Suspended HART CEO spent nearly $2,000 at restaurants

Last year, Hillsborough County voters were so fed up with traffic they approved the highest sales tax in the state to fund improvements. Then in March, Ben Limmer was hired to lead Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority - HART - which will spend much of the new tax money.

In November, eight months after giving Limmer a $210,000 base salary, contributions to a 401k plan, six weeks of paid time off, and use of a company purchase card, HART’s board voted unanimously to suspend its new CEO while a private firm investigates a whistleblower accusing Limmer of improper conduct relating to procurement - which generally means spending.

Shortly after the vote, HART signed an agreement with the Tampa based law firm Carlton Fields to conduct the investigation at a rate of $350 an hour. The firm is authorized to spend up to $100,000 on the investigation.

HART lawyer David Smith said at the time of Limmer’s suspension, “It is important that we move expeditiously both in terms of whether we clear the individual accused, or we find out what the problems are and start solving those."

Previous: 'You probably need to leave now:' HART CEO suspended; investigation into alleged misconduct underway

We don't know if the lawyers will find any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, FOX 13 obtained records form HART for a glimpse at some of the transactions they may be looking into.

Spending records show Limmer charged nearly $3,000 on his agency-issued card from May 10 through October 23. Two-thirds of the total was spent on food and drink.

Records show Limmer made 63 charges, totaling $1,900, at restaurants and coffee shops, including Capital Grille, Bascom’s Chop House, Malio’s Prime, and The Bricks, where he made seven charges.

Some charges were made on weekends. Most of them were made in town.

Agency policy states meal purchases should only be made when there is a HART business reason to work through a meal period.

Limmer noted “business purposes” in his statements and receipts. On a separate note, receipts include charges for sales tax, however, agency policy directs cardholders to ensure sales tax is not charged because HART is sales tax-exempt.

HART expects the attorneys to complete their investigation early next year.

We reached out to HART for comment and a spokesperson said HART can't discuss a pending investigation.