Unfinished Business

A son denied becomes a festering campaign issue haunting Commissioner Eggelletion as Election Day approaches

On a hot night in July, Angie Sanders watched Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion walk up to a table outside Starbucks. He looked breezy in the heat, wearing loose yellow slacks and a green Tommy Bahama shirt. An unlit cigar stub jutted from his mouth.

As Eggelletion took a seat across from Sanders outside the Plantation store, Sanders felt something strange in the air. It didn't seem quite real to her. HE didn't seem quite real to her. Never did, really, dating all the way back to their first kiss, 29 years before, when she was a 17-year-old senior in high school and Eggelletion was her 30-year-old teacher at Dillard High School.

At the time, Eggelletion, who recently finished a stint as Broward County mayor and is up for reelection to the County Commission in the August 26 primary, was ten years away from politics. He was busy, though. In 1979, he not only taught economics and government but also owned a barbershop and ran a janitorial service that specialized in cleaning banks. It was in one of those banks, after hours, that Sanders met him after school. The teacher and the student, who was a cheerleader, sat down on a couch in the dimly lit bank lobby.

The former schoolteacher made an offer for her silence that Angie Sanders could refuse.
C. Stiles
The former schoolteacher made an offer for her silence that Angie Sanders could refuse.
Sanders testified that she was a high school student when the affair began.
Laura Massa
Sanders testified that she was a high school student when the affair began.
Omar, pictured above as a child and today, says he learned a tough life lesson from his father.
Omar, pictured above as a child and today, says he learned a tough life lesson from his father.

"He just grabbed me, and we kissed," she says. "I was thinking, 'Is this real? He's a teacher.' It felt almost like a movie, like it wasn't happening."

In addition to the fact that he was a teacher and she was underaged, Eggelletion was married with children. Sanders says they tried to keep the ensuing affair as secretive as possible, but Eggelletion's wife found out and told her parents. It almost tore her family apart, but the relationship endured on and off until she was 25, when Sanders became pregnant with Eggelletion's son.

Their romance ended with the baby's birth. Eggelletion, still married, didn't offer any help to raise the child, who was named Omar, and she didn't ask him for any.

(Eggelletion has steadfastly refused to discuss the situation with New Times and didn't respond to messages for comment. When reached on his cell phone, he asked that a reporter not call him anymore and hung up.)

It wasn't until 2005 that Sanders filed a paternity suit against Eggelletion. Though DNA tests proved him the father, he won the case on a legal technicality. The case made the newspapers, though the scandalous nature of the relationship received scant attention in the mainstream press.

Eggelletion, victory in hand, has basically ignored his son ever since, say both Sanders and Omar. Until a couple of months ago, anyway. That's when he began reaching out to Sanders.

But the overtures weren't really about Omar; they were all about preserving Eggelletion's political career.

He's in a heated battle for his County Commission seat with opponents church pastor Allen Jackson, Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner John Billingsley, and Lauderhill Commissioner Dale Holness. And that's why he met with Sanders at Starbucks on July 19, six weeks before the upcoming August 26 primary.

With his cigar still unlit, Eggelletion told her he believed that Jackson was going to use "the Omar thing" against him in the campaign, Sanders says. He said that if she would help stop Jackson from bringing his son into the race, there would be money in it for her and Omar. All she had to do, Sanders says, was deny that they'd had sex when she was a minor and write a letter threatening to sue Jackson if he used her name or Omar's name in any campaign literature.

He couldn't pay her now, she says he told her, but once the election was over, he'd be able to throw her $500 here and there. At one point, a figure of $7,000 was tossed out, she says.

"The public can't know about this," she says he told her.

Sanders says she responded that she didn't feel comfortable with the idea because Jackson had done nothing to her and she didn't want to lie. She told him she would sleep on it.

But even as she was leaving the parking lot, she was filled with a powerful mix of anger and sadness. She had already figured out that Eggelletion cared nothing for her or Omar. This was about his political career. And she couldn't believe his arrogance and gall. The proposition was not only wrong but in her opinion bordered on bribery.

At the same time, Omar needed help from his absentee father not only financially but also emotionally. Going along with Eggelletion's scheme might help on both counts. She says she called her brother in tears that night.

"What should I do?" she asked him.

The more she thought about it, the more she realized the commissioner was just using her and Omar as pawns in his political game. She decided not to do it.

She decided to expose him instead.


Sanders, who was born Angelita Rice, remembers the time she poked a girl in the face with a sharpened pencil.

It was during the 45-minute bus ride from the black neighborhoods of northeast Fort Lauderdale to Nova High School, where it was western and white. Neighborhood kids would pick on Sanders for her looks and her background.

She was moderately light-skinned and relatively well-to-do — and that made her a target, she says. Her tormentors especially liked to mess with her long hair.

One day as she studied in a seat by herself, one of them cut her ponytail clean off. Sanders retaliated with the only weapon she had.

"I stabbed her in the face," she says.

The girl wasn't seriously injured, but skin broke on her face. When it was time for administrators to hand down discipline, the bus driver vouched for Sanders, saying that she was a quiet and polite student who'd been driven to the brink by bullies.

The girl who'd made the egregious snip was expelled from the Broward County school system. Sanders wasn't punished.

The story exemplifies the two sides of Angie Sanders. She's neat, reserved, and proper; everything needs to be just so. But when she feels wronged, she knows how to fight. And she says she's always had a rebellious side that wanted to escape the confined world her parents tried to impose on her.

Her parents expected her to be perfect, she says. Her father, Elbert Rice, was the longtime owner of a citrus business who played saxophone and led a popular local group called the East Wind Band. Musical talent runs in the family; Sanders' brother, Marcus Rice, was part of the popular hip-hop band Afro-Rican, which produced a classic dance-club hit titled Give It All You Got.

She says both her father and mother were loving but strict.

"I told them that they wanted to separate me from society," she recalls. "I was a cheerleader, and I was popular enough, but I didn't go to McDonald's after the games with everybody or do a lot of other things the other kids did.

"Sometimes, I would purposefully get in trouble just to try to prove to them that I wasn't perfect. I'd intentionally get into fights."

When she transferred from Nova to Dillard High School to begin her senior year in 1979, she still had a good-girl image, no matter how she might have tried to prove otherwise. She'd already earned most of her credits, so she only had to attend a couple of classes a day. One was an American government class with Eggelletion.

She earned school credit in the class as a student aide to Eggelletion. She was assigned to his room for one period a day to run errands, help check papers, and take messages. She thought he was a nice teacher. Nice-looking too.

He apparently felt the same way about her. One day, he had a talk with her after class.

"I noticed you're quiet; you don't talk very much," she remembers him saying to her. "You seem mature. Do you date?"

"Yeah, I can date," she said.

"What I say to you I want to stay between me and you."

"OK."

"I like you, and I want to see you."

The idea excited her. She wasn't totally inexperienced. She says she'd had one longtime boyfriend with whom she'd been physically intimate. Sanders knew her teacher was married with two children. It was no secret — he was even named Father of the Year at Piney Grove Baptist Church, which they both attended.

But she was already hooked. She told him she'd like to meet him. He called later, and they met at the bank, where they kissed for the first time. He seemed confident and sure during that first encounter. She says he didn't push her to have sex. Instead, after they kissed and fondled each other on the couch, he told her she should get home because it was a school night.

The next time they met was a little different; Eggelletion seemed a bit nervous. She says this time he had her meet him at a friend's house. There alone, she says he offered her a glass of wine, which she didn't accept, and put a pornographic movie on the VCR, which she didn't watch. Soon, they were in bed together.

And she says she knew she was in love. They met at every opportunity for weeks after that. Eggelletion would call her on the phone in her room, which was equipped with its own line. He would tell her about other students in a way that made her feel like an adult. He would tell her secrets and take her out on the Inverrary Golf Course, where she would sit in the cart while he golfed, sometimes by himself, sometimes with buddies. He even took her out to eat at restaurants a couple of times.

Her sister, Deborah Thomas, remembers Eggelletion coming to their house to pick up Angie in a Camaro Z-28 when their parents weren't home. "I remember it like it was yesterday, but I didn't know what to think," says Thomas, who was a freshman at the time. "We knew what was going on. A lot of people knew what was going on. His family and our family were friendly."

He talked a lot about growing his businesses and told her his real ambition was to enter politics. He portrayed himself as an American success story, a boy who grew up in a small house outside Tallahassee where he shared a room with siblings and watched his mother cleaning white families' homes. He said that such austere beginnings gave him the motivation to serve in office to help fellow black people get opportunities to better their lives.

He seemed sensitive, she says, like he really cared about her. And he was fun. She remembers that one time he showed her a small silver disc and told her it was the future of music. It was the first time she'd ever seen a compact disk. Sanders says she felt as if she were tapping into an adult world her classmates couldn't know.

And she says she knew she wanted to be with Eggelletion forever.

"After our first encounter sexually, I knew I wanted to be with him," Sanders says. "I couldn't wait until I turned 18, when my parents couldn't tell me what to do. I thought we could move away together."

She says that Eggelletion, who had been named Father of the Year, told her repeatedly that he didn't love his wife, and she admits that the fact that he was married was never a major consideration for her.

Until Carolyn Eggelletion made it one.

She says that Eggelletion's wife learned of the affair from their phone conversations. And she not only demanded that her husband stop seeing the girl but also called Sanders' parents and told them about it.

Any belief that their eldest daughter was perfect was certainly crushed at that moment.

"My parents were so devastated," Sanders says. "My mom told me she didn't want me to end up with five or six kids with no husband and on welfare. I told them I would stop seeing him."

Several tortuous days passed, each testing her will to stay away from the teacher. Then one night, she picked up the phone and Eggelletion was on the line.

"Can you talk?"

Yes, she told him.

"I can't do it," she remembers him saying. "I can't stay away from you. I love you."

It was the first time he told her he loved her, she says. And they started their secret affair again. Her parents were warier this time, though, and stricter. At one point, she ran away from home for two weeks to stay with a friend so she could more easily see Eggelletion.

She says it slowly dawned on her that he wasn't going to leave his wife, but she kept seeing him anyway, taking it for what it was worth. When she was 21, she met an Army man named Delmus Lockhart, married him, and moved to Georgia.

"Part of me thinks I got married just to get out of Broward and away from Joe," she says.

The marriage, however, had its problems, one being her continued involvement with Eggelletion. Sanders would visit home at least once a month and would occasionally see her former teacher while in Broward.

One of those occasions fell in February 1987, when Sanders was 24 and her husband had been stationed in Germany. Four weeks after she saw Eggelletion, she learned she was pregnant. She called Joe.

"I just came from the doctor," she told him. "I'm pregnant."

"Is it mine?" she remembers him asking.

"Yes."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to have my baby."

She says she hated Eggelletion at that moment but decided that she would protect him anyway. Her marriage was on the rocks, but he was still a schoolteacher, still married with kids, still dreaming of taking political office. She would have her son and make do on her own. She wouldn't mess up his life.

Omar was born on October 25, 1987. Sanders called Eggelletion a couple of days later and told him his son's name and how much he weighed. She says he came to visit shortly thereafter. She says Eggelletion looked at Omar, smiled, and said, "He looks just like me."

It was true — the boy bore a striking resemblance to the schoolteacher. But other than a few chance encounters, Eggelletion wouldn't see his son again for about 16 years.


Shortly after the baby's birth, she briefly got back together with Lockhart. He believed Omar was his son conceived on a visit from Sanders to Germany. Sanders didn't dissuade him from believing it either. But their marriage didn't get any better, and during an argument, she told her husband that Omar, who looked nothing like Lockhart, wasn't his child. She remembers that he took it in stride.

"Well, I'll feed him until he looks like me," said the 240-pound Lockhart.

It was Lockhart who filed for divorce. Sanders signed a decree stating that Lockhart was the father, and he was ordered to pay $300-a-month child support. He didn't fight the order, but he never paid a dime. He was jailed a couple of times for failing to pay. But Lockhart, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, says he remains friends with Sanders.

Sanders, meanwhile, quickly married her current husband, Mark Sanders, and they had a son of their own. Shortly after Omar's 16th birthday, Sanders decided to ask for Eggelletion's help.

"My whole life changed; I was going to church a lot," she explains. "In order for me to go forward with my faith, I had to become truthful with this situation. And I did it."

She called Eggelletion, reminded him that he had done nothing for his son, and asked him if he would help put Omar through college.

"He told me he was busy, that there was a storm of some kind coming to the area, but he would call me back," she says. "He never did."

She left messages on his phone, but he didn't call back. It became obvious to Sanders that he wasn't going to help voluntarily, so she filed a paternity suit in Broward County on November 11, 2004.

A DNA test came back on January 11, 2005, proving that Eggelletion was Omar's father. The commissioner spoke that day with newspaper reporters, telling them he had no idea that Omar was his son until Sanders contacted him. The Miami Herald, which never published Sanders' allegations that the affair began when she was Eggelletion's student, reported that Eggelletion characterized the relationship as a "one-night stand."

"I am shocked to find after 17 years that I fathered a child and did not know," he told the Herald. "I have no intention of ducking my responsibilities. I try to lead by example."

That didn't stop him from trashing his son or his mother. In addition to the "one-night stand" claim, he said that he was a "target for cash" and that Sanders wanted his money to help pay Omar out of trouble for a minor marijuana-possession charge. He said he paid her $1,000 to help with court costs, though Sanders says it was under $600.

Eggelletion eventually extended an offer of $17,000 to settle the case. Sanders refused to accept based in part on the advice of her lawyer, Ellis Rubin, a famous Miami attorney known for theatrical courtroom tactics and imaginative arguments.

It went to court on September 26, 2007, before General Magistrate Barbara Beilly. Rubin had died the previous December, so his partner, Robert Barrar, questioned Sanders under oath. He asked her when she began dating Eggelletion.

"My sexual relationship started from high school up until — "

"Objection! Move to strike!" exclaimed Eggelletion's attorney, Patricia-Gainer Gaddis.

Beilly sustained the objection on the grounds that it was irrelevant. She limited testimony to the time of conception, saving Eggelletion the embarrassment of having to hear her testify about the high school romance.

Eggelletion, for his part, swore under oath that he couldn't even remember when he first met Sanders. When Barrar asked him if she was a student of his, he responded, "I don't believe she was... I can't remember. I can't remember... but she's testified she was some sort of aide."

"Do you deny that?" Barrar asked.

"I can't remember," Eggelletion repeated.

When asked if he recalled the first time he was "intimate" with Sanders, Eggelletion said, "Not really, no."

"Can we all agree when I use the term intimate, I'm talking about having sexual intercourse," Barrar clarified.

"That's all it was," Eggelletion interjected.

Barrar asked how many times he had sex with Sanders.

"I can't remember but... very infrequently... I only remember maybe two or three occasions where we had sex."

Barrar then asked him if he told a reporter that he had sex with Sanders only one time in his life; Eggelletion denied making the statement. The lawyer asked him about the phone call from Sanders asking him for help with Omar.

"I had to take a deep breath," Eggelletion said. "I was blown away."

"Why were you blown away?"

"That after 17 years, somebody would tell me that I fathered a child."

"Well, you had fathered other children out of wedlock, hadn't you?"

"Objection," chimed in Eggelletion's lawyer. "Relevance."

"Sustained," Beilly said.

Here, Barrar was referring to Eggelletion's 12-year-old daughter outside of marriage, now living in Tallahassee with her mother. He was forced to pay child support for the girl only after her mother filed a paternity suit. He only counts two children — his son and daughter with his wife — on the county website and in campaign literature.

At one point, Eggelletion testified that he wanted to do "whatever I'm legally obligated to do" to care for Omar.

"Do you want to do what you're morally obligated to do?" Barrar asked.

During her cross-examination, Gainer-Gaddis asked Eggelletion if he considered Sanders a friend.

"No... it was just a sexual experience," he answered.

Sanders remembers her frustration and anger growing as she listened to Eggelletion's testimony. She sat in the courtroom and stared at him with a look of disbelief on her face.

Eggelletion at one point recounted advice that he gave to Omar.

"I do remember telling him it's OK to err, that we're all human and we sometimes err, but he shouldn't repeat the error," he testified. "To repeat the error becomes a mistake, and when we make mistakes in our lives, we extract a huge toll in our lives, and you do hurt people when you make mistakes, including yourself."

Eggelletion's "mistake" with Sanders didn't cost him much, though. Beilly ruled on November 12 that he didn't have to pay child support since Lockhart had already been named the father in a court document.

When Sanders' father, Elbert Rice, learned of the decision, he became upset and said he couldn't believe Eggelletion got off without paying a dime. He died of a heart attack the next morning. Sanders, whose mother died in the early '90s, believes he succumbed to the stress of the paternity case and his worries for Omar's future.

Since the ruling, Eggelletion has done nothing for Omar. She says he's a deadbeat dad, whether the courts deem him as such or not.

"He's not really a father at all," says Omar, who is 20.

But then the summer came and Eggelletion called Sanders. Suddenly, he wanted to help her. But first, she would have to do something for him.


Sanders' BlackBerry tells some of the tale.

On July 19, the phone's records show calls from Eggelletion to Sanders' BlackBerry. While she waited for him at the Starbucks store, she texted a friend, Kay Dixon.

"Goin out with Joe tonite," she wrote at 8:59 p.m.

Eight minutes later, she wrote Dixon again: "Waitin on him he swears that Jackson is using my name and picture illegal to promote his [campaign] he said I can get thousands quick!!!!"

"Hear him out but agree to nothing," Dixon wrote back at 9:29. "Tell him u need to think about it. Joe is lookin out for Joe."

When he finally arrived, they sat at an outside table so he could smoke his cigar, though it sat unlit in his mouth the entire meeting. The plan Eggelletion described to Sanders was simple enough. She would deny the high school affair and threaten to sue his opponent, Jackson, if he tried to use it in the campaign.

"What I have in mind is I hook you up with one of my attorneys and get him to write a letter to Allen Jackson saying that, if he uses your name, there will be legal consequences," she says he told her. "I want to write this letter just to put him on notice."

The July 19 meeting was actually their third rendezvous on the subject, the other two occurring in his office on State Road 7. She says Eggelletion shared with her several campaign secrets during their talks. He told her he had sheriff's reports on Jackson showing that he had assaulted a girlfriend (Jackson has never been charged with such a crime). He also told her he had dirt on John Billingsley regarding "misrepresentations" of his education.

He told her that polls showed that he was going to win the commission post (which pays $84,000 a year) fairly easily, but he planned to "blast" Jackson and Billingsley shortly before the election anyway.

Eggelletion also spoke about the paternity suit.

"It almost cost me my career," she says he told her. "I was even not going to run at one time. I will tell you, this Omar thing is hurting me now."

She asked him what she could do.

"You do a lot," he told her. "The person who throws the stones is the person who can fix it."

Basically, she looked at it as a bribe to lie and influence the outcome of a campaign. She slept on it. And instead of writing Jackson a letter from one of Eggelletion's attorneys, she called him on the phone and told him about it.

"This isn't about politics," Jackson says. "This is about a guy who chose to be arrogant, pompous, and prideful. And he chose to discount what he did to an innocent girl. It speaks directly to his character, his personality, and who he truly is."

Two weeks ago, she wrote a letter to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist asking for an independent investigation of Eggelletion for statutory rape and bribery. While what Eggelletion did could be considered statutory rape, the State Attorney's Office ruled that the statute of limitations had run out on the case years ago.

Sanders may never get the justice she believes she deserves, but she now has something better: a new grandson. So does Eggelletion. Omar's girlfriend had a baby boy, Omar Jr., on July 1.

To help support his new family, Omar is joining the Army and is expected to start duty next month. He also intends to marry his girlfriend.

"I know how it is not having a father, and that's why I'm 110 percent being with mine," says Omar, who lives in Savannah. "I don't have a relationship at all with Joe. I reach out to him. I call him several times. I try to talk to him. He never returns my calls. It's kind of a hurtful situation, because I had nothing to do with the situation they were involved in. But it's making me a stronger person and a better father."

When he first called Eggelletion to tell him the news, he said the first thing the commissioner told him was to get a blood test to make sure he was really the father.

"Not knowing me at all, not knowing my future wife at all, and he tells me to get a blood test," Omar says. "I wish he could see him — he looks exactly like me. Just like I look exactly like Joe."

Eggelletion said he would come and visit, but he never did. Omar says his father makes a lot of promises he doesn't keep. "When the election was coming around, he promised me a lot of things," Omar says. "He told me he was going to have me down there to campaign with him. He said he was going to come up and see the baby. Of course, he never did."

Omar says Eggelletion has given him two gifts in his entire life, a $50 gift card to Macy's and a cheap MP3 player. But he says it's not about money. It's about deeper things.

"I want to know why I look the way I look and act the way I act, but he won't even give me that time," Omar says. "It's not even financial; it's just doing things like going out to eat. Let me meet my brothers and my sisters. I just want to know him. I can't count on one hand the number of times I've seen him. I've never spent more than two hours around him. He lectures me and leaves. He says things like, 'Hang around successful people and you'll be successful.' Little rhymes. But I can't pitty-pat around about that. I can't worry about that. He's going to answer to God for that, not me."

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