The Recent History of Fallen Broward Politicos
The power of the pen is alive and well.
Wasserman-Rubin, left, with some Democratic buds.
In the space of a month, a sitting judge -- Broward's former chief criminal judge no less -- has resigned the bench to avoid a JQC investigation and a Broward County commissioner is reported to be on the verge of being charged by state prosecutors.
Both the Ana Gardiner and Diana Wasserman-Rubin cases began here at this desk where I'm typing this now. The body count is rising, folks. Before we trace the fallen to the investigative reporting that led to their demise, let's look at the latest case.
Sources have been telling us that Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin will be hit with corruption charges by the end of the week for several days. I hinted at it in yesterday morning's post, and the Sun-Sentinel reported it that evening.
Forgive me for not being all that excited. My feeling right now is more like when you run into a hot girl from high school after you're both married and she tells you, why, she
had a secret crush on you too! Yeah, fat lot of good that does me now.
Well, it's been five years since I busted Wasserman-Rubin and sparked the investigation that is dogging her today. The story was called Cash Cow, and it had to do with gaming of the new town of Southwest Ranches by Wasserman-Rubin; her husband, Rick Rubin; and a slew of other well-heeled manipulators. Rick Rubin was paid obscene amounts of money -- something like a million dollars -- by the town to write county and state "green space" grants that Wasserman-Rubin voted on. Based on one grant approval by Wasserman-Rubin and her colleagues, Rick Rubin received a $15,000 bonus.
A citizen named Ray McKinney got pissed off when he read it and sent it to the Florida Ethics Commission. Incredibly, the commission, one of the most useless governmental agencies ever created, actually hit Wasserman-Rubin with administrative charges and fined her $15,000.
It was a small victory for anticorruption forces in Broward County -- a largely toothless dog bit Wasserman-Rubin and gave her a little bruise.
It was only recently we learned that the State Attorney's Office had been "investigating" the case for a couple of years. What in the world Michael Satz's prosecutors could have been doing for all those many months with a case laid out like a Martha Stewart table setting, I don't know. But when the feds came in and busted Joe Eggelletion and Beverly Gallagher in an undercover sting, it seems the state folks finally felt like they had to do something about corruption in Broward, and Wasserman-Rubin was an open-and-shut case.
The case had already effectively ended Wasserman-Rubin's career. Not long after we reported the existence of the criminal investigation, she announced in early April that she was abandoning her reelection campaign. Wasserman-Rubin blamed Parkinson's disease, but that was political hoo-ha. She had already raised $163,000 for the campaign and had the disease under control the whole time. She was obviously leaving because of the scandal.
Another one bites the dust. Now let's go back in time and link Broward politicians and other figures to the stories that presaged their downfall. I know it's going to look I'm doing a little horn-blowing (which is of course terribly true), but every one of these stories started with incredible sources -- some are named, some are not.
-- When then-Pompano Mayor Bill Griffin was supporting the controversial International Swimming Hall of Fame project in his city in 2002, I found out that ISHF developer Michael Swerdlow had gotten the mayor a job at Turner Construction, the company lined up to build the project. Here's the story I wrote at the time, Swimming In Trouble. To me. it was a clear case of unlawful compensation, but Satz didn't prosecute. The terrible project, however, was killed and Griffin was ousted by voters at the polls. The Miami Herald cited the scandal and "Swimming In Trouble" as the reason why.
-- Pompano was actually an early stomping ground. When I reported on safety problems, health risks, and blatant cover-ups regarding the city's new $25 million water treatment plant, it led to the ouster of the city's public works administrator, Bill Flaherty, and the city lab director, Gerry Weber. Here's "Don't Drink the Water," from 2003.
-- Next up, in 2004, came Hollywood Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom's case. He inked a deal with a sewage company to represent it in other municipalities at the same time he was pushing it in his own city. The deal stank so bad, we called the story "Ooh That Smell." That led to a State Attorney's Office investigation. Amazingly, Satz's office followed through and charged Wasserstrom with unlawful compensation and official misconduct (some still believe that then-Mayor Mara Giulianti should have been hit with charges as well due to her involvement). Wasserstrom was convicted by a jury of official misconduct (the unlawful compensation charge was amazingly thrown out by Judge Joel Lazarus). Wasserstrom finally served his 60-day jail sentence earlier this year.
-- Also in 2004, I started reporting on the North Broward Hospital District, I couldn't believe how much corruption I found. By the time I was finished, then-Gov. Jeb Bush cleaned house, replacing six of the seven district commissioners he'd appointed and knocking CEO Wil Trower, CFO Mark Knight, and general counsel Bill Scherer out of their seats as well. It was a complete overhaul (corruption is still there; it's just not quite as vigorous as it was). The point man for Bush in the NBHD clean-up was Alan Levine, who is now the top health official in Louisiana (dealing with the clean-up of the Gulf). Levine told me that Bush one morning came into his office when he was the governor's deputy chief of staff and literally threw one of my articles at him. "What the heck is going on in Broward?" Bush asked him angrily (and I believe the actual words were cleaned up a bit). I did a ton of stories on the NBHD, but you can bet it was one of the following two stories: "Bad Operation" and "All the Governor's Men." (One of the other stories I did was on then-NBHD Commissioner Dorsey Miller. Read "Minority Report" and tell me how Satz could have possibly failed to prosecute after the state investigation.)
-- Now I can't take credit for the FBI's undercover sting operation that netted Eggelletion and Gallagher. The agents just did great work. But here are two stories that may have helped guide them. One is about Eggelletion's covert lobbying in Lauderdale Lakes, "The Lobbyist." The other, "A Politician Weeps," is about Gallagher getting a cush job at Community Blood Center with the help of School Board lobbyist Neil Sterling (and that story includes one of the most surreal interviews I've ever had).
-- When I started investigating Deerfield Beach, it was immediately clear that then-Mayor Al Capellini was dirty. And I wound up investigating the hell out of him, sparking another State Attorney's Office investigation. Prosecutor Catherine Maus (who also prosecuted Wasserstrom) chose to charge Capellini with unlawful compensation in a case that I first wrote about in a story titled "Mayor Al Engineers Another Deal." The investigation, I should note, began when Chaz Stevens sent my Capellini articles to the SAO. Capellini, who was removed from office after the charge came down, hasn't yet gone to trial.
That's enough for now. What's sad is there are so many other stories about other elected officials that had just as much firepower and evidence in them as the stories above but nothing has been done (at least officially yet). If everyone does his job in the next several months, there should be more to add to the list.
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.