The Sylvia Poitier Case for Dummies

It began as a little Pulp blog post back in December 2008 and has now grown up into a federal case. 

Last week, I told you about the investigation involving Broward County Judge and former Sunrise Mayor Steven Feren. Well, the Justice Department on Tuesday issued a subpoena to Sunrise in regarding its investigation of Feren, who is alleged to have improperly used the power of his position as mayor to get a deposit back from Tao, a financially troubled condo high-rise in his city. He was, after all, the only one who got his money back. Now we'll just have to see if it leads to criminal charges and a conviction. 

-- Speaking of corruption investigations, you might find it a little difficult to understand exactly what Deerfield Beach Commissioner Sylvia Poitier did to warrant five misdemeanor charges for falsifying records in the most recent corruption arrest in Broward County. 

So let's break it down. 

The case is a little convoluted, as many corruption cases are, but Poitier is essentially charged with arranging a high-interest loan from her brother to a city-tied organization and then lying about it and concealing it from the public. 

The case starts with the Westside Deerfield Businessman Association (WDBA), a HUD-financed body that officially coordinates with Poitier's city on housing matters. For Poitier, the WDBA was a family affair. 

Poitier's daughter, Felicia, and a cousin by marriage, Dan Poitier, served as high-ranking officials at the agency. And in March 2006, Sylvia Poitier personally recruited own brother, Lionel Ferguson, to 
loan the agency $46,000 at a generous interest rate.

So it wasn't Poitier but Ferguson -- who had previously loaned Poitier herself tens of thousands of dollars -- who was set to profit. At this point, the deal is plenty sleazy -- and there is a suggestion that Poitier is returning a favor to her brother for the loans he gave her -- but without any proof that she is directly benefiting, it's not illegal. 

All Poitier had to do was abstain from voting and disclose the conflict with her brother every time the WDBA came up in official city business. But on May 9, 2006, just three months after Ferguson paid the loan, Poitier shattered those rules, according to her arrest affidavit. 

She made a proposal on the dais to shift $100,000 in grant funding to the WDBA. She not only proposed it but voted on it. There was no abstention, and no conflict papers were filed. 

This was the first of several apparently illegal acts committed by Poitier -- though she rather curiously wasn't specifically charged in connection to her actions on May 9. 

It seems that such an act might warrant an official misconduct charge, which is a felony. But my theory is that prosecutors, because they could find no evidence that Poitier herself profited in any way, decided against that in favor of lesser misdemeanor charges. 

The arrest affidavit details four more Deerfield votes regarding WDBA in which Poitier abstained from voting. But the reason she stated had nothing to do with her brother's loan but the positions of her daughter and cousin-in-law in the agency. 

What prosecutors are alleging is that she falsified those documents by failing to reveal the more damning conflict involving her brother and his loan. 

More coming. 

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