Josephus Eggelletion knows how to keep his mouth shut. When it comes to his unethical lobbying work, the Broward County commissioner is lip-locked. Now, as allegations swirl that he had a sexual relationship with a teenaged student when he was a Dillard High School teacher and later fathered her child, he's similarly silent.
Other times, you can't get Joe to stop yapping. When the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald first published stories in January about a paternity suit he is facing, the commish gave the newspapers an earful about how he was the victim of a gold-digging floozy. Both articles quoted the still-married (somehow) Eggelletion as saying he was "shocked" to learn recently that he is the father of a 17-year-old boy named Omar who now lives in Georgia with his mother. The Herald went a bit further, reporting the commissioner's claim that the child was the result of a "one-night stand" and that his mother, Angelita Sanders, had made him a "target for cash" after the boy was reportedly convicted of a minor marijuana charge. He said that he gave her $1,000 to help clear up the problem but that she was still dogging him for money.
Gotta love the Eggman's spin. Poor fellow made a stupid but all-too-human mistake, and now the woman with whom he erred was rearing her evil head to pilfer his pockets. On top of that, he wasn't a politician when the baby was born. It was 1987, three years before he ran for office, back when he was just a simple, hard-working, 38-year-old social studies teacher at Dillard.
The 55-year-old Eggelletion could weather this storm, just as he had his 2001 county-issued credit-card scandal and the unethical lobbying work. But a funny thing happened on the story's way to obscurity: Sanders, the mother of Eggelletion's son, decided to tell her side. And, if what she has said is true, the commissioner was no victim; he was a predator.
Sanders, angry at Eggelletion's portrayal of her in the Herald, contacted the Broward Times, the gutsiest black newspaper in the area, and spoke with publisher Keith Clayborne, who handed the story to his crack columnist, Elgin Jones. Jones, a hypervigilant chronicler and critic of the black community, wrote a story that ran on January 21 under a headline that included the word bombshell. Damned if it wasn't. In the article, Sanders claims that her affair with Eggelletion began in the late 1970s while she was one of his teenaged students at Dillard.
In the article, she says "Mr. Eggelletion" approached her after class and said, "What I'm about to say to you has to stay between you and me, OK? Can I trust you?"
She told him he could.
"I really like you," he said. "Do you date?"
Her reaction: "Imagine, I'm his student, he's this handsome man, I'm flattered."
From that starting point, she began a sexual relationship with Eggelletion that lasted several months, she told Jones. For their liaisons, the then-28-year-old Eggelletion used a friend's apartment off Oakland Park Boulevard. After high school, Sanders married an Army man and moved away but came back to Fort Lauderdale in 1987 while going through a divorce from her husband. At that time, eight years after their high school relationship, she and Eggelletion rekindled their relationship, which bore her a son.
"After I delivered Omar, my son, Joe was the first person I called," she told the Broward Times. "He stopped by the house, took one look at the baby, and said, 'He's mine -- looks just like me. '"
That contradicts the commissioner's claim that he had no idea he had a son. Sanders also claimed that Eggelletion never paid her a dime for their son's legal problem, though he had promised he would.
If Sanders is telling the truth, then Eggelletion can take his place among the worst kind of slime -- a teacher who violates not only a young student but also the public trust. It should end his already scandal-ridden political career.
But is it true? First, I have no doubt that Jones, whom I know to be a dogged investigator, faithfully transcribed what Sanders told him. And Eggelletion hasn't challenged the article. "He hasn't responded in any way," Jones told me. "But I think he has an obligation, especially since he was so bold at first when he talked to the Herald."
Sanders, however, refused to be interviewed for this column, though she confirmed the truth of the Broward Times story. I contacted her Fort Lauderdale attorney, Darren Edwards, who was pretty evasive. He said that he and his client are not interested in publicizing the case any further, but he did confirm that his client was a student of Eggelletion's at Dillard. "I can tell you that the Miami Herald article was absolutely false," Edwards told me. "And I can say that [Sanders] was not unhappy with the article that ran in the Broward Times."
We'll call that a semiconfirmation. I also asked Sanders' father, Elbert Rice, about the allegation. "I didn't know anything about it at the time," Rice said. "Seems like everybody knew about it but me. They knew if I found out about it, I would have gone off. All I have been worried about is what effect this would have on my grandson, and he seems to be all right."
William Dandy, a long-time educator who was an area superintendent at the time, says he never heard any complaints regarding Eggelletion, whom he counts as a friend. "If anything like that had been reported, we would have investigated and the teacher would have been quickly dismissed," he says. "A teacher is supposed to protect children, not court them or bait them."
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Eggelletion, the undisputed king of the no-comment, didn't respond to my phone calls or a detailed e-mail asking for answers. He's had a long-term marriage with Carolyn Eggelletion, a Broward school principal. But revelations about his womanizing appear to be mounting. Jones says that since he reported his exclusive, which hasn't been followed up by the Sentinel or Herald, he's heard from two other women, who fear being identified but have similar claims regarding the commissioner's alleged extracurricular activities. According to Broward County official records, he faced a paternity suit in 1993 regarding another out-of-wedlock child, then a 1-year-old girl. The court ordered him to pay the mother about $10,500 in retroactive child support, $2,250 for the woman's attorney's fees, and $780 a month until his daughter, who is now 12, reaches the age of 18. (Now I'm beginning to understand why he's risked his political career to take five-figure payments to lobby for developers.)
The mother, Natalie King-Pedroso, brought the case back to court in 1999. The reason, however, is unclear, since the file has apparently been expunged by the Broward Clerk of Court -- there is no record of it in the clerk's database. When I contacted King-Pedroso, who is now an English professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee (Eggelletion's alma mater), and asked about the case, she said only, "I can't talk about that right now."
That brings the commissioner's known number of children to four, though he reports on his county website bio that he's the "proud father of two children." Guess he isn't so proud of the other two.
The Broward County populace, meanwhile, shouldn't be proud of the commissioner, unless he explains his relationship with Sanders and convincingly counters her alarming allegations. And if he doesn't, Eggelletion should either resign or be removed from public office, where his silence will be welcomed.