The Corrupter | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

The Corrupter

Ken Jenne thinks you're an idiot. The Broward County sheriff believes us all to be morons. And if we let him stay in power after what he's done, then he's bloody well right.

Jenne, as we all know, is at the heart of one of the largest law enforcement scandals in Florida history. His underlings, while using a crime-reporting system called PowerTrac, falsified hundreds of affidavits and made up countless confessions. Why? To make it look as if the sheriff's office was clearing a whole lot more cases than it really was. The State Attorney's Office has been investigating for more than a year and has charged two deputies in the case so far.

The sheriff, who benefited politically from the rampant fraud, has been saying the PowerTrac mess was all a big shock to him. He's also claiming full responsibility for the scandal. Yet even after the arrests and the announcement that four high-ranking officers are stepping down, he remains in office.

Where's the responsibility in that?

But that isn't sleazy enough for Jenne, a long-time politician who had no police training before Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed him top cop in 1998. The man has the gall to use the scandal to grossly enrich one of his cronies, lobbyist Tom Panza. Last fall, the sheriff hired Panza at $250 an hour to cover up -- er, I mean, investigate -- the BSO scandal. Panza, whose Fort Lauderdale law firm has been paid $300,000 for its work so far, told the Sun-Sentinel that he hadn't found "one scintilla of evidence" that Jenne had done anything wrong.

Of course he hadn't. Panza wouldn't upset his good buddy Jenne, who also hired him to defend BSO against civil lawsuits filed by the families of Frank Lee Smith and Jerry Townsend, two men wrongfully convicted of murder. The Sentinel noted in its March 19 article that Panza and Jenne are old friends who were in the same Army Reserve unit three decades ago. The newspaper also raised the question of whether it was proper for Panza to investigate deputies at the same time he was defending the department in the civil cases. With the help of three "experts on legal ethics," however, the Sentinel determined there was no conflict of interest.

I agree. It's more like racketeering. The Sentinel, you see, was wearing tap shoes when it should have had on work boots (preferably with steel toes). This story needed digging, not dancing. When you examine the sheriff's relationship with Panza and consider the lobbyist's past as an influence peddler, an obvious conclusion emerges.

Jenne is utterly unfit for office.

And Panza? He shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the sheriff's office either.

For starters, the money flow between Jenne and Panza runs both ways. The lawyer has been one of Jenne's chief campaign financiers for decades, from the time Jenne was a county commissioner through his 18 years as a state senator. Panza, his law firm, family members, and close business associates pumped $15,000 into the sheriff's coffers from 1998 through 2000 alone. Among the contributors was Panza's wife, Dorothy; her catering firm, Dottie's Delight; and at least two of their children, Dana and Justin.

Called bundling, it's meant to subvert campaign finance laws that limit individual contributions to $500. And Panza has been one of its most shameless practitioners (in 1994, it was reported that his 6-year-old daughter contributed heavily to then-Gov. Chiles). Panza, though he's a Democrat, has been generous with politicians of all stripes. Since 1996, Panza and his posse have donated at least $650,000 to statewide campaigns. He's likely spent at least that much in local and federal contests as well. The largesse has paid off. Panza has made his bread and butter representing Nova Southeastern University and the taxpayer-assisted North Broward Hospital District, both jobs heavily connected to Broward's incestuous network of power brokers and politicians.

The sheriff, more than anyone else, has graciously reciprocated Panza's generosity. Back in the 1990s, when then-Sen. Jenne served as chief counsel for the hospital district, he gave Panza hundreds of thousands of dollars of public business. At the same time Panza worked for the district, he was lobbying for private health-care companies. His law firm's website explains his effectiveness: "With a well-deserved reputation as a 'powerhouse' in the legislative and governmental arena, [Panza's] extensive network and personal understanding of the political arena has resulted in significant benefits for our clients."

One client that benefited was nursing-home giant Integrated Health Services (IHS). For that company, however, Panza may have done a little too much networking. In 1999, his name was thrown around at the corruption trial of former Florida House Speaker Bo Johnson, who received more than $1 million in payoffs from companies while in office, including at least $25,000 from IHS.

Former IHS executive Linda Chichester testified at the trial -- which ended in Johnson's conviction -- that Panza played the role of middleman between the speaker and the health care company. The deal was struck, according to Chichester, on Panza's pleasure boat. Panza, who didn't return phone calls last week, denied at the time that he knew about IHS' illegal payments to Johnson (see "Capitol Offenses," May 13, 1999). The company later went into bankruptcy, and creditors accused Panza's clients of looting the firm with multimillion-dollar buyouts.

Nice. But Panza, who wasn't charged in the Johnson case, shills for more than just corrupt health care companies. He also represents notoriously dirty gambling operations, including GTech, the largest lottery firm in the world. The company operates hugely profitable numbers games in several states, including Florida. It won the state contract in 2003 after it poured more than $100,000 into state Republican coffers. And over the years, it has proven to be one of the most corrupt outfits in America.

There are enough allegations against GTech to fill a book, but suffice it to say that company executives and their lobbyists have been hit with accusations (if not always convictions) of money laundering, fraud, bribery, and illegal kickbacks numerous times in states across the country. The most famous GTech bribery scandal, though, occurred outside the United States. In 1993, British billionaire Richard Branson accused GTech founder Guy Snowden of trying to bribe him as they wrangled over England's national lottery contract. After the allegation, GTech was basically run out of the United Kingdom, and Branson later won a $192,000 civil judgment plus $1 million in legal fees from Snowden in a libel case.

Panza currently serves as a personal business lawyer for Snowden, whose homes include a $2 million mansion in Vero Beach. The Fort Lauderdale lobbyist also remains a GTech rep, a job he's held for nearly 20 years. And he hasn't completely skirted trouble in that job, though he's almost completely avoided public scrutiny. Back in the early 1990s, Panza helped a Kentucky businessman named L. David Wells set up a company in Fort Lauderdale called I.S. GA Inc., which then began receiving $30,000 a month from GTech. The federal government claimed the company was part of a kickback scheme and charged Wells and GTech executive J. David Smith with money laundering and fraud. The case was eventually dropped, though Smith was later convicted of other felony charges.

"GTech is a company that, in every jurisdiction where they do business, they're being pursued by federal law enforcement and local law enforcement," a rival lobbyist told the Tampa Tribune in 1995. "And the charge is always the same: corruption of public officials."

And now Panza, who has made a living at that, is taking your money to cover for his buddy and benefactor, Ken Jenne, at the sheriff's office. The fox has made it into the hen house. The sleaze merchant is now lording over law enforcement.

But, to be fair, the sheriff also commissioned former Florida Attorney General Jim Smith, a leading Republican, to investigate the PowerTrac scandal, as the Sentinel dutifully pointed out. Sounded like there might be some decency left in Jenne's sold-out bones. The sheriff doled out another $100,000 for Smith's whitewash report, which was done in conjunction with the lame Collins Center for Public Policy, a Miami group overseen by corporate CEOs and bankers who pretend to care about ethics in government.

But guess what? Jim Smith is of counsel -- financially connected -- to Panza's law firm and shares numerous clients with him, including GTech and Nova. He is listed as one of the attorneys for Panza, Maurer, & Maynard on the firm's website. In other words, the Smith investigation -- which gave the sheriff a free pass and resulted in a 73-page gobbledygook report -- was just more of the sheriff's cronyism at work.

The facts are in. Jenne is selling us down the river. Are we really big enough morons to let him get away with it?