Shak Attack

Shahruck Dhanji's campaign for Broward sheriff is suddenly mired in sticky money problems

The council seems to have done little more than bestow proclamations on Dhanji's political supporters.

Price says his position as executive director seemed little more than an excuse not to pay him from campaign funds — which weren't available until November and included more than $60,000 in personal loans from the candidate himself. "My time, sometimes 15 hours a day, was spent on the campaign, not the council," says Price, who is still listed as its executive director.

Dhanji says Price, who has suffered serious health problems of late, has it wrong. He says that Price was hired strictly for his work on the council and that all the work he did on the campaign was on a volunteer basis.

Is Dhanji clean enough to be Broward sheriff?
Is Dhanji clean enough to be Broward sheriff?

"Norm's a good man, but Norm is probably — how shall I say this? — having lapses of memory," Dhanji says.

The council, however, has been undeniably ineffective. One of its recent projects was a raffle meant to benefit children who can't afford school lunches. Cooper City Commissioner John Sims, a Dhanji supporter and the council's "Director of Governmental Affairs and Ethics," urged citizens to participate in the raffle during a City Commission meeting last September.

But Price says the raffle was a total bust. No money ever made it to the children, and the first-place prize — a flat-screen TV — was won by the daughter of Nadezda Martinez, the other disgruntled former campaign worker.

Martinez, a former executive director of the Broward Democratic Executive Committee, says her daughter won the raffle fair and square — but she says Dhanji wasn't fair with her. She says that paychecks he paid her bounced and that, though she told him she should be paid from campaign funds, he insisted on paying her through a private business account connected to one of Dhanji's private businesses, Antrim Mortgage Funding.

"I kept telling him, 'Shouldn't you be paying me out of the campaign?' and he would say, 'No,' " Martinez recalls.

Dhanji says that he hired Martinez to be a loan officer at Antrim and that any work she did for the campaign was, as with Price, on a volunteer basis.

"Neither one was working exclusively for the campaign...," he says. "They were working in two capacities. They were volunteering to help with the campaign, and volunteers by definition don't get paid."

Martinez says she worked some in the office but had no idea what she was doing. "Almost all my time was spent building a political database for him and finding political clubs for him to speak at," she says. "It just got ridiculous, though, because his checks would bounce. I would have to walk him to the bank to get paid."

Dhanji conceded that he's been hit hard by the economic downturn. He was recently evicted from his business office in Florida, forced to relocate to smaller, more drab digs in Pompano Beach.

A Tallahassee housing development managed by one of his businesses, Counterbalance Investments, is struggling, and two recent investors in one of his business ventures recently demanded their money back — more than $200,000 total.

Though he hasn't heard from the FDLE, Dhanji is acutely aware of the criminal investigation. He insists he'll ultimately be cleared of any wrongdoing and will also win the race for sheriff.

"I'm not going to keep rolling over," Dhanji says. "I'm going to fight."

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