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Florida Expressway Chief Quits over Porn Link

TAMPA – Ralph Mervine, executive director of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, resigned Wednesday night after a Tampa Tribune investigation found he is listed as the owner of a gay pornographic film production company in San Diego.

The company, Coast Productions, operates at least two adult Web sites and has an adult Yahoo membership group. All three advertise and display young men, ages 18 to 21, offering photos and video clips of explicit sexual activities.

Coast Productions produces DVDs for sale at $39.95 apiece, as well as monthly Web site memberships to view shorter video clips of young men engaging in sexual activity alone or with partners.

Mervine resigned hours after being approached by Tribune reporters about the company. He had worked for the authority since November 2004 as interim executive director. The board in July voted to make Mervine’s position fulltime.

Mervine refused Wednesday to discuss the company. Board members appeared stunned when called for reaction.

“This is unbelievable. This is unreal,” board member Tom Scott said. “I’m just shocked, man. I am shocked.”

Tribune reporters made several attempts to talk to Mervine, and he declined all of them until presented with a list of questions that was hand-delivered to his office at the authority.

After about 10 minutes, Mervine came into the lobby to meet with the reporters. When asked whether he was involved with Coast Productions, he said, “If you have anything dealing with the expressway authority, I’ll be glad to talk to you.”

When pressed with questions about the company, gay pornography and his association with the company, he continued to say he would answer any questions about the expressway authority.

“If there is any relationship with the authority, I can help you,” he said, motioning continually to where he was standing. “I’m trying to focus on the expressway authority.”

The Tribune uncovered Mervine’s ownership of Coast Productions while investigating his outside business activities. Mervine is listed as an executive producer of a 2004 documentary on stock car racing, “Walk of Legends: Then & Now,” which was directed by Leora Chai, the founder of the Tambay Film Festival.

He also is listed as a producer of one independent horror movie for Queequeg Films.

Mervine, a licensed engineer, was hired by the expressway authority as interim executive director in Novmeber 2004 after the collapse of an elevated span of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. In July, the expressway board voted to hire Mervine as the full-time executive director.

His salary, which is paid by expressway tolls, is $208,000. His contract also stipulates $6,000 a year for vehicle maintenance plus other expenses.

Prior to joining the authority, he worked around the world, serving as a senior project engineer for the Arabian American Oil Co., in Saudi Arabia from 1977 to 1980.

Mervine spent several years as a vice president for Brown and Root, in Houston, Texas, and a safety products company, Sure-Step of Tampa. Then, in 1989, he went to work for the Florida Department of Transportation as director of operations for District One, in Bartow.

Ten years after starting that job, his name appears on a document filed with the San Diego County Recorder as the sole owner of Coast Productions. People are required to file such statements when they plan to do business under any name other than their own.

Mervine left his job with the DOT in 2001.

Since August, he has weathered a string of controversies that engulfed the expressway authority after a competitive bid for its outside legal counsel contract. The agency was investigated by Gov. Jeb Bush’s office in September and currently is under review by the state auditor general and the FBI.

Mervine became a focus of Bush’s investigation because he had dinner with a bid applicant days before the bids were ranked. The law firm partner he dined with eventually won the legal contract despite being ranked second by the three-member committee.

The governor’s investigation found no criminal wrongdoing but did cite the appearance of impropriety in the bid process. The authority ultimately disqualified all bids received.

The authority recently opened the elevated spans of the expressway. Mervine was recommended to the authority because of his engineering expertise following the collapse in 2004 and the dismissal of the authority’s former executive director, Pat McCue.

The authority also has been under fire by state legislators who want to create a regional transportation agency. The authority this month received two bids on its current project, a proposed east-west toll road in New Tampa that would be the state’s first privately-owned road.

Scott, a Hillsborough County commissioner, has asked for Mervine’s termination or resignation since the legal contract controversy in August. The commission supported Scott’s stance, calling for Mervine’s ouster and expressing, in a symbolic vote, its lack of confidence in the agency.

Mervine is listed in various business reports and certified documents filed in San Diego County as the sole owner, the business contact or the domain administrative contact of Coast Productions.

His signature is on a 1999 request for a fictitious business name for the company. His name appears on renewal forms in 2003 and 2004. The registration is valid for five years.

The 2004 renewal included one change – the address was changed from Coast’s business address to Mervine’s home address in the Polk County town of Mulberry.

His home phone number is also listed in a comprehensive business report on Coast Productions.

The company’s San Diego address matches the address listed on Web sites for Coast Productions and Coast Guys. The Yahoo group, which has 1,146 members and was founded in 2005, directs members to both Web sites.

In addition to DVD sales, Coast Productions, through its Coast Guys Web site, offers one-month and three-month memberships for $19.95 and $49.95 respectively. The three-month membership includes a free DVD.

Coast Productions main Web site has 19 films available for purchase. The site advertises “Hot, young first-time models” and offers DVD titles including “My Guy,” “Twink Town,” and “Forever Boys.”

“Coast Productions has the hottest, sexiest young twink models from the age of 18 to 21 that are currently available,” its Web site says.

“Twink” is an expression used by gays to describe young-looking men.

The films include brief descriptions and list the actors only by their first names. One film is described this way: “Rob enjoys making his first solo video a day after his 18th birthday.”

Coast Production videos also are available for viewing on a number of adult Web sites that charge customers by the minute. The entire videos also are available for sale on other Web sites.

Mervine refused to discuss the company when asked by reporters. He refused to say whether his employers at the authority knew of his association with Coast.

“I’m trying hard to do my best to deal with expressway issues. …I’m not dealing with anything of a personal matter,” he said.

Mervine stepped into a side room twice for cups of water during the about 15-minute interview, repeating that he was doing his best to move the expressway authority forward.

“I don’t know of anything more I can do to help you with,” he said, moving toward the hallway that led to his office. “I’m trying so hard to bring benefits to this community and move things forward here. …I am totally focused on my work here. Do you know how hard I have worked for this authority? I’ve busted my butt for two years to make things happen here.”

 

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