A lot of people looked at the first investigation publicized of the newly formed Broward Sheriff's Office corruption unit and said, "Whaaat?"
BSO is investigating Broward County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger in a case that goes back 20 years and centers on a business owned by her now-deceased husband. The company sold bus benches to the county a series of contracts that was first inked before Gunzburger was elected commissioner in 1992 and hasn't been active for more than a decade.
At the outset, this isn't exactly the kind of case that prosecutors love. Dealing with testimony involving the ancient past isn't considered reliable -- memories change over the years. And after years of newspaper reporting on the Gunzburger deals there has been no indication of illegality.
There is however nothing inherently wrong with the unit looking at the situation. There were a lot of contracts, some of them no-bid, that went to the Gunburger company while the commissioner was sitting in office. But in a case that harkens back to the Clinton Administration, the unit -- led by former FBI agent Al LaManna -- will have to find one hell of a smoking gun. Gray areas and he-said she-said won't suffice in this one. Gunzburger recused herself from all votes, so it would seem that without proof that the she actually bribed or
explicitly extorted county staff in some way, it's a lost cause.
At best, it's a long shot. And in a county so rife with corruption, where both the feds and state are right now wracking up arrests of elected officials, why start with a case that if not dead on arrival is as stale as last week's bread? The corruption unit has a fresh and wonderful feast of official misdeeds set out for it on a table. Why is it back in the kitchen eating the leftovers?
There are even worse implications, namely that BSO is playing politics against an enemy in Gunzburger. When I broke the story about LaManna's secret hiring by Sheriff Al Lamberti, I said that the only thing that could derail the unit -- which involves LaManna and three detectives -- would be the appearance that Lamberti is playing politics with dubious cases. With Gunzburger locked in a tough reelection battle with lawyer-lobbyist Steve Geller, this has that appearance. Gunzburger has been an active critic of the sheriff and her son and campaign manager, Ron, campaigned against him during the last election. On top of that, there's a personal feud: Lamberti fired Gunzburger's daughter from her job at the sheriff's office.
But before we lambaste Lamberti, let me say this: This isn't the only investigation that LaManna and his crew are undertaking. Sources have told me of other investigations -- and they involve actual living people in the new millenium.
This is not the first splash Lamberti should have wanted to make with his new unit, though. In that sense this is unfortunate mostly in terms of public relations. It constitutes a tactical error -- you'd think BSO could have buttoned up those witnesses -- but it doesn't forebode anything worse than that for LaManna and his unit. They just need to keep investigating away at their cases and good things will happen.
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The problem for Lamberti is that he's on serious watch now as to his motivations for creating the unit. This feeds the worst perceptions about the sheriff -- namely that his judgment isn't keen and that he's become consumed with politics. Lobbyists have run amok in Broward County, enabled by public officials of very low character. The next investigation we hear about from the BSO unit can wash away any doubts, though, so long as it strikes at the core of corruption in the county in the present day and involves the kind of evidence that actually has a strong shot at prosecution and conviction.
-- There was a Russ Adler sighting and the interesting blog FTL Collective caught it in a photograph. The writer of the post, one "Fat Hand," wants to know: Who is it that Scott Rothstein's former partner is dining with at Bluejays Cafe? I couldn't place it, so here's the photograph.