The most resounding message sent by the conviction of former Deerfield Beach Commissioner Steve Gonot is this:
Juries, at least those in Broward County, don't buy politicians' convoluted explanations for apparent wrongdoing. So those of you now facing corruption charges -- I'm looking at Stephanie Kraft, Diana Wasserman-Rubin, and half of Tamarac here -- beware.
They will see through your nonsense.
Gonot's crime didn't involve public policy; it was all about $5,000 in campaign money that he was accused of steering toward himself during a bitter divorce in which his personal bank accounts were emptied. This may or may not be the first corruption case initiated by a
politician's estranged spouse (I have a feeling it probably isn't).
The tough part is that Gonot, in terms of his actual public service, was a pretty decent commissioner who listened to residents and fought against big developers (anybody remember Pete Boinis?). That puts him a step above the politicians so far charged by the State Attorney's Office who are all accused of personally profiting from developers themselves.
Don't underestimate the importance of this rather small conviction in the big picture. It once again shows (anybody remember Keith Wasserstrom?) that the State Attorney's Office can and will win these cases in the courtroom. This time, it was ASA Dave Schulson who came out victorious.
The jury didn't hear the excuses -- they looked at the bottom line. Stephanie Kraft's defense is that she didn't know her husband was on the payroll of a developer while she was trying to get that same developer a huge discount on a School Board fee. Wasserman-Rubin's defense falls along the same lines. She says she didn't know her husband wrote a grant for Southwest Ranches that she voted on, securing him a $25,000 bonus.
I may be wrong, but I think their pleas of ignorance will fall flat on a jury of their peers (and no, those peers won't include the influence peddlers who financed their campaigns). If they gamble in court, they'll likely lose a couple of extra years of freedom. And no lobbyist or developer or lawyer will be able to get that back for them.
-- The St. Pete Times reports that one of the Tea Party-funding billionaire Koch brothers managed to buy the hiring of two conservative economics professors at Florida State University with a $1.5 million donation to the public school. See it here -- it's a must-read.
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.