Sources: Crist Grand Jury Probing Broward School Board
The statewide grand jury created by Gov. Charlie Crist to investigate corruption has focused on corruption at the Broward County School Board and has already brought down at least one sealed indictment, according to several sources.
The grand jury, which is being overseen by Broward County Chief Judge Victor Tobin, is operating at full tilt and has subpoenaed numerous documents from the Broward County School Board, say sources both inside the school district and out.
One source with ties to the investigation tells me that the grand jury is digging deeply into the dealings of lobbyists Neil Sterling and Barbara Miller along with the School Board members who were close to them, including Stephanie Kraft and Bob Parks.
"They are approaching it as a conspiracy," said the source.
This blog has been exposing aspects of the Sterling-Miller tandem for years. Basically the duo worked this way: Miller, a political consultant, helped handle political campaigns of numerous board members, including Jennifer Gottlieb and Robin Bartleman. Sterling brought in the big construction clients -- including school builder Pirtle, architect Zyscovich, and health insurer Vista -- and the big campaign money, raising tens of thousands of dollars at a pop at fundraisers at his home. The money came from the companies and dozens of subcontractors and other parties looking to profit.
One example of the corruption: Kraft's husband, Mitch, was secretly on the payroll of a company owned by Sterling even as she was voting for literally hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for his clients and steering the board's health plan to Vista. He was also tied to a job held by former School Board member Beverly Gallagher, who is now serving a prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.
The 18-member grand jury, which is being led by statewide prosecutor Bill Mitchell, meets in Fort Lauderdale and operates in great
secrecy. It's not known who has been indicted or if that person is connected to the School Board.
Currently we have an amazing plethora of corruption investigations active in the county. In addition to the statewide grand jury, the State Attorney's Office, the Broward Sheriff's Office, and the FBI are all actively investigating corruption in Broward.
Crist made his initial call for a grand jury to investigate corruption last October 14, apparently in reaction to both the FBI sting in Broward (which brought down Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion and Gallagher, among others) and the implosion of Scott Rothstein's massive Ponzi scheme, law firm, and business concerns. Here's what the governor said on October 14:
"A recent rash of crimes committed by public officials in South Florida has led to a crisis of confidence among those who have elected them to office. Today, I have petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to investigate these crimes, bring indictments, and provide specific recommendations to address fundamental problems within the system that may be cultivating a culture of corruption."
You'll notice that Crist said "South Florida" and specified a total of nine counties across the southern part of the state as targets of the probe. But it was clear by the timing of the announcement that the governor was looking squarely at Broward. Proving it was the fact that when the Florida Supreme Court signed off on the idea on December 2, Crist installed Broward Chief Judge Tobin to head the grand jury.
One thing is for certain: The grand jury means business, and it looks like Crist might be looking for an election-time show of force against corruption in the county where his tight relationship with criminal Rothstein has brought him great ridicule.
Bring it on, governor.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.