'Eyebrow-raising' St. Augustine lighting contract void after CDD meeting

Article Courtesy of The Jacksonville Business Journal
By Will Robinson  
Published February 13, 2019


In a corner of Heritage Landing's 600 idyllic acres, about 40 residents crowded the amenity center on Thursday to learn what became of the neighborhood's pool lighting contract.

Exactly one month prior, the board awarded the $48,000 contract to a registered sex offender based largely on the advice of an alleged fraudster, who claimed the company, New Creation Consulting Co., had a lightbulb more than four times better than any known LED bulb.

That contract is now void, Heritage Landing District Counsel Wes Haber informed the board of the neighborhood's Community Development District, a special government entity. The board's February vote was conditional, and because NCC is not a licensed contractor in Florida, it failed the contract's conditions.

Board chair Timothy Fleming, on multiple occasions, had to corral discussion back to matters relating to the St. Johns County neighborhood's 1,100 homeowners, as some doggedly explored the minute developments that led to the board's February vote. Others were happy to focus instead on the three bidders that lost out on the pool lighting contract, the mushrooms growing on the tennis court and a patchy hill in need of irrigation.


The board also elected a Heritage Landing resident to replace Thomas Lance Clyce, the former homeowner's association president. Clyce resigned before the initial light bulb contract vote, but some insist he was instrumental in the board's decision.

Clyce has since been arrested and posted a $15,000 bond March 1 for unrelated charges. The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office arrested him on charges of fraud, grand theft and organized scheme to defraud.




When the board of the Heritage Landing Community Development District in St. Johns County voted last month to pay $48,000 for lightbulbs around its pool — $30,000 of it up front — some in the neighborhood thought the bulbs being offered were too good to be true.

Turns out, they might have been right — and the former homeowner association president who was seen as championing the deal has been arrested on unrelated charges.

On Valentine's Day, elected board members of the Heritage Landing CDD, a special purpose government entity, voted 3-1 to give the pool lighting contract to New Creation Consulting Co., a business owned by Michael Sawyer.

Bid materials Sawyer provided the board claimed his lights could emit 1,000 lumens per watt using components from Cree, a leading LED manufacturer. However, a Cree press release in May 2018 touted its "industry-best efficacy record" at just 231 lumens per watt.

Sawyer’s most ardent supporter, according to CDD board member Robert Och, was Thomas Clyce, who goes by his middle name, Lance. Clyce previously served as the president of the Heritage Landing homeowner's association and was a CDD board member, but resigned before the vote.

Clyce's primary income, according to his 2017 financial disclosure form, came from American Independent Lighting, a Tennessee company that claimed the same business address as NCC and featured links to NCC's site from its webpage.

On March 1, Clyce was arrested on charges of fraud, grand theft and organized scheme to defraud.

Clyce had used one of his companies, Jacksonville-based eLease International, to illegally charge an upfront fee on a brokered loan, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office alleged in a warrant affidavit. Clyce then spent the roughly $11,000 he received from a Maine company on credit card and mortgage fees, shopping, entertainment, dining out, utilities and bank fees, according to subpoenaed bank records, the sheriff’s office said.

This was not Clyce’s first brush with authorities.

In 2014, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation fined eLease $20,000 for four violations between 2012 and 2013, accusing Clyce of charging upfront fees for brokered loans for companies in Missouri, Arizona, Ghana and Jacksonville between 2012 and 2013. The fine has been paid, according to an OFR spokesperson.

Another company, New York-based Lease-It Capital Corp. sued Clyce for the same behavior in Duval County Circuit Court in 2014 and reached a settlement. A judge levied a $2,500 fine against Clyce in 2016 for not paying the amount agreed to in the settlement.

Sawyer, too, has faced criminal charges. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted sexual battery of a victim under 12, crimes that allegedly took place in 1986. A Hillsborough County judge sentenced him to five years of probation and registered him as a sex offender.

At Heritage Landing, Clyce helped tout Sawyer’s bulbs. At one point, he hand carried a document to several board members that laid out claims about the product, according to Sawyer's written response to staff questions and an email from CDD staffer Todd Myhill reviewed by the Business Journal.The members couldn’t copy the document, Sawyer said, because NCC was awaiting certification from DesignLights Consortium, a nonprofit that gives electronics industry-accepted qualifications, and Sawyer didn't want to risk his technology falling into competitors' hands.

After a DLC compliance manager learned of the claims Sawyer was making, the nonprofit made NCC remove all references to DLC from its online product descriptions. If NCC had submitted a 1,000 lumen per watt product for review, "it would certainly raise some eyebrows," DLC manager Brad Nemeth wrote in an email reviewed by the Business Journal, because none of the DLC's more-than-460,000 certified products claim more than 200 lumens per watt.

Representatives from NCC would not answer questions or pass them along to Sawyer. Clyce said Wednesday he would have a response but did not provide one.

In the end, Heritage Landing won't be flipping the switch on the deal with NCC: The February board vote was conditional on NCC's ability to comply with state regulations, and it was discovered that because NCC is not a licensed general contractor in Florida, it cannot pull the needed electrical permitting for the work. Sawyer had claimed in his written responses that permitting would not be needed for the project, then later claimed a subcontractor could pull the permits.

"We're back to square one," said Och, who was the only member board to vote against the contract.

The board can redo the entire solicitation process, table the project or not do the project altogether. It meets again on March 14.