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Florida congresswoman calls for federal probe into FPL

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CBS News Miami Live

ORLANDO - A U.S. congresswoman from Florida is asking the Department of Justice to investigate Florida Power & Light over claims that the utility used "dark money" to disguise sources of political funding and sway elections in the state, as well as other allegations documented in recent news reports.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday that recent press reports in Florida had "exposed apparent corruption, influence peddling and breaches of the public trust by Florida's largest electric utility Florida Power & Light and its officers."

"Numerous public corruption scandals involving electric utilities across the country have resulted in federal public corruption criminal and civil probes, and it appears that such oversight is needed in Florida now," the letter said.

FPL Chief Communications Officer David Reuter said in an emailed statement that documents cited in the news reports were "both an inaccurate and misleading representation of our actions."

The owner of an Alabama-based consulting firm once used by FPL is in a bitter legal dispute with former employees, and documents cited in the news reports were leaked to gain leverage in the litigation, Reuter said.

"From the moment we learned about these allegations, we undertook a thorough investigation which found no evidence of illegal wrongdoing by FPL or any of our employees," Reuter said.

The split at Matrix, the Alabama consulting firm, between the company's owner and former employees has led to litigation.

Castor's request for an investigation follows reporting from the Orlando Sentinel that Matrix worked to oust the utility's foes from elected office. The Miami Herald and the Sentinel reported this week that the Alabama consulting firm secretly bankrolled a Tallahassee news outlet that advocated for rate hikes, pushed for legislative favors, and criticized political opponents of FPL. Last month, Florida news outlets reported that the Alabama consultants had covertly surveilled a Florida Times-Union columnist whose coverage was deemed to be critical of FPL.

According to the Sentinel, the Alabama consultants were at the center of "ghost" candidate efforts in Florida.

A 2020 state Senate race in central Florida and two others in South Florida, have been the focus of scrutiny over whether independent "ghost" candidates entered the races solely to siphon off votes from Democrats. The "ghost" candidates in the three Florida races were promoted by a pair of entities chaired by then-GOP political consultant Alex Alvarado, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Alvarado has been notified by South Florida prosecutors that he is a target of their investigation, which has already led to the indictment of former lawmaker Frank Artiles, according to the Sentinel. Artiles is accused of bribing another of the "ghost" candidates to run in South Florida's Senate District 37.

Separately, two political operatives and an independent candidate were charged in Seminole County in May with election finance violations.

Matrix and FPL have not been accused of wrongdoing in the investigations.

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