TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. (WFLA) — A former Temple Terrace employee pleaded guilty to rigging a bid in a 2021 project involving concrete work for a city pickleball court.
Amir Anisi, 55, of Tampa, made a plea agreement with the Hillsborough County District Attorney’s office. He agreed to 36 months probation, 150 hours of community service, and $1,385 in investigation costs. Anisi also agreed not to work for a government agency ever again.
It was about two years ago when Temple Terrace was looking for bids to change a city racquetball court into space to play the trending sport of pickleball.
The project in question was under the $25,000 threshold that would have required city council approval, however, within months of the first serve on the new courts, the council did get involved.
Councilmember Meredith Abel went public in August 2021 with claims the bid was rigged. She was advised not to release the name of the source of the claim.
“The information I have to share with you today makes me very uneasy,” Abel said at the meeting before releasing details of the claim.
Five months later, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) arrested Anisi at City Hall, alleging he went to an unlicensed contractor and traded a lower price on work at his home for details about the bid.
During a January 2022 news conference, Tampa’s FDLE Special Agent in Charge Mark Brutnell detailed the alleged scheme.
“Anisi informed the vendor, a friend of his, the estimated price range the city was considering for the concrete work,” Brutnell said. “His friend submitted his bid under that estimate ensuring that his company would win the bid”
Anisi has not responded to multiple requests for comment. His attorney, Charles Arline, said he wanted to go to court but his client decided to take the deal to avoid jail time if he lost.
“It was a political witch hunt,” Arline said. “I wanted to litigate this case but Mr. Anisi just wanted to move on with his life.”
News of the allegations broke during a tumultuous time in Temple Terrace.
The “political” reference by Arline involved claims that implicated former City Manager Charles Stephenson, who maintained his innocence and was never charged.
But there was a lot of tension at city council meetings after the meeting in August of 2021.
Last June, Stephenson was fired by the council with members saying they were concerned about a lack of oversight with the pickleball bid.
“The bottom line here is I don’t trust Mr. Stephenson,” Abel said at the time.
After Abel made her initial statement in August 2021, Stephenson alleged the council violated Temple Terrace rules of order and procedure by discussing the claim in public.
Stephenson is now suing the city, alleging in a civil complaint that he was wrongfully terminated.
Neither Stephenson’s attorney nor Temple Terrace’s spokesperson chose to comment on the lawsuit.
The city denies Stephenson’s allegations in its answer to his lawsuit. A Zoom hearing on the civil case is scheduled for next week.