The One That Got Away

While scandal rages in Hollywood, Whit Van Cott waits for his payday with a rod and reel.

There was a good reason they were both worried about legalities. By the time that meeting took place, the State Attorney's Office was already investigating the city for the Schwing deal. And last month, to much media ballyhoo, Gov. Jeb Bush kicked Wasserstrom off the commission after prosecutors charged him with receiving unlawful compensation and official misconduct. Prosecutors also found that Giulianti broke the law but didn't charge her because she'd already been given immunity, and they claimed she'd been duped by Wasserstrom.

Van Cott was long gone by the time the charges came down. He quietly retired last August to settle on Ruby Drive in Key Largo with his wife, Patricia. But rumors linger that he was set to work for Schwing Bioset during his golden years.

According to former Schwing executive Sam Shepherd, who invented the Bioset treatment process and is now in litigation with the firm, Van Cott was, indeed, lined up to work for the company.

"Mr. Van Cott went to the city attorney [Dan Abbott] after he retired and said, 'How would it look if I went to work for Schwing Bioset?'" Shepherd says. "The city attorney said, 'Not good.' So Van Cott set up a company that could contract with Schwing Bioset, and he has already made contact with the city requesting data on its behalf."

A check of Florida corporations shows that, sure enough, Van Cott set up a firm called Utility Solutions Associates. Oddly, his name is misspelled twice on official documents, listed as "Whithead Van Cott" (his full first name is actually Whitfield) in one place and as "Vancott White" in another.

I called Van Cott at his home and asked him if his company had done any work for Schwing.

"I never did any work for them, no," he told me.

I asked him if it was true that he went to Abbott and asked him if it would be OK if he took a job with the company after he retired.

"I might have," he answered. "I don't really remember... The truth is, we met so many times over so many things, it's extremely difficult. I can't remember."

I took that as a yes. Then I asked him, again, if it was true that he had already done some work for Schwing. Shepherd said that Van Cott had helped Schwing try to get approvals from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, along with another Schwing consultant, Bob Riemers.

Van Cott admitted that he'd worked with Riemers but said he did it in his capacity as an official for Hollywood, not as a paid Schwing contractor. He said he still holds out hope, however, of some day collecting a check from Schwing Bioset.

"If I do, it will be sometime in the future," he told me.

His words echoed what he told prosecutor Catherine Maus during a deposition on November 16, 2005, that was recently released to the public.

"I'm not going to do anything with [Schwing] until this is settled and this is done," he told Maus. "And if it's exonerated and so forth, maybe I will consider doing work with them."

Even if he has been paid by Schwing — or had a deal to be paid sometime in the future — he can't be charged in the case now. The State Attorney's Office subpoenaed him to testify, giving him immunity from prosecution.

But that hasn't quelled the critics at City Hall, who believe Van Cott abused his office.

"That son of a bitch ought to be in jail," says Pete Brewer, a longtime Hollywood activist who helped expose the scandal two years ago.

Van Cott knows there are a lot of people in Hollywood who believe he's a scoundrel. But he says that hasn't changed his feelings about the city. As he told Maus, "My heart is still with the City of Hollywood."

Maybe so, but his fishing rod, those sweet 20-pound wahoo, and his new life are in dreamy Key Largo, far away from the madding crowd of the fractured city.

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