Was it worth it, Cindi?
Former Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Cindi Hutchinson not only wins the the award for selling out her seat the cheapest -- a toilet, really? -- but also for the worst mug shot in a procession of public official mug shots.
Look at that face. It's the face of denial and belligerence. Or was she just dropped on her head too many times as a child? You can't tell.
Whatever the case, she was charged today by state prosecutors with selling out her office to McMansion developer Glenn Wright and former Toy Store owner Steven Goldstrom for $14,000 in home repairs and fixtures.
Sorry, I would have weighed in on the arrest earlier, but I was out of town. Fortunately, there's a lot to say about this case. One of the things that stands out about Hutchinson is that she, like criminally charged former School Board member Stephanie Kraft, was another one of those standout new-wave women pushed into office by the so-called Steel Magnolias -- lobbyist Ali Waldman, current state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, and activist Mary Fertig.
After Kraft and Hutchinson won office, the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald touted both candidates as fresh faces who wouldn't play the good-old boys' game. Here's how the Sun-Sentinel raved after another Magnolia-backed candidate, Darla Carter, won her School Board seat:
"Their message is simple: Money isn't everything in politics. Good candidates can win with hard work. The three-piece suits with the fat billfolds can be beaten... Kraft, Hutchinson and now [Darla] Carter. All were great candidates with a winning message of change. All were outspent by five, six, seven times by their opponents. And all needed the grass-roots help the Steel Magnolias provide. The Steel Magnolias work for
free. They pick candidates they think will be best for the community."
Unfortunately two of those three candidates turned out to be all about what's best for themselves -- until they got caught. The Herald detailed how the Magnolias turned Hutchinson into a viable candidate.
"A volunteer from Hutchinson's campaign bumped into Bogdanoff at a Publix supermarket. In short order, the Magnolias were on the job. Bogdanoff, at 40 the youngest of the group and the most intense, walked all of Fort Lauderdale's upscale Rio Vista neighborhood, where she lives, knocking on doors. They helped design Hutchinson's final mailings, including a devastating piece portraying Latona as a pro-development politician who had sold out the city."
The irony is richer than Glenn Wright used to be. Boy, could they pick them.
Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu was another politician touted by the Magnolias and in a 2009 interview described her expectations of the club.
"I thought the Magnolias were about ridding Broward of corruption and putting incorruptible people into office," she says. "I really believed that."
She said she and Waldman had an agreement that the lobbyist would never discuss Sunrise city business with her on behalf of developer GC Homes. Alu said at the time:
"Ali kept talking about developing this golf course. It wasn't like she just brought it up once -- she kept going on and on and on about it. I finally said, 'What is the deal with you and this golf course?' And she said, 'This is one of my clients.' My mouth dropped wide open."
More from the 2009 story:
"I told her she wasn't even registered to lobby and she wasn't supposed to be lobbying me," says Alu. "Ali said it was a gray area. I told her there was no gray area and that she could either choose our friendship or her client."
About a month after returning from New York, Waldman made her decision when she registered as a lobbyist for GC Homes with the City of Sunrise.
That was it for that friendship.
To be fair, the criminal charges involving Hutchinson and Kraft don't involve the Magnolias. Hutchinson attorney Bruce Udolf, who is also representing criminally charged Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin, told the Sentinel the charges stem from another friend, Wright's partner, Steven Goldstrom.
Udolf said that's all the $14,000 worth of household help was about -- friendship. "Any work that was done was a personal favor between friends, and there was absolutely no quid pro quo for any favors that might have been done," he told the newspaper. "Any favors that were done for her by her friends were not given in exchange for an official act."
Nice try, Bruce, but there was an official act, according to prosecutors, namely Hutchinson's votes in favor of Wright's controversial housing projects in Fort Lauderdale, La Preserve and Georgian Oaks.
She cast those votes in 2003 and 2004. The gifts -- including fencing, pavers, and air-conditioning repair -- started flowing in 2005, according to prosecutors.
Luisa Dugas, a former project coordinator and bookkeeper for the developers, testified that Hutchinson visited the La Preserve site to visit Goldstrom on numerous occasions. This was confirmed by "several" subcontractors as well. It was Goldstrom, according to Hutchinson's arrest affadavit, who ordered subcontractors to go to Hutchinson's home to do the gratis work for her.
A company called C.D. Stroud Enterprises provided fencing and fence repair to Hutchinson. The listed customer for the work wasn't Hutchinson but "Glenn Wright La Preserve," and it was the developer who footed the bill. An employee of C.D. Stroud told prosecutors that when he questioned Goldstrom about the work, the former luxury car dealer told him that he was acting as a contractor for Hutchinson and that she was reimbursing him. Investigators determined that Goldstrom wasn't a contractor and that Hutchinson never reimbursed him a cent.
Then there was the paving work, which was done by Signature Design, whose owner, Steven Tonari, testified that Goldstrom instructed him to give Hutchinson a "very good price." Tonari further stated that he paid Goldstrom a total of $3,488.50 for the work, "significantly less than what he would normally charge." So if investigators are right, Goldstrom got a cut-rate deal on corruption.
Then came air-conditioner work in the same vein followed by the $125 installation of a toilet by plumber Edward McClain, again at the direction of Goldstrom. This time, Goldstrom got a really good deal -- McClain never charged him for the toilet.
When questioned by BSO Det. Michael Johnston, who led the investigation, Goldstrom denied ordering the work done by the subcontractors, earning him a perjury charge of his own. Johnston questioned Hutchinson this past September 9. After agreeing to talk, Johnston asked her if she'd had work done her house in "recent years." She told him she'd had hurricane shutters installed, landscaped her yard, and tiled her floors. Curiously she made no mention of the fences, pavers, air conditioning, or toilet. Then she denied knowing Glenn Wright or any of his associates.
Then, in a true gotcha moment, Johnston obtained Hutchinson's mobile phone records and found that less than 20 minutes after his interview with her, Hutchinson made a tell-tale call to Goldstrom.
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Hutchinson's apparent lies earned her a perjury charge as well -- on top of four counts of official misconduct, four counts relating to unlawful compensation, and grand and petit theft.
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