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 board voted 3-1 in favor of Lieberman's proposal. (Commissioner Annette Wexler abstained from the vote because she too had been employed by Pinnacle.) Mayor Lyons now wonders if the town will ever get the money back. It couldn't be determined, prior to press time, whether the county has ordered Pinnacle to return the $300,000.
In fall 2004, Pembroke Park met with another Pinnacle-related indignity. The rural and wealthy town of Southwest Ranches unveiled an unorthodox plan to buy its way out of a state requirement to provide affordable housing. Rather than build subsidized apartments, the Town Council approved a plan to pay $900,000 to Pinnacle to help it finance the $1.8 million for the land on Hallandale Beach Boulevard.
Pembroke Park officials, however, felt that the town rather than the Miami firm should get the money. "When they said they wanted to give the money to the developer, I said, 'What the hell?'" Lyons recalls. "We wanted a piece of the pie. It just looked like everything was going Pinnacle's way."
Orchestrating the plan was a slew of the developer's devotees, including Cor and Rubin. Both have contracts with the Town of Southwest Ranches. And the world gets even smaller. Gary Poliakoff, town attorney for Southwest Ranches, also has a financial relationship with Pinnacle. His law firm, the massive and influential Becker & Poliakoff, lobbies for various Pinnacle housing projects in Broward County. Poliakoff didn't return calls from New Times, but when questioned about it last fall, he acknowledged there was an appearance of a conflict of interest and said he would ask that all parties agree to waive the conflict.
But that wasn't necessary. The plan died when Pinnacle, citing rising construction costs, abandoned the Pinnacle Oaks project in March.
While the labyrinthine public and private dealings involving Pinnacle and Pembroke Park raise serious conflict-of-interest issues, it seems the Broward State Attorney's Office has so far overlooked the entire mess.
When he investigated Lieberman earlier this year, prosecutor Bernhard Hollar confined his questions to the commissioner's involvement in the award to Pinnacle of a $22 million Broward County Housing Authority contract. The transcripts of the investigation, which was prompted by a New Times report, reveal that Hollar never mentioned the names of Cor or Rubin. And when he interviewed Lieberman on January 14, he didn't ask her how she had obtained the Pinnacle job, what exactly she had done for them, how much she had been paid, or other seemingly pertinent questions.
One housing commissioner, Joseph Cobo, told Hollar that a county commissioner had called him to support Pinnacle for the $22 million contract. Only it wasn't Lieberman. It was Wasserman-Rubin, who told him that Pinnacle was a "very reputable" company and to give it his "best consideration," according to Cobo.
Wasserman-Rubin told Hollar in a sworn interview in February that she didn't remember the phone call. Hollar never asked her if she had any financial connection to Pinnacle. Instead, the prosecutor seemed to have his own idea of why Wasserman-Rubin might have called Cobo.
"Were you even familiar with Pinnacle?" he asked.
"Yes, but I don't recall recommending...," Wasserman-Rubin began before Hollar interrupted.
"But you were impressed with them," the prosecutor continued. "And they had done work in your district, and you have been satisfied with their work... Would that be a fair statement?"
"I don't have a problem with their work product, and I have seen their work product...," Wasserman-Rubin said. "I am going to leave it at that."
The prosecutor was apparently satisfied. He closed the investigation in May without sufficient evidence to prosecute Lieberman, who also said she didn't know about the Cobo call. But Lieberman tried to explain her colleague's relationship with Pinnacle: "Diane is very familiar with Pinnacle because they're building in her county commission district. She has her own relationship, as you know, from the work they've done in her district. She knows the quality of what they do."
Of course she does. It's a small world, after all.