By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
He said he told FBI Special Agent Kevin Griffin the same thing when questioned last week. Also present during questioning was a Homeland Security agent, representing FEMA. "I told them I had no intention of taking flying lessons if that's what they were there for," Garretson quipped.
Although Garretson may very well be telling the truth, his flippant attitude may not do him or the School Board any good. Several sources have reported that, during a staff meeting after Gallagher's arrest, Garretson belittled the FBI's efforts, saying agents' post-arrest interviews indicated they didn't know what they were doing and that their sting operation on the board was poorly run.
It's clear that the School Board is taking a combative stance toward the FBI rather than using this historic moment as an opportunity to truly clean out corruption in its ranks. It was the day after Gallagher was arrested (along with County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion and former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman) that School Board Attorney Ed Marko issued a memo to Notter and employees reminding them that they are not required to speak with FBI agents. Marko added that if employees chose to proceed with FBI interviews, they were encouraged to hire lawyers at the School Board's expense.
The obfuscation indicates there is a lot more to School Board corruption than Gallagher, whose arrest should come as no surprise. She has maintained close ties to lobbyist Sterling, who represented Pirtle Construction at the time of the FBI investigation. In 2006, near the beginning of the federal probe, I reported that Sterling had helped Gallagher obtain a job at Community Blood Center, another of his clients.
Understand that the most powerful person at the School Board in recent years has been Sterling, who, along with partner Barbara Miller, funds and runs several School Board members' campaigns and represents numerous large clients, including Pirtle and architect Bernard Zyscovich. Sterling knows his way around the board; he used to be a School Board member himself, after all.
When I interviewed Gallagher in 2006 to ask about the blood center job, she began crying. She said she would quit the job, a promise she didn't keep. After her remarks were published, she issued a denial to the Miami Herald and claimed to have been confused by my interview.
Gallagher's arrest coincides with new, unsubstantiated allegations that Sterling gave School Board Member Stephanie Kraft's lawyer husband, Mitch Kraft, work with the firm SRG Technology. The owner of SRG is none other than Neil Sterling.
There's no proof that Mitch Kraft took any money from SRG, but neither he nor his wife will answer questions about the allegations. Instead, they have followed the School Board's recent theme by shutting up.
Let's hope the FBI gets to the bottom of that, no matter what the truth. If the Krafts have no financial connection to Sterling, we should know that just as well as if they do.
The truth about a lot of things may not be far away. The feds are now digging up more information on lobbyist Sterling, which is crucial should any lasting change come from the FBI's foray into Broward political circles. It's great that corrupt elected officials have been charged with crimes, but until the real puppet masters — i.e., the lobbyists and contractors — pay a price, the same old shenanigans will continue, only with a new set of faces on the public dais.