The Friends of Lake Jackson, based in Tallahassee, Florida, were appalled last month when an Atlanta-based real estate broker, representing a Wal-Mart project, reportedly offered the group a six-figure contribution if they would support the building of a 180,000 s.f. superstore. The group reported the incident as an attempted bribe, causing Leon County Commissioner Dan Winchester to say in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that “Lake Jackson is not for sale.” One of Wal-Mart’s plans was to build a supercenter at the site of the current Sam’s Club on North Monroe street. Tallahasse already has three Wal-Mart supercenters. The existing Sam’s club, which is 110,000 s.f. is moving to a new building. Neighbors object to the new Wal-Mart superstore plan, because the plan shows the building moving into a forested area with ravines and streams. That land is now zoned residential, and the Friends group wants Wal-Mart to stay within the footprint of the existing Sam’s Club. The real estate agent who offered the group money, told the newspaper “How do you characterize that as a bribe? That is ridiculous — ludicrous.” The agent said he wasn’t trying to bribe anyone, just showing the group its options. One member of the Friends group told the newspaper that the offer “was to ‘substantially’ increase our working capital for Friends of Lake Jackson where we could provide resources for the improvement of the lake.” Under Florida law, bribery includes attempting to influence not just government officials, but also officers in a private organization. The bribe would have to include criminal intent to be illegal. The agent said, “It’s frustrating when you try to do something good and it gets turned around.” The President of the Friends of Lake Jackson called the offer a bribe in an email to group members.
Six figures? Not bad. There was case in Somerville, Massachusetts where a homeowner was reportedly offered $1 million by Home Depot to drop her lawsuit against them. She didn’t, and Home Depot pulled out of the case. Other “bribes” were reported in New Orleans, where a Wal-Mart developer allegedly paid several community residents thousands of dollars to testify in favor of his plan. For more on such stories, search by “Somerville” or “New Orleans.” Money doesn’t just talk anymore, it sprawls.