's suing about. He says the $5 million dollars was given to the company with the promise it would create 208 jobs by 2016. "The plant is not operational, it's mired in lawsuits," added Yormack. "Nobody quite knows where the money went".
He's now suing two former directors of the county's Economic Development Office, Jim Moore and Glen Salyer because his client, Lisa Wagner, says she was retaliated against and fired after she was told to "shut up about it and was told to stop asking questions" when she spoke up about what, the suit says, is corruption. "She was told in no uncertain terms that if you create trouble you're going to be fired," explained Yormack.
Yormack first filed the lawsuit in January but has now re-filed it under the Racketeer, Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO, as it's called. Yormack says the county committed mail fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and retaliation against a witness. "When a witness testifies before a committee or before any kind of law enforcement body or court they can't be retaliated against. An element of RICO is it protects the witnesses from being intimidated against".
Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch replied to the suit saying, in part; "We certainly hope the plaintiff can prove each and every allegation because they will be held accountable to do so. The allegations are outrageous assaults on these employee's character. We look forward to the opportunity to provide a vigorous defense to these allegations and the vindication of the County and the named individuals that we represent."
The lawsuit also says Salyer fired five of the six people who cooperated in an audit within his first ten weeks on the job. Also, if VR Labs doesn't pay that almost $4.7 million back by next Wednesday, the county says it'll file suit.
We did attempt to get in contact with VR Labs but were unsuccessful.