There's Something About Jerry

Plantation councilman Jerry Fadgen's management of a little strip mall has led to big conflicts of interest and even bigger lies

When told that Fadgen claimed he tried to resign, Cunningham was incredulous: "Jerry said that? I find that hard to believe."

So did Investigator Malone. "We don't call them lies," he says, chuckling at Fadgen's excuse. "We call them discrepancies."

Malone notes that there were quite a few "discrepancies" in Fadgen's statement. After a dozen years of investigating politicians, he's used to it. He added that he doesn't think a politician has ever been charged with perjury for lying to the Commission on Ethics under oath.

Garbage piles up outside the strip mall every week. The store's façade seems ready to collapse. And no, it's not legal.
photos/Preston
Garbage piles up outside the strip mall every week. The store's façade seems ready to collapse. And no, it's not legal.

Another discrepancy in Fadgen's statements was his oft-repeated assertion that Plantation businessman Demeo took over Vanella Enterprises after his resignation. But Demeo didn't really become president of the corporation until last year. Instead the deceased Vanella was penciled in as president, and Fadgen made his own son, Timothy Fadgen, then a 24-year-old student, vice president. It wasn't a bad deal for young Tim -- now he could put "corporate executive" on his résumé for doing… absolutely nothing. Fadgen admitted to Malone that his son was a "corporate officer in title only and has not been involved in any corporate decisions," according to Malone's investigative report. When asked by Malone last August about Tim Fadgen's role in the corporation, Demeo said he had no idea who Tim Fadgen was.

Demeo says he doesn't remember when he took over Vanella's operations and added that he wouldn't even attempt to answer the question without a lawyer. "I don't have time for the place, to tell you the truth," he says, adding that it's been nothing but problems for him. Demeo said he makes all the executive decisions but conceded that Fadgen collects rent, does the strip mall's finances, and for the most part, handles tenants (though Demeo says he sometimes negotiates leases). Which leads to yet another discrepancy.

Fadgen swore under oath that the only work he's done at the strip mall since his "resignation" in 1997 has been tax and accounting work and serving as the corporation's registered agent. That alone, it seems, would comprise a "contractual relationship" and nullify his 1997 promise to quit all "functions" of the corporation. But there was still more. Roughly half a dozen tenants contacted in the strip mall said Fadgen is running the place outright. Like Demeo, the tenants said that Fadgen collects the rent, signs the lease, rents out space, and handles the tenants.

"We give the rent checks to Jerry, and he takes care of all the money," says Neal Schultz, a friend of Fadgen's who owns a locksmith shop in the plaza.

"If you have any questions about this building," says Ken Leeds, a dry cleaner a few doors down from Fadgen, "you need to go down there to Fadgen's office. FADGEN."

Leeds should know the name; he gave Fadgen $1000 in political contributions last year. It isn't known why Leeds felt compelled to give Fadgen so much money for the campaign. Both men refused to discuss the checks. Leeds' business, however, is certainly subject to city regulations and, at any time, might need a break from the council on which Fadgen has a seat.

Leeds, who is on probation from a 1998 grand theft conviction, circumvented the $500 campaign limit by giving checks from two different corporations. One of those companies, though, has been inactive since 1996. In other words it appears to be an illegal contribution.

The $1000 from the dry cleaner might have helped fund a campaign flier circulated by Fadgen in which he responded to Garon's ethics complaint. Any notion that he had a conflict of interest in the strip mall, Fadgen wrote, "is an outright lie!!!… As a licensed CPA, I am duty bound to faithfully uphold the highest standards of business practice…. I ask you to continue to trust me to do what is right."


Fadgen's political allies have argued that they approved the deal Vanella Enterprises got from the city because it ensured the strip mall would quickly be brought into compliance with city codes. And a promise from an upstanding citizen (and councilman) such as Fadgen should be solid, right?

Wrong.

Three years after the city agreed to cut Vanella Plaza some slack, the strip mall is still a mess.

You wouldn't know it by listening to Fadgen, though. In his sworn statement with Malone, he boasted that improvements to the strip mall were "virtually all complete." Malone wrote in his investigative report that Fadgen told him "that the majority of the code violations have been corrected at the shopping center and that the center is scheduled to be in complete compliance" by the end of 1999.

In reality, just two weeks before Fadgen made these assurances to Malone, a city code enforcer found that "the building lacks proper maintenance or repair" and reported that "a majority of the items on the 1996 list have not been repaired and further deterioration has occurred." The decrepit fascia boards still hadn't been replaced, according to a building-department memo. The rain gutters weren't fastened securely. Ceiling tiles were still missing. No dumpster enclosure had been built. Some firewalls still hadn't been installed.

All this was in violation of the March 1997 agreement, in which Vanella Enterprises promised that it would make $92,495 worth of improvements within two years. The two biggest problems were a lack of dumpster enclosures and the shoddy face of the strip mall itself, which comprised $60,500, or roughly two-thirds of the work promised. Neither has been corrected.

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