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BSO Corruption Case Ends With Slap on the Wrist, Despite Continued Danger at the Port

Firefighters at Port Everglades need a new hose and pump system to fight potential oil tank fires like this one, but the purchasing of the system has been plagued with problems.
Firefighters at Port Everglades need a new hose and pump system to fight potential oil tank fires like this one, but the purchasing of the system has been plagued with problems.

If you're like most people and you don't watch a lot of local TV news, then you probably missed Carmel Cafiero's fine report on Channel 7 last week about a corruption investigation into BSO's fire rescue division. And it's a shame that most of us didn't watch this report, because there ought to be outcry over a case that has largely been swept under the carpet.

Sure, you say, that's common for Broward Town, but in this case, the corruption could lead to untold deaths, the loss of billions of dollars in oil reserves, and generally threaten public safety -- and that's not TV new-style overstating.

Cafiero got three minutes and 24 seconds for her report -- generous in her line of work -- but the story deserves a more in-depth look into the sordid accusations. The internal affairs report (click here for the final version) in question investigated Battalion Chief Kelli Allen's role in helping to select a company to supply a $1.2 million hose and pump system for Port Everglades. Allen had a relationship -- both professionally and personally -- with the company, and that may create conflict of interests that violate both BSO rules and perhaps the law.

There's also allegations in the report that someone, perhaps Allen, sabotaged samples sent from a competing company that initially won the bid, all while making sexual innuendos via email to her boss.

Sheriff Al Lamberti spoke with outrage to Channel 7: "From a command staff person, I expect more. You have to govern yourself appropriately."

So what was Allen's punishment for such outrageous infractions? A three-day 

suspension.

The results have outraged some BSO fire rescue employees who have been speaking out about the deal for years. One former department employee who recently retired told the Pulp: "What is outrageous here is that we have politicians in Broward County going to jail for much less than what she did."

The investigation began December 22, 2009, when Port of Everglades Director Phillip Allen filed a complaint with BSO's Division of Internal Affairs. Allen claimed Kelli Allen (no relation to the director) had hidden her relationship with the company supplying the hose and pumps and had unfairly influenced the process to assure the company won the bid.

Internal affairs investigators went back through emails and conducted interviews with those involved in the pump and hose purchase, which began in 2006. Initially, another company, Williams Fire and Control had won the contract by bidding $250,000 less than anyone else. Williams sent BSO a sample of the hose it intended to supply as part of the contract, but Allen reported that when it arrived it wasn't the right kind.

Chauncey Naylor, executive vice president for Williams, told BSO investigators that he shipped the right hose to Allen but that it was swapped out for the wrong one so that BSO could cancel his contract.

And BSO did cancel the deal. When it came time to award the contract to another company, Allen put her support behind Kidde Fire Fighting.

That should come as no surprise considering her connection with Kidde. Two or three times a year, the company flies her to Texas A&M where she teaches classes on behalf of the company. They pay her expenses for the trips, although she denied claims made to investigators that she's also paid for her time.

Investigators discovered that Allen had failed to disclose her relationship and compensation from Kidde to BSO, as required by regulations. When BSO fire rescue employees complained about her connection with the company, her superiors asked her to fill out a form explaining her work. But she didn't mention Kidde on the form, claiming instead that she worked for Texas A&M.

There was more that she was hiding about her relationship with Kidde. Investigators discovered that she was also having a relationship with Joseph Bateman, the son of a Kidde official. They discovered emails Allen sent to Bateman, including one on March 18, 2008, that accused Bateman of finding a new girl. The email warned: "Just remember, you were mine First!!! That gives me certain unalienable rights, starting with knowing how the heck you're doing.... So, if you are otherwise occupied, kick the bitch out of bed and call me!!! Love you, Kelli."

Meanwhile, Allen was also trading emails with her boss, Assistant Chief Tim Keefe, making the same kind of sexual innuendo. While she was out of town, Allen sent Keefe an email bragging: "Staying at Crowne Suites (king size, on the water, by myself, wink, wink.)" Investigators discovered, perhaps to Keefe's dismay, that Allen had sent the identical line to another man during her trip.

All of these unsavory connections didn't go ignored. Assistant Chief Raymond Bennett had been complaining about Allen's connections with Kidde for "some time" when he wrote an email in February 2008 to the chiefs of the fire division. "As I have repeatedly stated," Bennett wrote, "I believe that the vendor/employee relationship in this case could be construed to present a conflict of interest."

On August 5, 2010, internal affairs investigators presented the case to the Special Prosecution and Public Corruption Unit at the Broward State Attorney's Office. The office has long been chided for going soft on corruption cases, but lately State Attorney Michael Satz seemed hell bent on bringing prosecutions against politicians. Former School Board member Beverly Gallagher pleaded guilty in March to accepting $12,500 in bribes, pennies on the dollar compared to the million-dollar Kidde hose contract at the port.

But Satz's office declined to take the case and issued a memo explaining why. The memo said there is "nothing supportive" to show that Allen "manipulated the bid process" or that she was paid by Kidde. That disputes claims from longtime BSO employees who had stepped up and told their bosses that Allen was working for Kidde and working to get the company the port bid.

The memo also claims that Allen "did not keep her relationship a secret" -- something that's flat-out wrong. In the document she supplied to the BSO, she claimed she was "an adjunct instructor for Texas A&M," which isn't true, and she never mentioned that she was actually going to Texas twice a year for Kidde.

But all of these sordid tales about conflicts of interest and sexual innuendo are really miniscule compared to the real problem: The hose and pump system provided by Kidde don't work. The system is supposed to allow firefighters to spray foam on fires from as much as a mile away. The pumps are supposed to provide 12,000 pounds of pressure from a hose that's a foot wide. The system failed on two tests, with the foam system quitting and pumps breaking. During one test, a piece of equipment flew off an nearly injured a firefighter. Tests since then have worked better, but the pumps still aren't churning out the amount of money they were supposed to provide.

Bennett, who had complained about Allen's involvement with Kiddie, tried to call the company to report the problems. The company wouldn't speak with him and insisted instead that all information go through Allen.

In November, internal affairs investigators met with Allen. She claimed her role in the bid process was that she "brought Kidde to the attention of the department" and suggested to fellow chiefs that "this is what we need." She said she never disclosed her relationship with the company because they had never paid her, although investigators didn't follow up with her IRS records to confirm.

Internal affairs submitted its final, 36-page report in January. On April 29, Fire Chief Neal de Jesus signed off on a three-day suspension for Allen. Keefe, meanwhile, received a demotion for receiving the sexually charged email from Allen.

Allen and Chief de Jesus haven't returned phone calls about the investigation. BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal said that the report speaks for itself and that the department wouldn't respond to why the punishment was so light. "There's a process," Leljedal said, "and we've been through the process." He said Lamberti was unlikely to speak about the issue again.

To Channel 7, Lamberti trumpeted the outcome of the case: "A suspension is significant, and a demotion is even more significant."

What's probably the most significant development here is that we seem to be back to the old days of Broward County, where corruption cases end with a suspension and an unpaid day off -- and not handcuffs.


Follow The Pulp on Facebook and on Twitter: @ThePulpBPB. Follow Eric Barton on Twitter: @ericbarton.


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