By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
The matter should have ended there. Fadgen's management of the strip mall -- and thus his conflict of interest -- was ostensibly over.
But it was just the beginning. Nearly two years later, political opponents of Fadgen's discovered that he'd never actually resigned as personal representative of the estate. And even though he did resign as president of the corporation, he simply made the dead man, Patrick Vanella, the president, while making his own son vice president. Fadgen also remained the corporation's registered agent. These revelations prompted political activist John Garon, who was running against Fadgen at the time, to file a complaint with the Commission on Ethics. The complaint sparked a state investigation that would help to expose a hidden underside to Fadgen's involvement with the strip mall and the city.
On August 31, 1999, Commission on Ethics Investigator Robert Malone interviewed Veltri, who was then the mayor of Plantation. Malone was curious about Fadgen's claim that he'd only spoken with Maclain, the city building director, once and had "purposefully and deliberately avoided all contact with city staff" since.
Veltri told Malone that Fadgen might have asked him what he thought about bringing down the fines and even remembered that he might have told Fadgen, "If that's your word, then we'll take it."
Maclain, meanwhile, strongly contradicted Fadgen's story, telling the investigator that Fadgen called him several times about the strip mall, both before and after the settlement agreement was voted on by council. According to Maclain, Fadgen called to make sure that the city felt that the strip mall was complying with the settlement agreement. Lunny, the city attorney, also says he's had discussions with Fadgen concerning the strip mall since Fadgen's announced resignation but wouldn't detail what was said.
City records contradict Fadgen's version of his role in the settlement as well. Malone overlooked a letter from Laystrom to the city in which the lobbyist wrote, "I have discussed this matter with the trustee representing Pat Vanella's minor son. The trustee has asked that I propose the following settlement to the city." The terms in the letter were the exact ones that were passed by council. While his name wasn't mentioned, Fadgen, of course, was that trustee. The only other possible person it could have been was Demeo, who was named the successor trustee, and he told New Times that he had nothing to do with coming up with the terms of the settlement agreement.
When Malone interviewed Fadgen last August, the councilman was accompanied by his lawyer, Ellen Gibbs, the wife of a former Plantation councilman and a contributor to Fadgen's campaigns. Before the interview Fadgen raised his right hand and swore to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God."
Malone knew that Fadgen hadn't really cut his ties with the strip mall. It was a matter of public record. But Fadgen had repeated -- to the press and anyone else who asked him -- that even though he didn't actually resign as personal representative of the Vanella estate, he no longer carried out those duties. It was a "technical error," he would say, and, in spirit, he didn't really violate the Commission on Ethics' ruling.
Malone showed him stark evidence to the contrary -- a document dated July 18, 1998, that Fadgen had signed as personal representative.
Had he known about it, Malone might have shown Fadgen the Armstrong building permit as well. In the permit, dated five months after his alleged resignation, Fadgen signed as "owner" of the strip mall. And there's also an estate document that Fadgen, post-"resignation," signed as personal representative and swore he made a "diligent search" to find everyone who had a claim against the Vanella estate.
Malone had only the accounting document. But it was enough. When Fadgen was presented with it, he literally began stammering.
"Wait a minute," Gibbs intervened sharply. "I've tried to explain this to him [Fadgen] and I'll try to explain it to you [Malone]. Jerry did resign as personal representative . [H]e had no control over what the court would do."
Then Fadgen said, "It wasn't until 1999 that I was released."
"OK, so despite your attempts to resign, you couldn't until the judge allowed you to?" Malone asked Fadgen.
"That's correct," Fadgen replied.
It was a handy excuse for Fadgen. He hadn't lied to his city when he said he was going to resign. It was only that the probate judge, Mark Speiser, wouldn't let him resign. Fadgen has told the same story to daily-newspaper reporters and even to city officials.
It isn't true. The truth is that Fadgen never petitioned the court to resign, says Cunningham, the estate's attorney. Fadgen had mailed a letter of resignation to Cunningham, but then, a couple days later, Fadgen called the attorney and told him that the city and the strip mall had come to an agreement. Cunningham says he interpreted that as meaning that the resignation was no longer necessary. Neither he nor Fadgen ever petitioned the court for the resignation, and Fadgen simply continued serving as personal representative without a "break" in service, Cunningham says. In March 1999 Garon filed an ethics complaint against Fadgen, and it was only then that Fadgen finally resigned.