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?

"When I asked him for reasons," Eggleston testified, "he just moved his eyes around the room and shuffled in his seat. I said... 'Give me an instance where I have not done my job,' and he couldn't provide one."

Eggleston continued: "While I'm at this meeting, I'm looking at Mark Foley's picture sitting off to the side of the sheriff's desk. It puts me in an interesting scenario. I asked him point-blank why he wasn't supportive of my run for Congress. He said, 'I think Mark's a nice guy.'"

Eggleston, however, refused to resign and pitched instead the idea that he step down from the undersheriff position and be demoted to a captain and a district commander. The sheriff pondered the plan during lunch. "I came back that afternoon and said we would try it with some pretty strong directions that he would have to abide by," Bieluch testified. "The first was that he was absolutely not allowed to campaign on duty, that he was to take leave time when campaigning during his normal workday." He also said he'd told Eggleston that he couldn't campaign while on duty or in uniform and could not use agency e-mail and cell phones.

Ed Bieluch (second from left) reminisces about the good old days
Colby Katz
Ed Bieluch (second from left) reminisces about the good old days
Democratic leader Monte Friedkin swears turncoat Bieluch won't get reelection support from the party
Colby Katz
Democratic leader Monte Friedkin swears turncoat Bieluch won't get reelection support from the party

The press statement released that day by the sheriff betrayed none of the ill will in that meeting. The release noted that "being undersheriff was too demanding to enable [Eggleston] to also wage a vigorous campaign." It continued, "I have encouraged Ken to run and offered my support." Eggleston agreed to a pay cut of roughly $27,000 per year.

Both men claim they wanted the demotion and campaign restrictions in writing. Both blame the other for not doing so. "He really wasn't happy being pinned down to specific things," Bieluch testified. "I think Ken likes to live in a world of ambiguous, cloudy things."

Eggleston testified that he'd asked the sheriff to "give it to me in writing. Give it to me point by point by point so I don't step outside the boundaries."

According to Bieluch, Eggleston stepped out of those boundaries on April 10, when he drove to Saint Lucie County to meet with Sheriff Kenneth Mascara using an agency car while in uniform. Eggleston testified later that the purpose of the trip was to be "introduced to people in the community" in regard to "pursuing a congressional campaign." He added: "It wasn't a campaigning event." He claimed that captains had the freedom to drive their cars outside the county and did not need to ask permission to do so.

A reporter from the Palm Beach Post learned of Eggleston's trip and called Carhart, the agency's media relations director, for more information. Carhart informed Bieluch, who was in New York at the time. Bieluch returned to Palm Beach County on April 13, a Saturday, and on Monday, he requested an internal affairs investigation of Eggleston's trip. He placed the captain on administrative leave with pay.

During his nearly two-hour deposition for investigators, Eggleston displayed a Clintonian ability at parsing questions thrown at him. For example, when asked whether Bieluch had told him he could not campaign while on duty, Eggleston responded, "Technically, as a district commander, we're on duty 24-7." Despite being asked a half dozen times what his "normal duty hours" were, he insisted that such a designation wasn't apt for captains. (His time card, however, listed his regular duty hours as 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.) At one point, he dismissed the questioner, a sergeant, by telling her, "[Y]ou wouldn't understand how things are operated in the real world of law enforcement or in the real world of a commander." Eggleston repeatedly pointed out that he, Bieluch, and other high-ranking officers appeared in uniform at events for purely political purposes. Thus, he claimed, the sheriff was a hypocrite to discipline him now.

The final investigative report, dated May 7, concluded that Eggleston had violated a direct order by campaigning in uniform and had publicly criticized the agency's policies. Bieluch fired him May 8.

Eggleston says he had asked that the inquiry be conducted by the West Palm Beach Police Department or Broward Sheriff's Office but was denied that. He contends that an impartial investigation could not be done internally. Further, the violations were not severe enough to justify termination, he insists.

Eggleston dropped out of the race on June 13, the same day he filed suit in federal court against Bieluch. "Family considerations were number one," Eggleston says of the aborted run. His son Sean, whose cognitive level is roughly that of a three-year-old's, requires constant attention, he says.

Second is the lawsuit. "I have to clear my name, and this type of litigation costs money," he says. In his suit, Eggleston contends that Bieluch violated his rights to free speech and campaigning when the sheriff ordered him not to identify himself as a law-enforcement officer during administrative leave in April and May. He also asserts that Bieluch retaliated against the undersheriff's criticisms, such as baseless promotions, special treatment of friends, and purchase of high-priced items without seeking bids. The suit also names a half-dozen other PBSO officers who were accused of criminal or immoral behavior in the past but kept their jobs.

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