Lobbyist Russ Klenet better hope things are going well in D.C., because the situation on the home front has deteriorated rapidly.
Last night, the Sunrise Commission voted him right out of his $60,000-ish contract with the city. It was one of his plum jobs and, perhaps more important, the relationship with Sunrise was surely the decisive factor (along with his wife's occupation) in the Florida Panthers decision to hire him as one of its lobbyists as well.
With the knockdown the Sunrise leaders gave him last night, you have to wonder what worth Klenet can bring now to Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Panthers and pays him $80,000 to $120,000 a year for his services.
The Broward League of Cities unceremoniously ejected Klenet from his longstanding job with that group in December. He's not even making a dime in his own backyard of Parkland anymore. That contract ran out.
And the poor guy can't even eat a five-star meal with a fine wine on his wife's County Commission campaign these days to help forget his troubles.
But things could be worse. Klenet has left behind a trail of bodies in his wake. His two biggest money clients, men who were also his friends, aren't doing nearly as well as he is these days. One of them is under house arrest on federal fraud charges, and the other is in bankruptcy.
That would be fraudster Joel Steinger and medical lab owner Mark Ginsburg. Steinger paid Klenet $20,000 a month for
his work, including Klenet's efforts to keep state regulators off his back in Tallahassee while the con man was ripping off retired couples of their nest eggs with his Mutual Benefits scam.
His wife, then state Rep. Stacy Ritter, voted for her husband's Steinger-helping legislation. Steinger finally got indicted for fraud and is waiting comfortably in his Fort Lauderdale mansion for the trial -- which might just happen this year if the feds decide to earn their pay. How Steinger can still afford a mansion is what his victims want to know.
As for Ginsburg, Klenet helped with state legislation, again voted on by his wife, Ritter, to put his dialysis business on top. Early last year, Ginsburg filed for bankruptcy, listing $16.6 million in assets, which sounds pretty good except for the debt, which was close to $48 million.
Klenet and Ginsburg got along so well that they bought a yacht together, which they conveniently kept at Steinger's mansion. Steinger and Ginsberg also were both deeply involved with eye doctor Alan Mendelsohn, another political operator who in December pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge in a Klenet-related corruption case before esteemed U.S. District Judge James Cohn.
All this federal activity around his associates. Look, we know that Klenet cooperated with the feds -- sources have confirmed that; the only question is to what extent. And if the feds aren't in play, will he survive state prosecutors, who sources say have been digging deep into his business and the aforementioned Ritter campaign?
Klenet has so far avoided his friends' fates, but more important, you wonder: Is he still sailing? The answer appears to be yes. Klenet and Ginsburg put the boat's ownership in a corporation they called Cotinga, which is still active. And Ginsburg is still paying on the loan, according to his filings in the bankruptcy. Here's an itemization of some of his expenses he submitted:
So it's three grand a month for his half, assuming both men are paying it (hey, it was Mendelsohn who told Cohn in federal court that he learned about hiding payments from clients in the form of gifts).
What's most interesting about that document, to me, is that a guy $30 million in debt still has a maid, a personal fitness trainer, a gardener, spends hundreds of dollars to have vehicles cleaned, and budgets $10,000 a month in household expenses.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Well, like they say, one man's bankruptcy is another man's boom. But that's what makes Florida both great and awful, the booms and the busts. After making a fortune with his wife in politics, Klenet seems to be looking at the latter, unless, of course, his D.C. strategy, his flight to the federal government side of things, pays off in the end.