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Just how deeply Salesman's apparent corruption affected the city came when Miramar City Manager Robert Payton testified last week. Payton, who started as a garbage man with Miramar 34 years ago, may not be charged with corruption, but he certainly enabled it. The manager of the city of 112,000 facilitated Salesman's alleged crime in a deal for a construction contract that stank from the beginning. But that didn't stop him from unilaterally handing the company a $35,000 gazebo project. It was a small job, but it was supposed to lead to bigger projects — and ultimately it did.
Payton knew the deal stank. He testified last week and all but admitted that he played ball with Salesman because he was keenly aware of the politician's influence.
During a meeting in his office at City Hall in April 2006 with Salesman and undercover FBI agents, Payton told undercover agents posing as contractors interested in obtaining city construction contracts that they wouldn't be getting a "freaking second look" if they "didn't know somebody." Salesman, meanwhile, had already told agents that Payton would do what he wanted because the city manager "owed" him because he helped get Payton his job.
When Kaplan asked Payton on the stand who that "somebody" was, the city manager didn't hesitate. "Commissioner Salesman," he said.
Earlier, when asked why he'd given the FBI front company the work, Payton testified that he did it for Salesman. "He brought a company in... and I wanted to give them a shot," Payton told the jury.
He said some commissioners had introduced him to various companies seeking business with the city, but they didn't stick around through the process. "This one seemed persistent," he testified.
"Did that seem unusual?" Kaplan asked him.
"Yes, it was unusual."
Payton testified that he didn't want to say "no" in front of a commissioner, which is understandable considering any commissioner could have influence in voting Payton out of the job he spent nearly a quarter of a century climbing the ranks to get.
So Payton handed a front company the gazebo contract. The manager was able to unilaterally award the contract because Miramar permits construction jobs under $50,000 to be awarded without public bids and votes. That doesn't mean that willy-nilly handing out of a job at the behest of a politician was right or good. It was not, and when the FBI came knocking on his door September 23, Payton said he was "devastated" and "scared" and quickly hired well-known criminal attorney Fred Haddad.
"Miramar was the third-fastest-growing city in the country," Payton testified of his state of mind at the time. "We had dozens and dozens of land transactions. I had no idea what was going on... I was overwhelmed."
He said after meeting with Haddad, the veteran lawyer told him, "You don't need me — go tell the truth."
Payton testified that the first time he met with federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office about the case, he was so flustered that they made no progress. "I was so nervous, I don't think I answered any of their questions," he testified.
The reason Payton was in the clear was that even though he facilitated the corrupt deal, he didn't take money for it. It was Salesman who got the cash. And one of the great revelations of last week's testimony was that Payton had concerns that Salesman might have been angling to profit on his commission job even before he became entangled with the undercover FBI agents.
Payton testified that Salesman had come to his office shortly after he was elected in 2001 and told him he planned to be a real estate broker. He came back a couple of weeks later and told the city manager that he wanted the city to buy several specific parcels of land for park space on the east side. Payton said Salesman described his own role as "like a consultant or brokerage" in the deal, words that Payton described as "alarming."
He said that he asked Salesman if he understood he can't get money for what he was doing as a commissioner and that Salesman told him, "I would never do that."
Payton testified that Salesman was also "very passionate" about allowing a bar owner named Eddy Edwards to keep his establishment open until 4 a.m. instead of the usual closing time of 2.
Payton said he made it clear again to Salesman that he couldn't make any money off his influence as a city commissioner. The city manager testified that Salesman told him, "You must think I'm the dumbest mother-expletive in the world."
The jury's still out on that — and its decision could have a profound impact on Broward County for years to come.