UPDATED: Ritter Used Campaign Cash to Pay for Russ' Lobbyist Phone
Up a creek.
Well, we already know Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter's 2008 political campaign stealthily reimbursed thousands of dollars in lavish dinners reimbursed to herself and her lobbyist husband and an unexplained $1,600 check to AT&T.
Now we know that the Florida Election Commission discovered that about $6,600 in Ritter campaign checks paid to AT&T was used in part to cover family cell phone and internet bills and a landline for her husband Russ Klenet's lobbying firm, Russ Klenet & Associates.
"Records show that Respondent used campaign funds to pay for two cell phone accounts (one account with five phones and a second account with two phones and internet services.) Respondent also used campaign funds to pay for her husband's business telephone, a landline,'' a state investigator wrote.
We learn this through a report in the Sun-Sentinel (alas, from the wife of the Pulp).
UPDATED: For the first time, Ritter also tried to explain roughly $15,000 in reimbursements to herself and her husband at fancy restaurants (add Chops Lobster Bar in Boca Raton, Emeril's Miami Beach, and P.F. Chang's to the list that already already included Cafe Bella Sera, Jackson's Steakhouse, the Pillars Hotel at New River Sound, the Isles of Pompano, and Romeo's Cafe). Ritter told the newspaper: "We did a different kind of campaign. I took groups of people out to restaurants -- constituents, volunteers, campaign workers. We paid the bill, and we reimbursed ourselves."
I agree, it was a different kind of campaign -- a crooked one. Another new one: The "bookkeeper" whom Ritter paid from her campaign fund, Alexssandra Lieberman, was -- wait for it! -- Russ' secretary at his lobbying firm.
It just gets worse and worse. Inside, see Ritter's incredible excuse for these obviously illegal phone bill payments.
From the Sentinel article:
Ritter said that toward the end of her campaign she realized that "there was a potential problem'' because she hadn't paid Klenet for using his office space as her campaign headquarters. If she reported it as an in-kind contribution, it would exceed the maximum allowed.
She said she consulted with an attorney and "we made a conscious decision that in order to even up the books and pay for what I'd already used that we would pay cell phone bills and land lines of Russ's office.'' She said it equaled 11 percent of his land line bills and 19 percent of the phone bills, which she reasoned was a lot less than if she'd paid for actual use of the cell phones.
I asked if her kids were involved in her campaign. They are on her family plan, and that bill was paid with campaign funds.
"That's irrelevant,'' she said, "because the total spent is far below what I could have actually reimbursed myself for, for the use of my phone and Russ's'' during the 18 month campaign.
"It would have been far more if I had paid the bill every month, my percentage.''
This is so convoluted -- and obviously fabricated -- that it's hard to decipher. Let's try to break it down.
First, she's claiming that Russ' office, on New River Drive in downtown Fort Lauderdale, well outside of her district, was used as her "campaign headquarters."
Mind you, she was running unopposed. So what all she was doing at this busy hive of a downtown headquarters she'll have to explain later.
Then it seems Ritter had an epiphany: She owed her husband rent for using his office!
And she claims that she determined that she owed her husband way more than the $500 contribution limit for an in-kind contribution from Russ. With that possibility gone, she claims she decided that she had to pay him from the campaign account.
It's in the manner of payment that this already ludicrous story completely breaks down. All Ritter had to do was pay Klenet the rent money out of her big, fat, lobbyist-stuffed campaign account. Just like her pal Ken Keechl did when he paid his domestic partner, Ted Adcock, rent for his own "campaign headquarters." In fact, Keechl went a step further and paid not only Adcock the clearly inflated rent checks but also himself, since he co-owned the bungalow. Hey, at least it was in his district.
But instead of doing the simplest thing and paying Klenet for the rent, Ritter claims she went to an attorney -- first guess is crony Michael Moskowitz -- and they cooked up a subterfuge. They decided that instead of paying Klenet directly for the office space (that would apparently be too easy), they would instead pay Klenet via phone bills to AT&T.
I really want to know who this lawyer is, because it's obviously illegal to falsify such things. Basically this lawyer advised her to break the law.
That is, of course if you believe any of it. I, for one, don't. Russ and Stacy were treating the campaign like their personal bank account, and when they got caught -- thank you, Brenda Chalifour -- they cooked up outlandish stories to justify it.
That's just my opinion. We'll see as the facts come out, hopefully in what is desperately needed: a criminal investigation.
Oh, that's another revelation: The State Attorney's Office, which is already investigating Ritter on other matters, is looking at the file.
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