School Board Member Beverly Gallagher has turned herself in to federal authorities on public corruption charges, according to sources and a federal complaint.
She is the third current or former public official known to be charged in the federal probe; the others are Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion and former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman.
Gallagher was the subject of an FBI sting targeting the notoriously corrupt School Board construction department. The charges include allegations that Gallagher manipulated school construction projects in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash from undercover agents posing as construction company officials. One of the projects she rigged was a $70 million renovation project for Hollywood Hills High School, a contract that went to
James B. Pirtle Construction, a firm that Gallagher has helped to steer hundreds of millions in construction contracts. She has been charged with bribery, wire fraud, and extortion.
Pirtle Construction has been represented by lobbyists Neil Sterling and Barbara Miller, who raised big money for Gallagher's political campaigns and those of other board members. Sterling also helped Gallagher get a job with another of his School Board clients, Community Blood Centers. There is no indication at this time that the Pirtle company or the lobbyists are implicated in any wrongdoing. Gallagher also accepted cash for arranging a meeting between the undercover agents and Michael Garretson, the board's deputy superintendent for construction and facilities management.
The federal complaint from FBI Special Agent Kevin P. Griffin details Gallagher's rigging of a Qualification Selection Evaluation Committee, which consists of education officials who choose contractors for jobs.
Gallagher first met the undercover agents on November 9, 2007 at a "function" in Fort Lauderdale, according to the complaint. And it appears she was easy prey for the agents: At the meeting she allegedly told the agents that she would help steer business to their company and that they would "make a lot of money together."
Soon she set up a meeting with a "high-ranking school board official" who she promised would help the FBI's front company get pre-qualified for business at the board. The official, according to the complain, was Garretson. The undercover agent then told Gallagher that he had received $4,000 in consulting fees for arranging the meeting. He asked Gallagher if splitting the money would be fair and she responded that it was "more than fair." Gallagher accepted her first bribe of $2,000 in a day planner at a restaurant in Davie. She put the money in a bag with a leftover meal. The date was February 15, 2008.
The agents then told Gallagher that they wanted to do subcontracting work for a large school board contractor, believed to be Pirtle. The undercover agents asked Gallagher if she wanted to be paid cash or in campaign contributions. She replied that she $90,000 in her campaign account, which was "more than enough." She said she would rather "make money," according to the complaint.
The next payment that came to Gallagher, of $1,500, didn't come across in a day planner. This time, she came prepared, with a "manila envelope," which she passed across the table to the undercover agent, according to the complaint. The agent put the cash in the envelope and passed it back to Gallagher, who left with the money.
Gallagher then arranged a series of meetings between the undercover agents and more than one construction company, including Pirtle. The complaint alleges she accepted another $3,000 on December 23, 2008, just in time for Christmas.
Then came the QSEC rigging for the Hollywood Hills High School project. Gallagher told the undercover officers that she could see to it that the votes came in for Pirtle to obtain the project. Pirtle then would subcontract work for the FBI's construction company.
Gallagher told the undercover agents that she could deliver the Hollywood Hills principal's vote because he believed she helped him get his job. She also said she had spoken with Garretson, who also sat on the QSEC, about voting for Pirtle as well.
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On February 4 of this year, the QSEC met to vote on the Hollywood Hills project. Gallagher later told the agents that she was nervous about it and called Garretson that day to make sure he was voting for Pirtle. She also said she contacted the school principal to make sure he also delivered his vote for Pirtle.
Sure enough, Garretson and principal voted Pirtle as the No. 1 contractor and Pirtle won the bid. That night, Gallagher, the undercover agents, a construction company representative, and an unnamed QSEC member met at the Cantana Laredo to "celebrate the winning of the contract." One of the undercover agents told Gallagher they were all going to make a lot of money. Gallagher mouthed the words, "I know."
The final payment came on June 3 when the undercover agents gave Gallagher her final $6,000 in cash.
The total amount for which Gallagher sold out her school board office: $12,500.