Bust Me if You Can

If it looks like a lawyer and quacks like a lawyer, is it really a lawyer?

John Rayson served in the state legislature in the late 1990s. He was a self-described "liberal Democrat" but decided to run for the non-partisan position of mayor of Pompano Beach in a 2004 election. Rayson was happy when a smart and friendly young man showed up to volunteer for the campaign. "Chas would walk door to door," Rayson recalls now. "He was a good campaigner. I thought he was a whiz kid — that's how he comes off. "

Minutes from the City of Fort Lauderdale's Nuisance Abatement Board meeting from February 10, 2005, show that "Charles Brady, Esquire, introduced himself as new counsel for" a landowner who'd been renting rooms by the hour. The vice unit had made six arrests for prostitution at the building. Brady advised the board that the owner would come into compliance, but was selling the property anyway. "Mr. Brady acknowledged that he was also representing the seller in the real estate transaction and a contract had been executed," the minutes say.

Four months later, Brady popped up in the Tallahassee Democrat. In April 2005, an article says, the Florida Senate fined Brady $2,500 and banned him from lobbying through the end of the 2006 session. The rebuke was based on Brady's actions in 2004, when he lobbied various legislators — without being registered as a lobbyist, as required.

Brady smiles for the mugshot camera.
Brady smiles for the mugshot camera.

One day in 2005, Brent Fardette's other lawyer started looking into this $19 million plaza that Fardette stood poised to buy. Court documents suggest that with the deal stalled, the attorney decided to bypass Chas Brady and call the seller's attorney directly. Apparently, that conversation ended with a shock. The supposed seller had no idea what was happening. The building wasn't even for sale — and never had been.

Here's where the avowed bulletproofing that Brady's lawyer talks about apparently started exhibiting flaws. Brady, police investigators allege, had forged most of the signatures on the drafts of the contracts, including that of State Senator Steven Geller.

"As far as we can tell, he just cut and pasted," Geller says now, his voice still resounding with disbelief. Geller, an attorney as well as an elected official, knew that Brady was Jim Eddy's stepson and that he worked at the law firm. Brady had access to Geller's signature through documents in Eddy's office.

"Jim was the former minority leader of the House of Representatives," Geller says. "He was highly credible and I'm assuming his son would be too."

There's no taped conversation to prove it, but Geller could have sworn Brady said he was a student at Harvard Law. Brady spoke like a lawyer and was certainly smart enough. Geller even thought about inviting the kid to join his firm after he got his degree.

Geller can't recall exactly when he learned that Brady wasn't actually in law school — but he remembers being surprised. Now, in the wake of the criminal accusations against Brady, Geller says sadly, "Charles is the biggest waste of potential I've ever met."

Judging from court documents, Brent Fardette had little interest in seeing Brady get slammed by the law. He just wanted his $100,000 back. Brady agreed in writing to make repayments, but the two checks he eventually wrote — one for $50,000 and another for $5,000 — bounced.

Meanwhile Frank DiMaria heard about Fardette's troubles. He wondered why there hadn't been any progress on his own case — getting the variance to open the juice bar. DiMaria demanded his money back too. Brady signed a promissory note and promised to pay the 25 grand by January 2006. Checks that he wrote to DiMaria also bounced.

As for that waterfront townhome that Brady expressed an interest in: The lady who was selling it tried to cash Brady's deposit check, only to have it returned, stamped "Refer to Maker." She was shocked, since the lawyer working as escrow agent had vouched for the funds, and messing with money held in escrow is a state offense. The woman contacted Donald Corbin, who in turn gave a sworn statement saying that he never wrote any such letter. Stationery had been stolen from his and Eddy's law office, he insisted, and his signature forged. There was little the seller could do besides move on and find a new buyer. And file a report with the Broward Sheriff's Office.

In the fall of 2006, Charles Brady actually did sign up to take classes at Harvard. Not Harvard College but the Harvard Extension School.

Of course, Harvard University is a massive, sprawling corporation whose holdings include a law school, a divinity school, a research facility in Italy, and a forest in Petersham, Massachussetts. Harvard College is the exclusive liberal arts institution at the university 's core — elite, prestigious, and perpetually ranked number one. The college accepts only 2,100 incoming students per year. For anyone outside the Ivy League, the distinction is easy to miss.

The Extension School is part of the university, but it requires no transcripts, no undergraduate degree. There's little to the application process: Just sign up and pay. Current Harvard College student Jeffrey Kwong puts it this way: "Anyone can get in to the extension school. They advertise on buses. It's like the DeVry University of Harvard. Like, Hilary Duff went to Harvard Extension School."

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