Norma Goldstein just hung up on me.
She said hello and I had barely got my name out when, bam, the call with Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter's 79-year-old district aide went dead.
I was going to ask Goldstein to confirm from sources that she was being swept into the State Attorney's Office criminal investigation of Ritter's out-of-control 2008 campaign. Sources say she is under investigation and has been subpoenaed to testify in the case.
Goldstein, you see, is at the very least a crucial witness in the criminal case. When Ritter and her lobbyist husband, Russell Klenet, spent about $20,000 on expensive dinners and the like during the unopposed campaign, they claimed all those dinners were campaign-related. The best-paid "campaign consultant" working for Ritter at the time was Goldstein. Campaign reports filed by Ritter indicate that she paid Goldstein, a 78-year-old retiree and Kings Point Condo entertainment director, $9,000 over a seven-month period in the campaign. Two years before that, Ritter's 2006 campaign expended about $2,500 to Goldstein for her services.
Here's where it gets interesting. When I questioned Goldstein about her role in Ritter's campaign last year, she seemed shocked when I recounted how much she'd been paid by the commissioner's campaigns.
"You're saying I made $11,000?" she asked me. "No way. I'm almost sure I was never paid that much. I don't even know what I made, but that doesn't sound right."
The question for prosecutors is whether she did in fact receive that money. It was a princely sum for helping to run what was essentially a nonexistent campaign, especially since Goldstein isn't a campaign consultant. Even she admitted that she did no "consulting" for Ritter and didn't
work all that much. "I gave out fliers," she says. "I walked with her. Uh, let's see, what else did I do? I guess I did everything you would want me to do."
Nine grand for doing some walking and handing out fliers? It's certainly suspicious, especially since Goldstein does that kind of thing for other candidates for a few hundred dollars (her specialty is coordinating campaign breakfasts at which politicians meet condo residents).
But that's just one of the mysteries surrounding Goldstein's work for Ritter. Last year, Ritter hired Goldstein as her district aide to work 18 hours a week at $20 an hour. Goldstein claimed that her job consisted of helping line up speeches for Ritter. County records list Goldstein's district phone number as 954-761-2118. That number, according to an automated phone company voice, has been changed to an unpublished number.
Another interesting detail: Ritter put Goldstein on the county payroll about the same time that Brenda Chalifour was preparing her campaign complaint against the Ritter. Was the hire related to the impending investigation? Did Ritter want to bring Goldstein further into her debt?
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When I made that call to Goldstein last year, I asked her about the scandals involving Ritter, and she didn't want to hear about them.
"I'm not involved with [the scandals]," she told me. "And I don't want to be involved in them. I'm only involved with Stacy. You have to know Stacy, because it's to love her. I don't even read the papers anymore. I don't want to know. I don't believe in it. I believe in Stacy."
Well, she's involved now -- and you can bet prosecutors are going to try to find out exactly what she knows.
Note: Comments below have gone haywire. Just scroll past the first 60, which are old jumbled comments attributed to Model Citizen (who I don't believe wrote the vast majority of them). Working on fixing it now.