Reporter Accused of Stealing Notebook | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Reporter Accused of Stealing Notebook

The project manager for URS Corp., which has the county contract to oversee all construction that goes on at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has filed a police report accusing a newspaper reporter of stealing his business journal -- which happened to contain damning evidence on a county commissioner.

And that reporter is ... your Pulp host.

URS project manager Todd McClendon filed a police report listing me as the suspect in the so-called theft of his journal. But before I tell you about his report -- which is full of untruths -- let me give you the background on this journal.

I first heard about its existence from sources about a month ago. I was told that McClendon had left his notebook -- actually, it's hardbound and more like a journal -- in the county commission chambers. A politically interested party noticed this and picked it up.

Lo and behold, among McClendon's notes was evidence that indicated Russ Klenet was still working for URS -- which was recently slammed in a county audit for not justifying its fees (that run to nearly $100 million during the past decade or so) -- as a lobbyist. This was a problem. A big problem, in fact. Because ever since Klenet's wife, Stacy Ritter, was elected to the commission in November, he wasn't supposed to have any involvement in county commission business whatsoever. And this seemed to be an especially egregious case, since Ritter was the commission's liaison to the airport and had defended URS on the dais, even helping it keep its sole contract into the foreseeable future.

Problem was, I couldn't track down the notebook. Finally I found a source who had copies of the pages from it and he/she gave me key pages. And I found there were indeed numerous mentions of "Russ" in the book after his wife's election, including his inclusion in the company's lobbying "posse" -- which also includes Ron Book, George Platt, and Bernie Friedman -- in April. One page lists all the commissioners next to the lobbyists who were expected to influence them. Next to Ritter's name is "Russ/George." On another page, McClendon simply wrote: "Staci = Russ."

(For the whole story on the contents of the notebook, click here).

It was good stuff, friends. So last Tuesday I called McClendon on the phone to confirm that what I had was, in fact, what he'd written. He told me that a

journal of his was missing but that he hadn't yet labeled it "stolen." I told him that I had some pages from it and he basically confirmed that the words were his. I faxed him a key page for further confirmation, but he cut off communication from me (imagine that).

I wrote the story and then got ahold of him again three days ago, on Monday morning. He asked me: "Do you have the notebook?"

I told him, "No, I don't. I only have pages from it."

He said, "Be careful, because I filed a police report after we talked."

I said, "Good."

After we got off the phone, I called Fort Lauderdale police spokeswoman Kathy Collins to get a copy of the report. She couldn't immediately find it, though. I went into the office and after a meeting noticed a big package in my mailbox. It didn't have a postmark, meaning it had been hand-delivered. The return address was listed:

"BCGC Lost & Found 115 S. Andrews Ave Ft Ld, FL 33301"

I knew then it must be the journal. The address was for the BCGC -- Broward County Governmental Center. I opened it and there it was. On tight deadline, we changed the story to reflect that we had received it. I asked our receptionist, Julia, if she remembered receiving it. She said she did, that it was delivered either the previous Thursday or Friday by a man she didn't recognize.

The next morning Collins had the police report ready for me. In the space for "suspect" was my name. And here's an excerpt from the narrative provided by McClendon:

"Norman called ... saying he has his book and will give it ot him after answering a few questions pertaining to information in the book. McClendon advisedme that this journal contains pertinent information that is critical to his business."

Understand McClendon had filed the report the previous Wednesday, several days before I actually got the book. Yet here he was saying that I told him that I had it and using it to extort information from him. It was crap -- completely untrue, every bit of it.

I called McClendon and left a message on his cell phone saying his book had been delivered to the New Times. Meanwhile, I was trying to decide who to give it to, since it might be evidence in a corruption case and I didn't think it should be destroyed. I thought of either handing it over to the police or the State Attorney's Office. I talked to Tim Donnelly, the prosecutor in charge of State Attorney's special investigations unit, telling him to start with that I WAS NOT filing any kind of complaint, but just wanted to run it by him. After talking with him, I decided to deliver it to Collins, who said she would give it to McClendon. Last I know, it's at the police department right now.

I also managed to get McClendon on the phone again.

"You know, I'm not real happy about the police report you filed," I told him. "Why did you lie and say I told you that I had the book?"

"I never said that," McClendon told me. "I told them that you had pages from it and I didn't know who had the book."

"Well, that's not what the report said. It also said basically that I was trying to extort you for information."

"I didn't tell them that."

Whatever. The police had sense enough not to come and capture me. For one, it was a misdemeanor larceny case which required that he file a complaint with the State Attorney's Office. For another, I didn't take the damn thing. But I still got the copies.

(Again, here's a link to the story that was published).