By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
She said she never received anything of value from the Chaits other than the golf cart and the campaign contributions.
In addition to their alleged bribing of Eggelletion (who is accused of receiving $25,000 from the Chaits, including a golf club membership, in exchange for his vote on the project), the developers also hired the husband of Broward School Board member Stephanie Kraft. After the hiring, the School Board reduced a $500,000 mitigation fee that Chait's company faced. School Board records reveal that Kraft used the power of her office to help push for the fee reduction. That case is under federal investigation, according to numerous sources.
If you want irony, Ritter was the commissioner pushing the hardest at last week's commission meeting for the creation of an ethics czar position. The commission asked attorneys to draft a referendum to form the position of inspector general. "The public needs to know we are serious about doing something about the perception of misconduct and that we are trying to do the right thing," Ritter told the Sun-Sentinel. "The public unfortunately thinks we are all corrupt, and if we can do something to fix that image, we should."
Finally, we have the State Attorney's Office's ongoing criminal investigation of Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin. Prosecutors have subpoenaed records involving the dealings of Wasserman-Rubin and her husband, Richard Rubin, in the Town of Southwest Ranches.
Sources have said numerous subpoenas have been issued in the state attorney's investigation of Wasserman-Rubin, which has been ongoing for at least two years and likely dates back about six years to the town's founding.
Back in 2004, Wasserman-Rubin voted on a county green space grant for Southwest Ranches. The problem was that the grant was written by her husband, who had been paid obscene amounts of money by the city for his services. He raked in about $1 million from the tiny town, including $429,000 in one 14-month period. What did he do? He wrote grant proposals, many of them to the county.
Critics said he was paid the big money because he had the pull on the commission with his wife to guarantee a windfall from the county.
I first reported in 2005 that Wasserman-Rubin had voted on her husband's grants. Those stories led to a complaint with the state ethics commission (filed by New Times reader Ray McKinney). Wasserman-Rubin was found guilty and fined $15,000, or less than 2 percent of the money her husband made on the deal.
Moreover, Wasserman-Rubin was part of a clique of politically connected profiteers who raked in windfalls by gaining virtual control over the town and exploiting its large swaths of open land. It was the financial raping of a small town. There was plenty of money to go around, and several of the couple's friends got into the act.
One was Ira Cor, a real estate broker and felon who showed up on an FBI yacht during an undercover sting in 2008. Cor is most famous for his leading role in a huge land boondoggle involving the Broward County School Board and a plot of Southwest Ranches land he was trying to sell. The county bought it for $4.3 million before realizing that it was swampland, unsuitable for a school. Richard Rubin was also involved in that deal.
Cor orchestrated a lot of strange land deals for the town, reaping obscene payments. He raked in more than $750,000 in taxpayer money on land deals and grants. Cor had an ace in the hole with Wasserman-Rubin too — he hired Richard Rubin as a sales associate at his real estate brokerage. And yes, Wasserman-Rubin voted on Cor's Southwest Ranches land deals on the County Commission too.
At the top of the heap of those getting rich on Southwest Ranches was former Town Manager John Canada, a former county official who was also bringing in a huge payday. Well, not just Canada but also his wife and daughter. A private contractor with the city, Canada hired his wife, Pat, as the town's finance director and his daughter, Shari, as town clerk. Townspeople joked that they'd been taken over by Canadians. Together they split a contract with the town that paid off $655,000 in 2005. As you read these figures, consider that the entire town had an annual budget of just $6 million. It was an absolute raid.
Canada's family hold on the town was nepotism and violated the rules of good government. But the town's attorney, Gary Poliakoff of the Becker & Poliakoff law firm, allowed it to happen. Poliakoff and son Keith, who's the deputy town attorney, are reaping profits. They charged the town $175 an hour for up to $200,000 a year for legal work, and on top of that, they garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra fees on other legal matters.
The Poliakoff firm is also a major lobbying force in Broward, often representing private firms before the County Commission and cities like Hollywood. Well-known lobbyists Bernie Friedman and Alan Koslow work for Becker & Poliakoff. And Friedman served as Wasserman-Rubin's campaign manager.
It's some ugly stuff, and it's about time the State Attorney's Office took it seriously. A lot of it happened five years ago, after all, and it has been more than two years since Wasserman-Rubin was fined for it by the ethics commission. Canada was run out, as were Rubin and Cor. The Poliakoff firm somehow remains employed as the town's attorney.