The corruption case involving the dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait is bringing a lot of rumors to the surface. And after former Tamarac Commissioner Patricia Atkins-Grad was charged with bribery and other felonies for allegedly allowing Bruce and Shawn Chait to pay the lease on her BMW, a lot of them involve politicians' cars.
Like former Tamarac Commissioner Ed Portner's blue Jaguar.
Even back at the time he was enthusiastically supporting the Chaits' project nearly five year ago, some in the city remarked suspiciously on the 1998 Jaguar he'd bought to replace his 1996 Lincoln Towncar. Portner, father of Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, told me yesterday he purchased the car on November 30, 2005 -- about three months before he cast his vote in favor of the Chaits' project -- for $20,000 at the Warren Henry Auto Group in Miami.
He said he personally paid the $5,000 down payment on the car in cash. Portner said he went to his safe deposit box, where he had kept cash in denominations of 100s, 50s, and 20s and took it in an envelope to the dealership. He said he financed the other $15,000 and paid off the car, which had about 60,000 miles, in three years.
I asked him why he paid in cash and why he had so much cash in the box.
"I had three businesses at one time, and it was money I'd saved from my businesses," Portner told me. "There are thousands of people that keep safe deposit boxes. Billionaires keep
cash in safe deposit boxes. That's a question that bears no answer. Why do I keep cash in my pocket? I didn't ask anybody to buy a car; I didn't ask anybody to front money for a car. My records are clean."
The Chaits, who owned the development company Prestige Homes and wanted to build a controversial housing project on two Tamarac golf courses, are cooperating with the State Attorney's Office. Sources say they have implicated several public officials and will change their plea on bribery charges to guilty next month.
According to the arrest affidavit for Portner's former colleague Atkins-Grad, the Chaits paid the Braman BMW dealership $2,300 in cash for the commissioner's lease payment on a new BMW in 2007. The Chaits also paid several thousand dollars in cash for a golf club membership for since-convicted Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion.
From Atkins-Grad's arrest affidavit:
"In December 2006, [Atkins-Grad] expressed an interest to Shawn Chait in leasing a BMW 325 but said she could not afford one. Shawn Chait informed Atkins-Grad that he could assist her in the payment of a lease on a 2007 BMW 525i at Braman BMW Motor Cars and arranged for her to meet with Braman BMW salesman Darran Lazar."
When Atkins-Grad leased the car, she paid only $781.
"A few days later Shawn Chait met salesman Lazar in a parking lot and gave him $2300.00 cash for the remainder of the payment of Patricia Atkins-Grad's BMW 525i. ... During this time there are records showing many cell phone calls between Shawn Chait and Patricia Atkins-Grad, and Shawn Chait and salesman Lazar," prosecutors wrote.
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Portner said the Chaits never offered him any bribes. "I took them out for dinner and lunch a few times because I thought they were doing a good job for Tamarac," said Portner, specifying that he picked up the tab. "They never said anything to me or wanted to give me anything at all."
Portner was sentenced to five years probation last month on an aggravated assault charge that came after he menaced his daughter, who was Broward Mayor at the time, with a gun at her Parkland home last October. He was angry at the time that Ritter was supporting his opponent, Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco, in the Tamarac mayor's race. Portner had been forced out of office in 2008 by term limits.
He said he hasn't yet been contacted by the State Attorney's Office.
"I have nothing to hide," Portner said.