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
A whole lot of people in Broward County who have seen the damage done by Ponzi-scheming lawyer Scott Rothstein are now asking one question: When are we going to see more arrests?
In perpetrating his $1.2 billion scam, Rothstein certainly had help. There is a slew of suspects, including bank officials, law enforcement types, and several people from his former law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.
Last week, I asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kaplan, one of the main prosecutors working on the Rothstein case, if those pining for arrests would be satisfied anytime soon.
"Right now, I gotta deal with one case at a time," Kaplan told me with a smile.
Kaplan stood outside the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale at the time, having just spent an arduous day at the corruption trial of former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman.
The ex-commissioner — who is charged with bribery, extortion, and honest services fraud — hasn't gotten the attention of Rothstein. But Salesman's trial is just as important. The FBI spent four years investigating corruption in Broward and has bagged several arrests so far, including Salesman, former Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion, and ex-School Board member Beverly Gallagher. Eggelletion and Gallagher pleaded guilty, and both are headed to prison. Salesman took the fight to the feds, with a trial that began last week and continued as of presstime Tuesday.
A loss in the Salesman trial would be a severe blow to the continuing efforts to bring corrupt politicians to justice. Or at least that's the way it's perceived. The feds don't take losses easily, especially when it comes to public officials, a fact that might explain why the cases have been such a rarity in Broward County during the past several decades.
At times during the trial, though, the gravity of the situation has been lost. Salesman's lawyers, Jamie Benjamin and Daniel Aaronson, spent a couple of days last week trying to focus the jury on anything but the evidence that the government is presenting that Salesman sold out his elected position in Miramar.
The defense lawyers focused on the small talk contained on numerous hours of FBI tapes, little discussions about parking tickets, driving school, and airport mishaps. And they spent hours concentrating on sex talk, including banter between undercover agents and Salesman involving a "camel toe contest" between beauty pageant contestants.
Aaronson hammered away at the small talk as he cross-examined FBI agent Patrick Wren, who went undercover with independent FBI operative Patrick Lochrie in the investigation as a construction contractor looking for government business.
"He would joke about his sex life," Wren testified about Salesman.
"You would joke about your own sex lives?" Aaronson asked Wren.
"There was a lot of banter," Wren said.
"Were there times you and Lochrie brought up sex talk before Mr. Salesman did?" Aaronson asked the agent.
And so it went for two days. Even as revelations about Salesman talking about a "pay to play" culture came across on FBI tapes, even as it was revealed he took cash for introducing agents to his political friends, the defense tried to keep the jury focused on the little things. It's all part of Salesman's entrapment defense strategy, which claims FBI agents befriended him so they could persuade him to take bribe money, or "consulting" money, as the defense would have it.
Aaronson keyed in on Lochrie, who is Irish, at times pointing out his penchant for telling sweeping stories about his world travels. The lawyer homed in on Lochrie's stories about Iran, where the independent operative, who is reportedly in Dubai right now, talked about women there. He told Salesman that although sex was illegal there out of wedlock, all you had to do was say "I marry you" three times to a woman, spend the night with her, then say "I divorce you" three times in the morning to be done with it.
From the defense's standpoint, these stories not only indicate entrapment but are also meant to embarrass the government.
Prosecutor Kaplan told Judge Cohn that he too could pull out plenty of sexual comments made by Salesman. "We can show all the off-color things that Mr. Salesman did," he said. "It's a mutual thing."
Of course it is. Any undercover agent will tell you that the nature of the conversation is usually determined by the target. Like good salesmen, undercover agents reflect the personality of those they are investigating.
Agents learned from the original witness in the case, alleged gang member Alden "Alpo" Budhoo, that Salesman tried to procure prostitutes, according to federal records. And the agents saw for themselves that Salesman was preoccupied, maybe even more than most men, with the opposite sex. Salesman talked of going to the nudist Hedonism resorts when he visited his home country of Jamaica. So the "off-color" talk is a reflection of Salesman's personality, according to the government.
It's a digression from the central facts of the case, and it's understandable why Benjamin and Aaronson want to steer clear of those facts. Salesman took thousands of dollars from undercover agents in exchange for helping an FBI front company get construction contracts in his city.