The Double Cross

Two years ago, Ken Eggleston was Palm Beach County Sheriff Ed Bieluch's heir apparent. Now, they are implacable foes. What happened?

"He promised the citizens of Palm Beach County professional law enforcement," he declares. "Instead, he has become enamored with himself, and he has truly forgotten his fiduciary and public duties to the taxpayers."

Eggleston launched his campaign from offices a couple of miles west of I-95 on Okeechobee Road that offered the makeshift décor of any transitory headquarters. From here, he had hoped to unseat Foley, a Republican now serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. On an afternoon in late May, Democratic banners touting Eggleston, County Commissioner Carol Roberts, and Janet Reno dotted the walls and windows of the strip-mall suite. Reams of paper covered a jumble of outdated desks, in no discernible order. Eggleston worked out of a cubby of an office, which basically consisted of his chair and desk and one other chair tucked very, very close to him. This array was likely the result of conscious design as much as exigencies: Eggleston loves to talk, and he wants you close when he's doing so.

Ken Eggleston believed he could be both cop  and candidate. The sheriff thought otherwise.
Colby Katz
Ken Eggleston believed he could be both cop and candidate. The sheriff thought otherwise.
Lawyer Glen Bassett was one of five upper-level employees fired by the new sheriff. That decision cost taxpayers more than $200,000.
Colby Katz
Lawyer Glen Bassett was one of five upper-level employees fired by the new sheriff. That decision cost taxpayers more than $200,000.

That day, Eggleston wore a bright-blue polo shirt that was snug enough to suggest sizable pecs. The 36-year-old keeps his black hair short and crisply combed. His closely set eyes add intensity to his gaze. When you're in Eggleston's personal space -- such as in that chair beside his desk -- he overwhelms you with his physical presence and his zeal for exposition. Bieluch puts a less flattering spin on Eggleston's gift for gab: "I've often told him that he missed his calling," the sheriff testified at an internal affairs investigation in April. "He should have been a used-car salesman, because he has the ability to turn things around." Indeed, Eggleston possesses unflagging confidence that, just given the chance, he can bring anyone around to his point of view.

Raised in Fort Lauderdale, Eggleston attended the Broward County Police Academy in Davie and earned an associate degree in criminal justice at Broward Community College. The law-enforcement career that followed is filled with as much conflict as accomplishment. The Deerfield Beach Police Department hired him in 1987, but he was fired in 1989 for allegedly urinating in a cup for a fellow recruit to beat a drug test. He hired an attorney; in 1992, the city manager concluded that Eggleston had done nothing wrong and reinstated him. In the meantime, he had joined the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office in September 1989. While working as a patrolman, he attended classes at Barry University in Miami Shores and received a bachelor's degree in public administration. With an eye toward moving up in rank, he attended the command school at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

In annual evaluations, Eggleston's supervisors at the sheriff's office consistently praised his communication skills and problem-solving ability. The biggest criticism was for being unshaven too often during his first year. Eggleston's allegiance to superiors, however, was not blind, and he has never hesitated to protect his interests. Shortly after beginning work in the Delray Beach district, he composed a petition that outlined a pattern of discrimination and retaliation by the district lieutenant, Ralph McCotter. Two sergeants and 14 deputies signed it, and Eggleston submitted it to then-Sheriff Richard Wille. McCotter was transferred. Eggleston was subsequently passed over for promotion, despite scoring highly on a written exam. In response, he filed a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging that he was being punished for writing the petition. That lawsuit and another relating to the same issues weren't resolved for seven years.

Eggleston first met Bieluch when he became night commander of the Delray district in 1992. Good-ol'-boyism was rife among the older officers at that time, Eggleston recalls, but Bieluch seemed different, despite his tenure level. "He seemed more progressive," Eggleston says. "We got along well."

New Times requested an interview with Bieluch to discuss his relationship with Eggleston and other personnel issues. Diane Carhart, the agency's spokeswoman, said there was no time in Bieluch's schedule for it.

In 1996, Bieluch asked Eggleston to help campaign for Jim FitzGerald, police chief of Palm Beach Gardens, who was running against incumbent Sheriff Charles McCutcheon in the Democratic primary. The two ran the campaign in the southern part of the county. FitzGerald had promised Bieluch a prominent position in the administration if he won, Eggleston says. FitzGerald lost in a close vote. Republican Neumann defeated McCutcheon that fall. Bieluch and Eggleston continued to work together in Delray Beach until the latter transferred to the community policing unit in 1998.

As a brash young sergeant, Eggleston frequently clashed with certain senior officers in the department. "I was a change agent," he explains. "I'd engage the administration in what I perceived to be healthy discussion." The perception of some superiors, however, differed. Despite Eggleston's high score on a test for would-be lieutenants, Neumann skipped over promoting him. In the meantime, Eggleston and his wife had been building a business distributing a nutritional supplement called Advocare. In the wake of its success -- the business brought in almost a quarter of a million dollars in 1999, he claims -- Eggleston resigned from the force in September 1999. His ongoing lawsuits were settled as part of his resignation. The move also gave him more time to spend with his wife, Jacqueline, and sons, Sean and Shane. Sean, now 11 years old, is autistic; Eggleston attributes his son's condition to vaccinations the boy received at 22 months of age.

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