Tamarac At Heart Of Broward's Political Darkness
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Doing some reporting right now, but will let you guys know when it's back up.
The Tamarac City Commission is holding a special meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. to start the process of choosing someone to replace the alleged bribe-taker Patricia Atkins-Grad, who was suspended from office Friday after her arrest on numerous felony corruption charges.
The people of the city should sue to put an injunction on the commission to make sure it doesn't make any decision at all. Because you can bet that the four remaining electeds in that town won't select a commissioner, just another crony.
The commission is compromised at its core and the road from dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait -- who bribed Atkins-Grad, former County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion and others -- leads not only to a majority of sitting Tamarac electeds but to the very top of Broward's political food chain.
We know the Chaits gave a golf cart -- valued at at least $500, probably well over that -- to Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, who was running for office at the time. Ritter later enthusiastically voted in favor of their controversial housing project on two golf courses in Tamarac. Not only that, but Ritter's father, Ed Portner, was a Tamarac commissioner who also voted in favor of the project.
We know that the Chaits hired Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman's husband, Stuart Michelson, to represent them in a code hearing in Tamarac after Lieberman voted for the project as well. And we know the Chaits also hired Broward School Board Member Stephanie Kraft's husband Mitch to help it get a $500,000 break from the school board.
Another hearty supporter of the Chait's project was Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco, who was integral in getting her friend Atkins-Grad elected to her former seat in 2006.
The chief force behind Talabisco's mayoral run was her Woodlands neighbor, Ilene Lieberman, who held a $20,000 fundraiser at
house for the candidate. (I hear now that since Talabisco's rise to the mayor's seat she and Lieberman have had a dispute and are no longer friends).
The Chaits were also deeply involved in Flansbaum-Talabisco's mayoral race in 2006. When it was learned that the developers had contributed a hefty $2,000 to Flansbaum-Talabisco during the key 2006 race, she returned the money. "At the time of your contribution to my campaign, you did not inform me of your pending project before the city of Tamarac," she wrote to the Bruce Chait at the time. "Therefore, I am returning your contribution to avoid the appearance of impropriety."
She didn't know, huh? Sure. We believe that. After all, we're idiots who aren't smart enough to get into the racket called Broward politics.
One of the things that makes Talabisco's plea of ignorance especially incredulous, though, is that her campaign manager in 2006 was a woman named Beverly Stracher. You might know the last name -- Stracher is the wife of former Scott Rothstein law partner Les Stracher. Remember that Les Stracher is the guy who sent a bullying letter to Atkins-Grad's opponent in the race, Patti Lynn, telling her that he would take action against her if she kept saying bad things about the Chaits, whom he claimed were "good corporate citizens." Lynn, understand, is a smart candidate who promised to clean up Tamarac, which made her Public Enemy No. 1 to the Chaits, Democratic Party Chair Mitch Ceasar, Talabisco, Lieberman, et al.
The kicker: Bev Stracher, a former Sun-Sentinel reporter, also worked for the the Chaits and their company Prestige Homes to help secure political support. When asked back in June 2006 what value she was giving the Chaits, Stracher told her former newspaper, "I ran Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco's campaign so I know a lot about the city."
That quote came long before the scandal erupted. Between the Chaits and the Rothstein Ponzi implosion, the Strachers were devastated. Guess who came to Bev's rescue? None other than Ilene Lieberman, who hired her as her chief aide. They are old friends, having served on the Lauderhill Commission together back in the day.
During that key 2006 race, the Chaits secretly met with Joe Schreiber, a former commissioner whose wife Mae was running against Talabisco. Schreiber says that the developers offered him $200,000 cash to convince his wife to get out of the race. Schreiber, who didn't go for it, told me today that a pair of investigators from State Attorney's Office paid him a visit recently and he told them the whole story.
"This county is rotten," Schreiber said. "Maybe now they'll clean it up."
Schreiber said that during the meeting with the Chaits regarding the proposed $200,000 payoff, one of the developers told him that if he accepted the deal, "Ilene Lieberman will be very pleased."
There are more seedy ties between the Chaits and Talabisco that I'll soon reveal, but I the picture is clear. With all that in mind, and knowledge that Talabisco is under criminal investigation, why should she be allowed to vote to choose Atkins-Grad's successor? It's like giving Dr. Frankenstein a second go at creating his monster after the first one went terribly wrong.
Another of the four remaining commissioners is Vice Mayor Harry Dressler. His was one of the five votes to approve the Chaits' terrible housing project. I've spoken with Dressler and he says he was never offered any bribes from the Chaits and that he never even met them outside of city hall.
Then there's the real peach on the commission, Diane Glasser, the Democratic Party poo-bah and Mitch Ceasar partner-in-politics who was elected to the city commission in 2008. She didn't vote for the Chaits, but she was deeply involved in the corrupt cluster that led to their initial success. For one, guess who served as the paid campaign manager for Atkins-Grad while "Positively Patte" was accepting those alleged bribes?
Yes, it was Diane Glasser. Glasser was with her candidate at the $4,000 victory party at Diamante's that Chait so graciously -- and illegally -- paid for. Did Glasser know about the payoff? Of course not, just the same way that Talabisco had no idea in the world that the Chaits had a project in her city when she accepted that $2,000.
In Tamarac, ignorance isn't quite bliss, but it just might keep you out of jail.
The only commissioner who doesn't have dirty hands at all in this mess is Pamela Bushnell, who wasn't in office during the 2006 vote and whose name hasn't come up in the Chait scandal.
With the corrupt Democratic Party machine calling the shots, don't expect to get anybody to fill that seat other than another version of the one who is being replaced. I wouldn't be surprised if they try to bring in Joel Davidson, the Kiwanis president who served as Atkins-Grad's chief supporter (who isn't immune from dirty tricks himself). That would be a tragedy, but understand that these people have no shame. They've been running free and wild for so long they've gone feral. They aren't quite human anymore.
Look at Atkins-Grad, who was audacious enough (and stupid enough, in my opinion) to ridicule the case that was filed against her on Friday. When a TV reporter asked her on her way out of jail about the charges, she said the case was a "joke." Her attorney, Ken Malnik, claimed that because Atkins-Grad was a Realtor, she was already pro-growth and would have voted for the Chaits' project anyway. So who cares about the money? They are also intimating that the Chaits somehow hoodwinked her into taking the money.
A copy of the videotape from the jailhouse steps needs to go to the judge on sentencing day for Atkins-Grad, who should be on her knees right now begging us for forgiveness for selling her government down the river (where she's now headed). The rest of her colleagues should be doing the same thing, but instead they'll be sitting on the dais tomorrow morning talking about who they'll choose to try to protect the rotten status quo in Broward politics.
The problem for them is it might be too late for a lot of them to save their own hides. The Chaits are already out of the bag.
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