The Fall of Joe Eggelletion's Political Mafia
When the video was playing in the federal courtroom Monday showing Fitzroy Salesman taking $3,000 cash from an undercover FBI agent, I looked over at Salesman at the defense table and had one thought.
Joe Eggelletion must be really pissed at this guy.
It was Salesman, after all, who provided the gateway for the FBI corruption investigation that led agents to Eggelletion and a host of Eggelletion's political allies (I wanted to say "cronies" but resisted). Eggelletion, of course, is headed to prison as a result of the investigation, as is Salesman. Another former Miramar commissioner, George Pedlar, remains under federal suspicion after he accepted what amounted to a $5,000 illegal campaign contribution from undercover agents. State Rep. Hazelle Rogers may not be out of the woods either -- she was caught on tape talking about evading capital gains taxes and may have had her hand in the Miramar pie as well. Another member of the clique, Lauderhill Vice Mayor Dale Holness, apparently avoided undercover agents, though he met with them.
That's a lot of folks either going to prison or nervous about the prospect. And this was a crew that once wielded a lot of power. If they were a little political mafia, Eggelletion was their godfather, the guy who pulled it all together.
When preparing to defend Salesman in the recent corruption trial, white lawyer Jamie Benjamin screamed "racism!" at the feds, saying they targeted black officials. In reality, agents just followed Salesman's lead. The guy bit and bit hard. Funny, you don't hear many cries of racism from the
black community. Don't make a mistake: Broward's black population isn't some uniform voting bloc based on race. It's much more democratic, in fact, than most white areas. Open seats in black districts are almost always attended with strong competition from multiple candidates. And within those campaigns and cities are factions and bitter rivalries, the best-known being the grudge match between Eggelletion and former Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Carlton Moore.
Although somewhat popular, Eggelletion and his gang of political underlings have always had strong resistence. Joe Major, a black political activist, has raged against Eggelletion and his little cabal for years. Elgin Jones, reporter for the black-oriented South Florida Times, exposed their corruption on a regular basis. Other black politicians have also often railed against their tactics and apparent self-interest.
One of Eggelletion's little mafia's legacies will be his successful campaign in 2004 to persuade the people of Lauderdale Lakes from annexing several predominantly black neighborhoods in Broward County.
It was a peculiar fight for Eggelletion. Annexation, after all, is widely perceived as the best way for poor black neighborhoods to achieve some form of self-rule and get the tax dollars the county has long denied them.
One possible reason Eggelletion fought annexation was because he was allies with Swap Shop owner Preston Henn, who opposed it and was responsible for $1,500 in contributions to Eggelletion that year.
Another was that, as county commissioner, he wanted to keep the area under county control so he could wield more power and take in more profit from developers and lobbyists. Eggelletion, after all, served as a lobbyist, sometimes secretly, for construction firms and other companies doing business in the county. (In addition to the federal money-laundering charges, Eggelletion also pleaded guilty to state charges of taking a bribe from developer Bruce Chait, who has also been charged and is cooperating with prosecutors).
Whatever the reason, Eggelletion fought annexation hard, saying it would lead to tax hikes for residents in the neighborhoods, the largest of which was Broward Estates. But it wasn't just him. He also recruited two acolytes in Lauderdale Lakes, Hazelle Rogers and Levoyd Williams, to join him.
The opposition amounted to a betrayal for activist Major. "[Eggelletion] doesn't care about anybody but himself," Major told me at the time. "He didn't come to any of the neighborhood meetings on annexation that I know of. We can't find him. There is no responsiveness from his office when we try to contact him."
Another Lauderdale Lakes commissioner, Barrington Russell, supported annexation strongly. And he told me a great story about Eggelletion and his little gang. Russell, who is now Lakes mayor, said that during a 2004 meeting of black elected officials (not unlike the one FBI undercovers crashed at Salesman's invitation two years later), he was escorted to a back room. From my story at the time:
[Russell] found Eggelletion holding court with numerous leading black officials. Among them were Hazelle Rogers and Levoyd Williams, Eggelletion's two closest allies on the Lauderdale Lakes commission. Also present was Miramar commissioner George Pedlar, Plantation political aspirant Eric Hammond, and Holness...
"They were all sitting at the table, and Joe said to me, 'I don't normally endorse candidates, but I want to know your position on annexation, because I live in Lauderdale Lakes, and I don't want my taxes increased,'" Russell recounts.
"I said to him, 'What is this meeting about? Obviously you guys had this planned, and the only person who didn't know about it was me. As far as I'm concerned, this is an ambush, and you are very rude and disrespectful to me. '"
An offended Eggelletion rose from the table and walked off, Russell recalls. Rogers, meanwhile, tried to explain the county commissioner's stance on annexation. Russell says he excused himself from the table and left.
Russell says he deplores secretive, backroom politics -- and has since concluded that the meeting was in violation of Florida's Sunshine Law, which forbids elected officials who sit on the same governmental body from discussing public business outside public view.
"They obviously did this to set me up," he asserts.
Of Russell's account, Eggelletion says, without elaboration, "Russell is a liar."
Well, now we know for sure who the real liar and phony is -- and it's not Russell, who eternally earned my respect for his courage at that time. And yes, the meeting, as Russell described it, was a blatant violation of Sunshine Laws. And it shows how Eggelletion wielded his power -- in secret and often in direct contradiction to the best interests of the people.
During the FBI investigation, Salesman tried to get Eggelletion and Rogers to hand undercover agents construction projects. Rogers apparently didn't come through. Eggelletion met with agents and indicated he would try to get them sidewalk projects, but he never came through either. Salesman told the agents in secretly recorded tapes that he would work on getting both Rogers and Eggelletion to pony up some public projects. "He likes to work behind the scenes," Salesman said of Eggelletion.
Basically, the feds in putting Eggelletion and Salesman behind bars and otherwise crippling their political set have done a great service to all Broward residents, no matter what their color. But I think federal and now state agents should focus wholeheartedly on those responsible for corruption in the white suburban areas. They know who they are. And you have to feel like Karnack's train is still chugging toward them, especially after yesterday's victory.
-- The Sun-Sentinel is reporting that bankruptcy attorneys want $33 million in funds that Scott Rothstein transferred to his Ponzi scheme's "independent verifier," Michael Szafranski. Here's a quote from the court filing: "Szafranski's involvement in [the] Rothstein Ponzi scheme is undeniable. At best, Szafranski can merely claim that he was grossly negligent in discharging his duties as 'independent verifier' and too eager to blindly please his 'master.' At worst, Szafranski was an integral co-conspirator and facilitator of Rothstein's Ponzi scheme."
That's good stuff, far better writing than you usually get from lawyers, anyway. One reason might be that a lead lawyer for Berger Singerman in the bankruptcy case is Charles Lichtman, an author. Back in 1998, he published what was described by Kirkus Reviews as a "routine antiterrorist high-tech thriller" titled The Last Inauguration. Here's more from the review:
Here, Saddam, annoyed at yet another US-sponsored attempt on his life, pays Carlos the Jackal a king's ransom to wipe out everybody who's anybody in the American government by sabotaging the President's Inaugural Ball at the Kennedy Center. The first hundred or so pages follow the sly but oh-so-impolite Carlos as he navigates the mostly out-in-the-open world of international terrorism, blithely laundering money, staying in great hotels, smuggling great gobs of plastic explosives past bored customs personnel, and finding the right fanatics for the job. But just when Carlos seems to have his lethal ducks in a row, the CIA and Mossad stumble on the fact that's something's up and turn for help to renegade agent Norman Richards, an exCIA man earlier bounced out of the Company for having an active conscience. Though newcomer Lichtman seems more interested in exploring the mechanics of mayhem than animating any of his tissue-thin characters, the endlessly suffering, quietly restrained Richards is a winner. Unlike Jack Ryan, Tom Clancy's lock-jawed bermensch, Richards, for all his tough-talking and misplaced idealism, is a sensible, decent guy. As interesting as Richards is, though, he's reduced to little more than an action toy as Lichtman sends him on a series of pointless chases that culminate in a surprisingly convincing last-minute rescue of Washington's fatuous Beltway elite. Rigidly formulaic, and far too predictable, but Lichtman's by-the-numbers debut proves that he can do a big-boys-with-bad-toys tale and create a believable hero to hang it on. The suspense this time, though, is lacking. You end up feeling sorry for Saddam.
Click here to see the book's Amazon page.
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.