Race Card Won't Play in Commissioner's Defense

Criminally charged politician Fitzroy Salesman's attorney is fighting his case in the Sun-Sentinel, claiming the FBI used a thuggish gang member as an informant and a shadowy Irishman as a confidential source and that federal agents "sought out" black elected officials to target.

The problem for defense lawyer Jamie Benjamin is that Salesman took the money.

No matter how much Benjamin, a Hollywood lawyer who specializes in defending strip clubs and sex shops, complains in the press, that basic truth is impossible to ignore. Salesman, who had been removed twice from office before for a DUI and for pulling a gun on a fellow customer at a supermarket, took nearly $5,000 from federal agents in exchange for his help in securing government contracts.

And that fact makes the lawyer's steady stream of protestations seem shallow and a bit desperate as they are splashed on the pages of the Sentinel before the trial, which is scheduled to begin March 22.

Benjamin's most recent allegation is the most sensational of all.

"The government sought out to blemish the record of several of the most prestigious African-American elected officials in

Broward County," Benjamin wrote in a court motion on Friday, adding that in 2006, they attended a Black Elected Officials gala, where they "sought out African American office holders to corrupt."

Though I'm not sure anyone should put the words "prestigious" and "elected official" in the same sentence in Broward County, Benjamin seems to make a pertinent point. After all, two of the three elected officials arrested in the federal investigation so far, Salesman and former Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion (who has already pleaded guilty), are black. That seems suspicious on its face.

But before anybody buys Benjamin's race-card defense, understand that the case did indeed begin with Alden "Alpo" Budhoo, a member of the Bloods gang who came under federal scrutiny after he was caught selling stolen goods. It was Budhoo who told the feds that he knew Salesman -- and that was the genesis of the case. Using Budhoo, agents set up a sale of supposedly stolen goods, including a flat-screen TV and a computer, to Salesman.

Once Salesman made that purchase and became friendly with undercover agents, the investigation was off to the races. And it was Salesman who made introductions that took the probe from Miramar to the School Board to the Broward County Commission. By the time Salesman took undercover agents to the Black Elected Officials gala in February 2006 for the purpose of introducing them to other politicians, he had already agreed to a corrupt deal to accept money in exchange for helping the agents secure government work, the

federal criminal complaint federal criminal complaint alleges.  

Looking at those facts, it seems pretty ridiculous for Benjamin to tell the Sentinel that it was "surprising to us that [federal authorities] would use such a dangerous person in such a big investigation like this." Well, one can imagine it was equally surprising to the feds that a gang member who made a living selling stolen goods was friends with a city commissioner.

But Benjamin is now trotting out some of the black politicians who didn't take the bait when approached by the feds, including Lauderhill Commissioner Dale Holness and state Rep. Hazelle Rogers. Pointing out that two officials rejected the undercover agents and, unlike Salesman, didn't take any money from them wouldn't seem to help Salesman's defense, but then again, I don't have a law degree. (Then there's former Miramar Commissioner George Pedlar, who took $5,000 from agents in some kind of dubious campaign flim-flam -- not sure Pedlar is out of the woods yet).  

Listening to Benjamin's complaints about the government's use of confidential source Patrick "Irish Pat" Lochrie, you would think that no one could possibly resist him. Benjamin has complained in court records that he has tapes in which Lochrie, a veteran government operative, is shown "persuading, cajoling, insisting and arguing in meetings" with Salesman. Benjamin went a step further and supplied the Sentinel with emails that he'd received from Lochrie and apparently gave reporter Paula McMahon, who is Irish, Lochrie's cell phone number in a bid to juice up his media defense.

The point seems to be that Salesman was bullied by the tough Irishman to take the bribe money he accepted for helping undercover agents secure no-bid contracts from his city. That he was virtually forced to line his pockets by those mean old agents, apparently. Benjamin told the Sentinel that Salesman wanted them to put the money in his campaign instead. The problem there is that a politician making a specific government deal contingent on campaign money is also illegal.

Benjamin's onslaught of publicity seems to indicate a belief that he will walk Salesman out of court a free man. The sideshows that the lawyer is creating are all very interesting and will surely keep the jury entertained, but in the end, it's unlikely he'll be able to erase the core fact of the case from the jurors' minds.

Namely, that Salesman took the money.

-- From the Sun-Sentinel this morning, we learned that Ponzi wife Kim Rothstein liked to shop at expensive stores! And here we thought she bought all those clothes and purses we've seen in the pictures at the thrift shop.

-- Also in the Sentinel, the elderly neighbor who turned over a large portion of her fortune to former Judge Larry Seidlin can't remember what they did wrong to her. Here's the answer: Seidlin and his clan convinced the widow Barbara Kasler to hand over a large portion of her fortune to them. 

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