You know, every criminal investigation has its side notes apart from the nuts and bolts of the case, the stuff that fills in the dialogue when the story needs to be told.
The Stephanie Kraft School Board corruption case has some of that. We know about the late School Board construction chief Mike Garretson's description of how Kraft rolls her eyes to the back of her head when she's lying. That's a good one.
We know Kraft went after a School Board employee, Chris Akagbosu, who had the audacity to cry foul on her corruption, labeling him a "rogue employee." We even know that Kraft's husband, Mitch Kraft, "screamed like a banshee" when he found out that dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait were going to give him only $10,000 for his behind-the-scenes work ultimately involving his wife to help them get a $500,000 break on a School Board development fee.
One of the fallacious arguments being made by the Krafts' attorneys -- specifically the at-times-outlandish Kevin Kulik -- as they await trial on bribery and unlawful compensation charges is that while Mitch Kraft did work for the Chaits, it didn't involve the School Board issue.
Having gone through the sworn statements in the case, I can tell you that the argument won't fly. While Mitch Kraft knew he had to work behind the scenes because of his wife's position, he let it be known to many people that he was working for the Chaits on the School Board issue. Among those testifying to that fact are consultant and former School Board real estate director Charles Fink, lobbyist Gerald Knight, and Broward County School Board cadre attorney Alan Gabriel, of the firm Weiss Serota.
Mitch Kraft's biggest mistake may have been calling
board attorney Gabriel directly about getting the Chaits' mitigation fee reduced by the School Board.
"He was asking why we [at the School Board] were being so difficult with the developer in terms of the process and how much money it was," Gabriel testified in a sworn statement with prosecutors. "Specifically he identified Chris Akagbosu as being difficult, and difficult to work with, and [obstinate]. He may have used other words... He was clearly calling on [the Chaits] behalf."
Bam. Here you have Mitch Kraft making a call to a contracted School Board employee applying pressure for the $500,000 fee mitigation for the Chaits.
Not only that, but it shows us that both of the Krafts called independent witnesses about the same employee, one calling him difficult, the other rogue. Wonder how much pillow talk Akagbosu prompted between those two? Guy should seriously get an award; he's proof that there's are a lot of good people working quietly in Broward County who don't want to tolerate the corrupt buffoons who tend to run it.
Chuck Fink, meanwhile, detailed how Kraft brought him into the deal for the Chaits. If this case goes to trial, Fink will make it clear to the jury that Mitch Kraft was shepherding the School Board fee reduction along for the dirty developers. He talks in sworn statements of Kraft contacting him on behalf of the Chaits and have the meeting with Kraft and the developers at a Coral Springs coffee shop in January 2007.
It was the first of many meetings among Kraft, Fink, and the Chaits. Fink's schedule book is sprinkled with notations like "Contact client [the Chaits] and Mitch Kraft for updates and status" and "Complete revised letter for new mitigation proposal, contact client and MK."
"[Kraft] was always in the loop on the stuff that I did [for the Chaits]...," said Fink. "I do not know what his fee was, or how he was going to get paid... My impression was pretty clear that whatever I saved [Chait], he was going to assume that, you know, if I save him a million bucks, that he [Kraft] was responsible for bringing me on board, and he was going to get a bigger fee. That's my assumption, just kind of, you know, chatting with him."
"You felt it was Mr. Kraft's impression that whatever dollar amount you saved the Chaits, that Mr. Kraft was going to get some percentage of that?" asked the prosecutor.
"Yeah," answered Fink. "Because he was always interested in how much. I mean, he had a very high interest in how much -- "
"He was interested in that number?"
"Yeah, there was no question about that."
Poor Mitch. Instead, Bruce Chait paid Fink $25,000 while he gave Kraft just $10,000, sparking his notorious "banshee" moment. Chait had Mitch Kraft over a barrel. There was no recourse for Kraft to complain because he was in the middle of some very serious corruption involving his wife. Bruce Chait said that when he first asked Kraft about helping in the School Board deal, he said to him, "I don't want to do anything wrong; are you OK to do this?"
Mitch, he said, answered this way: "I personally can't do this, but I can do it, you know, on the back end."
In other words, Mitch Kraft was playing the role of behind-the-scenes fixer.
"[MK] just would tell me, 'Hey, I spoke to Alan Gabriel and everything is going good,'" Chait testified. "He was calling me more than Chuck [Fink] was. Chuck was calling once in a blue moon. Mitch was calling me nonstop."
So what about that $10,000 fee that caused Mitch so much consternation?
"Well, my assumption and Mitch's assumption I guess were two different things," Chait told prosecutors. "My assumption was I gave Mitch $10,000 and I set Chuck Fink up on a 5 percent incentive, that whatever he would save me he would get 5 percent. Well, Mitch evidently was under the impression that he was going to get the same 5 percent, and he started yelling and screaming llike a banshee that he thought he was going to get the same thing.
"I says, 'Mitch, that's not the deal we had, and maybe you should go talk to Chuck. You know, maybe you are entitled to any more, go talk to Chuck, but the deal made was $10,000 to you to basically introduce us and do whatever you can... At the end, man, he wanted to make my life a living hell, because he says you owe me the same thing you owe Chuck... I had everything etched in stone at that point, you know, everything was in writing. You know, it wasn't like [Mitch] could go back to the School Board and say rip it up..."
Assistant State Attorney Catherine Maus asked Bruce Chait whether Mitch had done any other work for him other than School Board mitigation.
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"No, he actually came to us one time after he left the City of Tamarac, and he came to my office one time, and he said, 'Listen, I am tight with everybody in the City of Tamarac, and how would you like to use me for a lobbyist and I can work behind the scenes in Tamarac?"
Ah, the revolving door at its best. But Chait said it wasn't feasible to hire Kraft for work in Tamarac.
"I mean that was like the stupidest thing you could do because everybody there hated him," Chait explained. "But he thought that he was still well-liked there, and that wasn't the case, and I said, 'No, no, Mitch, I am actually OK on my own...' He didn't know that they all hate his guts."
There's some good dialogue.