Republican Sheriff Al Lamberti and Michael Albetta, head of the influential Dolphin Democrats, always seemed an odd couple.
Despite their party differences, Albetta, who has played a big role in Broward's gay political circles for years, campaigned tirelessly for Lamberti during his race in 2008, introducing him to countless Democrats and touting him everywhere he went as a superb sheriff.
Albetta's recent trotting of Lamberti out to various Democratic clubs in the county has also caused controversy among hardline party people, say sources. Expect more of the same in 2012.
What isn't mentioned at the political events is the fact that once Lamberti landed his appointment as sheriff, BSO began buying hundreds of police vehicles from Maroone Ford, where Albetta works as a manager. Just this past December, BSO awarded another contract for 77 vehicles -- standard Crown Victorias, Ford Tauruses, and Explorers -- to be purchased by BSO from Maroone this year. Albetta said that in total, BSO buys 100 to 200 cars a year from Maroone.
Some observers say it's a clear example of an unsavory political quid pro quo. The idea is that in exchange for the BSO car business, Albetta crosses political lines to put his political connections to work for the sheriff across the heavily Democratic county.
After receiving numerous complaints about the relationship from sources, I gave Albetta a call today to get his explanation.
"People say the sheriff bribes Michael Albetta with vehicles -- get out of here," he told me. "That's laughable. It's public information that it's a bidding process. BSO goes through the Florida sheriff's bidding process. We have been successful in bidding through that process, but you don't just get it; you have to go through the bidding process. It's the law. No one gives you something for nothing."
Albetta said that prior to Lamberti's appointment, he tried to get BSO business for Maroone from former Sheriff Ken Jenne. But the process didn't work out so well then. The reason: Jenne, he said, was loyal to Duval Ford in Jacksonville for buying police cars.
"When the economy got bad, I myself started exploring governmental bidding, and that's where it all happened," explained Albetta. "I even asked back in the days of Ken Jenne. How about the fact that Jenne was spending Broward tax dollars in
Duval County? You print that, Bob. Under Jenne, I asked him for his business a long time ago. I said, 'How do I earn your business? You're buying cars from Duval County, and it's a disgrace.' I never got a proper answer."
Albetta said that after Jenne was hit with federal criminal charges and then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Lamberti to the position, he met the new sheriff at an awards ceremony and the two men struck up a conversation.
"We shook hands and started talking, and he said to me, 'You're Michael Albetta who works at Maroone Ford.' He says to me, 'I'm amazed why my agency is buying cars from Duval County.' I said, 'Now you're talking.' He said, 'I'll be getting back with you.' He said there is public bidding if you're a licensed company, which we are, and I said, 'Imagine that. I've been asking about that.'"
It wasn't long before Maroone started winning the bids. "Sheriff Lamberti said, 'This is nonsense; I want to keep Broward business in Broward.' Everything is legit across the board. This is nothing that you have to belong to a club or you have to know somebody."
Albetta says that the burgeoning business his dealership does with BSO has nothing to do with his unflagging across-the-aisle support for the sheriff in the political spectrum.
"The reason why I'm backing him is that he has done more for the GLBT community than anyone," said Albetta. "He is one of the few law enforcement officers who has listened to our needs. He made sure that he helped pass a hate-crimes bill for the homeless. The homeless man that was killed [Norris Gaynor in 2006] -- are you ready? -- he was a black veteran homeless gay. He's very attentive to GLBT rights, and that's why I back Sheriff Lamberti. Give me a Democrat? Give me a Republican? No, give me a fucking cop.
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"I'm indebted to him for his leadership and stealth when it comes to the GLBT community. He's always meeting with rabbis, with the black community; he's just a wonderful human being... He goes to speak at the [African-American Research Library and Cultural Center]. He doesn't go to the glitz; he goes to the hood."
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