By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
His trainer asked him to step outside and talk to Zach Scott, another CI detective. Just as he'd stated in separate sworn statements to BSO and SAO investigators, Isabella told New Times that Scott had explained to him that it was imperative the division keep its crime clearance rate up. Scott advised Isabella that when he arrested someone for an offense, he needed to find other similar, unsolved crimes and file a report that the suspect also committed those crimes even if there was no evidence or confession to indicate so, Isabella says.
"Zach, what the hell are you talking about?" Isabella recalls asking. Scott explained about the pressure coming from their lieutenant, Mark Murray, who had been transferred to Oakland Park earlier that year from Weston, home of the gold standard of exceptional clearances.
"All the other districts do it," Scott allegedly told him. "We're like the last ones to fall. We've been resisting for a while." Isabella protested. He says Scott continued, "Joe, trust me, everyone is doing it. We got the go-ahead."
Isabella felt like he'd been inducted into the mob.
He wasn't alone in his despair. In 2002, Lance Morgan, nearing the 25 years he needed to retire, was transferred to road patrol in Lauderdale Lakes, a municipality that had a high homicide rate and plenty of burglaries. According to a statement he gave to the SAO in 2004, Morgan found himself surrounded by a culture of fraudulent paperwork that evolved because "the administration here doesn't want to have unsolved crimes."
He says he was asked to downgrade crimes frequently enough that he brought up the subject during a roll-call meeting after about six months at Lauderdale Lakes. He complained to the sergeant about CI detectives making road deputies downgrade reports. Having Morgan and his ilk do the dirty work, Morgan said, let the detectives "insulate themselves" from the paper trail of fabrication. Morgan's sergeant told him to not "make waves" and "just do what the CI sergeant tells you."
With fabrication so woven into the organizational fabric, Morgan said that "pretty much everybody knows to keep their mouth shut and do what they're told, and that's just the way it is..."
Jeff Ponz, a road deputy who also worked in Lauderdale Lakes, told investigators that fabrication was rife but speaking against it meant career suicide. "[W]hen you work for BSO," he told investigators, "they rule by intimidation and fear. You get on the bad side of somebody and you're all done. You do not cross your supervisor."
The engine driving this bastardization of police reporting was Powertrac, which employed weekly meetings where district chiefs and the deputies below them were grilled over the hot pit of statistics. Outside the meeting room loomed a giant photo of Jenne flanked by helicopters and a fleet of squad cars, with the sheriff staring out like Big Brother an apt analogy given the proceedings inside.
"You had to attend one of these Powertrac meetings to appreciate it," says DeGroot, a former investigative reporter with the Sun-Sentinel whose tousled gray-white hair frames a long, weary face. "It was god awful, brutal. It was really a star chamber in which the subject was placed behind a podium under a hot spotlight and I mean hotspotlight in a glare, and these guys, Carney and [Lt. Col. Tom] Brennan and Jenne, would sit in a kind of horseshoe, like the grand inquisitors confronting this fella. People were terrified to go to Powertrac. It invariably was a can of humiliating whoop-ass."
But if Powertrac induced fear, it also offered reward at least for the district chiefs, who could earn up to 5 percent of their annual salaries in bonuses if their numbers were good. As for the rank-and-file detectives, they got nothing.
In 1999, a year or so after Powertrac had been in place, Jack Maple, the bulldog-faced New York cop who invented Compstat, took a look at how BSO was handling its new system.
DeGroot, who worked for Jenne roughly the first year after his appointment as sheriff, recalls the cowboy-booted Maple striding around BSO headquarters. Jenne told DeGroot that Maple, who died in 2001 just short of age 50, had concluded that BSO needed to look at how they were exceptionally clearing cases.
"This guy was a cop," DeGroot says. "In other words, my reading was he wasn't going to drop a dime on anybody but he was also saying, you might want to look in your bedroom and see if there's an elephant in there."
Carney told SAO investigators that as a result of Maple's review, BSO beefed up the procedures for "exceptionally clearing" crimes, which were considered solved although a perpetrator was never charged.
"I'm a big one for checks and balances," Carney crowed to the inquisitors. "If you tell me the system is in place, tell me, demonstrate it."
That vaunted skepticism was nowhere in sight, though, at a January 2000 Powertrac meeting during which Mike Goldstein, the chief of BSO's Tamarac district, explained to Carney, Jenne, and others how his guys exceptionally cleared 99 unsolved burglary cases on one suspect.
In a videotape of that exchange, Goldstein first goes to great lengths to explain that the suspect wasn't coerced or promised anything for confessing to those 99 crimes indicating the suspect's lack of intelligence, he tells his superiors. With almost the next breath, he tells Carney that the guy was "quite intelligent" and able to "take detectives to specific locations, identify the specific house and specific items that he took out of that house" from crimes committed over a year-long period while strung out on drugs.