Josephus Eggelletion is the politician who won't go away.
During the past five years, the Broward County commissioner has been hit with scandals involving his taxpayer-issued credit card and his unethical work for developers and trash haulers. More recently, we've learned he has an unfortunate knack for having children in adulterous affairs and then failing to tender child support.
So how does he pay for these transgressions? His colleagues on the Broward County Commission promoted him last week to be vice mayor of the county. Get it? Vice mayor. And you thought those stiffs at county hall didn't have a sense of humor.
And for all the kindness he's been shown, Eggelletion is giving back to the community. As part of his gratitude, he's pushing a controversial plan to build a multimillion-dollar government complex on land owned by a couple of high-powered developers.
Naturally, I wondered, "What in the name of Art Teele does that have to do with sex and cash?"
I haven't seen any evidence of the former involved in this thing, but there's plenty of the latter. And that should come as no surprise if you've read my last two offerings about the way the developers in question George Rahael and Charles Ladd wooed new Broward Mayor Ben Graber and Property Appraiser Lori Parrish on the plan to build county digs at the Riverbend Corporate Park on Broward Boulevard.
But Eggelletion's ties to Riverbend owners Rahael and Ladd go well beyond campaign contributions and lobbyists. Turns out that the vice mayor's golfing partner, Jim Cole, is a partner in the deal. And Cole, a lawyer with the powerhouse law firm Ruden McClosky, is more than just a buddy. He was also involved in a secret lobbying deal with Eggelletion last year that paid the commissioner a cool ten grand.
Cole's role in Riverbend helps to explain why Eggelletion has been shamelessly shilling for Rahael and Ladd. It was Eggelletion, for instance, who first suggested during a committee meeting in June that the county build specifically on the Riverbend property. The commissioner also had meetings with the developers during which he gathered information that he later shared with county staff, according to county records.
"It was somewhat unusual," county Public Works Director Dick Brossard says of Eggelletion's behind-the-scenes involvement with Rahael and Ladd.
Eggelletion didn't return repeated phone calls and e-mails asking for an explanation for why he's cuckoo for Riverbend. But during the October 18 commission meeting, he told the public that he was "prejudiced" for the site because he believed it would help spur development in his predominantly black district.
We'd all love to believe that the commissioner has his constituents in mind, but that's simply not in his character. Eggelletion loves only one man: Eggelletion. And Rahael and Ladd took care of that man, contributing at least $3,500 to his 2004 campaign. They also hired his campaign consultant, Judith Stern, as a lobbyist for the deal. But Eggelletion was doing some serious back flips for Riverbend. I figured there had to be more and that's where Cole enters the picture.
In records submitted to the county, Rahael and Ladd mentioned that they are partnering with a company called Northwest Development Group LLC. I looked up the company on the state's corporate database and found that it is packed with black power brokers. Listed as registered agent is Frank Hall Jr., a former county contractor who now serves as financial adviser to the City of Miramar.
The other partners were listed as now-defunct companies, but it was easy enough to find out who was behind them. One is Sidney Calloway, who works at the law firm of Shutts and Bowen, which is run by big-time county lobbyist George Platt. Another is developer Pamela Adams, a former campaign consultant and close personal friend of Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Carlton Moore.
All of these people are Eggelletion's friends, but none of those names rang the bell like that of a fourth company listed as a partner, Cole Diversified. Owner: James O. Cole and his wife, Ada.
To understand the relationship between Jim Cole and Eggelletion, you must know that both men worked last year for developer United Homes when it was vying to build a $100 million downtown center for the City of Lauderdale Lakes. Cole served as a legal adviser to the firm, while Eggelletion took on the role of secret lobbyist. He had to keep his job hidden from the public since Lauderdale Lakes had banned lobbyists from participating in the project. When I broke the story about his covert work for United Homes (which is co-owned by a man who was convicted of bribing a public official in Miami-Dade), Eggelletion wouldn't talk.
This year, however, he had to admit in his financial disclosure to the state that he'd been paid $10,000 by United Homes.
So Cole is Eggelletion's friend, political supporter, and an associate in a shady government deal. And now he's involved in Eggelletion's pet project, Riverbend.
I called Cole at his Ruden McClosky office in downtown Fort Lauderdale and asked him about his partnership with Rahael and Ladd.
"They are a client of the firm," he said.
Yes, but he has a personal financial interest in Riverbend property, right?
Had he spoken to Eggelletion about Riverbend?
Does Eggelletion have a financial interest in Riverbend?
Cole chuckled before he said, "No comment."
This wasn't getting anywhere, so I called another partner, Sidney Calloway, at Shutts and Bowen. He confirmed that Northwest Development Group was partnering with Riverbend but deferred to Frank Hall Jr.
Hall, who owns a company in Hollywood called Fidelity Financial Services, told me that Northwest Development has a 3 percent equity in Riverbend. That may not sound like a lot, but it amounts to many millions of dollars if Rahael and Ladd manage to build the 2 million-square-foot corporate park they envision there.
I asked for more details.
"That may be best left between the Riverbend folks and ourselves," Hall told me.
The only Northwest Development partner I couldn't reach was Pamela Adams. You may remember Adams from MoHomes, a house-building company that you might assume is black-owned. Well, not really.
The money behind MoHomes, which was recently chosen by Fort Lauderdale's Community Redevelopment Authority to build several dwellings on the New River, comes from none other than Rahael and Ladd, a couple of rich white men.
And this is where it all comes together. The Riverbend property is composed chiefly of land that Rahael and Ladd bought from the city's CRA in 2001. One of the good things about buying CRA land is that the developers are being heavily subsidized by the city.
Let's try that again: Fort Lauderdale is giving Riverbend breaks on land cost, infrastructure, and other perks even as the developers plan to cash in on Broward County government.
"They've been given what I consider to be undue favor," says Florida Atlantic University's Jerry Kolo, an urban planning professor whose laboratory includes Fort Lauderdale. "What is the community getting back?"
Good question. An even better one is how the hell Rahael and Ladd managed to get the land in the first place. Well, it came down to a controversial 3-2 vote, with Commissioner Moore playing the crucial role of swing voter. Kolo and other observers believed Moore's vote was secured only because Riverbend hired Adams, his aide and friend.
If you follow the bouncing ball, it becomes all too evident that Rahael and Ladd didn't become top developers by accident. They involved all the right law firms and all the key people, like Adams, Cole, and a slew of other lobbyists I've already written about in this space.
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In Eggelletion's case, Riverbend's lobbyists and partners raised at least $4,000 in addition to the $3,500 given by Rahael and Ladd. Those two teamed up with Cole and other Ruden McClosky lawyers (including top dog Donald McClosky) to pony up more than $2,000 for Eggelletion at a single fundraiser in August 2003. It's called making a statement.
And it worked. It doesn't take much for Eggelletion to abuse his public position, after all. The real question is how he remains in office. If the lobbying imbroglios didn't get him, one would have thought the revelation about the deadbeat-dad accusations would have sunk his political career. Especially after one of the mothers claimed he began having sex with her when she was his underage student at Dillard High School.
"I think what you see in Eggelletion is someone who is drowning politically," offers Kolo.
But in ethically bankrupt Broward County, he keeps swimming along.