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VR Laboratories timeline

October 2010: The recently created VR Labs applies for a $5 million jobs stimulus grant from Lee County.
February 2011: The county commission awards the grant.
October 2011: Former lieutenant governor Jeff Kottkamp joins the company as chief executive officer.
August 2012: Lawsuits and liens against VR by its contractors and landlord begin to surface, and Lee County officials start to question how the grant money has been spent.
Thursday: VR and Kottkamp both confirm that he’s left the company.

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Former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp abruptly vanished from his job as chief executive officer of Bonita Springs-based VR Laboratories and popped up as a partner in a Tallahassee-based law firm.

But VR wasn’t releasing much information on why Kottkamp left his $240,000-a-year job with the embattled health drink startup, which is still facing lawsuits from business partners and questions from Lee County officials about a $5 million job-stimulus grant.

VR chief administrative officer Kay Gow would make only a brief statement on Kottkamp’s departure:

“The VR Labs team believes Jeff Kottkamp is a very talented person and everyone at VR Labs will miss him very much,” she said Thursday afternoon. “VR Labs understands Mr. Kottkamp’s desire to accept another opportunity.”

Right now “there is not an acting CEO but VR Labs will begin the search for such a person very soon.”

Kottkamp did not return an email or calls to his cellphone and to his office at Messer Caparello & Self. He did confirm his departure in an email to The Associated Press.

VR received the jobs grant from the county two years ago but its 18,000-square-foot planned bottling plant off Alico Road sits dark and empty as the company’s legal disputes with its landlord and contractors stall the beginning of production there.

The company is in discussions with county officials over its documentation of the number of high-paying jobs created under the terms of the grant, and also over VR’s plans to invest its own capital in the project.

County commission John Manning said VR hadn’t told him Kottkamp was leaving.

“I wasn’t given the courtesy of any notification and I don’t know if that’s even protocol,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll come up with a new CEO who’ll be able to turn the corner and get this thing back on track.”

Kottkamp represented Cape Coral in the Florida House of Representatives from 2001 to 2006 and was lieutenant governor under Gov. Charlie Crist from 2007-11.

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, who was first elected to the state House when Kottkamp was lieutenant governor, said he had not heard of Kottkamp’s job change.

“Jeff has been a servant for the community for nearly two decades and I wish him well,” Caldwell said.

Staff writer Tim Engstrom contributed to this report.

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