Note to Lamberti: Neil Sterling Is Your Man | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Note to Lamberti: Neil Sterling Is Your Man

Everybody knows that the new Broward Sheriff's Office corruption squad got off to a bad start with news that it was investigating a decade-old case involving one of the sheriff's chief nemeses, Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger.

It looked political, it looked like Sheriff Al Lamberti was joining forces with Gunzburger's dubious opponent (former state Sen. Steve Geller, a lobbyist who was once very chummy with Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger), and it looked like it had the makings of a piss-poor case. Lamberti snuffed out the investigation, which was a good move on his part.

It was an unfortunate premiere for the man whom Lamberti tapped to run his corruption unit, former FBI agent Al LaManna. But hey, everybody is allowed a mistake. What's important now is which case is the next to hit the newspapers and which will be the one that LaManna actually makes. You know, with charges and arrests and all that.

And I've got just the case -- it's one that nobody will accuse you of playing politics with, and it is one that will strike at the heart of corruption in Broward County.

You need to investigate the holy living hell out of lobbyist Neil Sterling. 

Sterling is the quiet, behind-the-scenes corruptor at the School Board. He's the one who helped get

Beverly Gallagher a dubious job at Community Blood Centers before she was nabbed by the FBI in a corruption sting. He's the one who holds fundraisers for School Board members that raise them tens of thousands of dollars at a pop from contractors and subcontractors who rode the board's unnecessary school construction boom that looted hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers and helped saddle us all with $2 billion in district debt. He's the one who partnered with political consultant Barbara Miller so that he could own the board members from their initial campaigns forward. And of course, he was the one who represented those same builders and architects before the board and helped get them hundreds of millions in contracts to fuel that same bogus building boom.

Although it sounds heinous, you might still think: But where's the case? Easy. Look at Stephanie and Mitch Kraft.

Now the Krafts are knee-deep in the corruption investigation involving dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. That's being handled by the State Attorney's Office right now, but what nobody is talking about is the fact that Mitch Kraft, Stephanie's husband, was secretly on Sterling's payroll for the better part of two years.

Stephanie Kraft voted on Sterling's projects every step of the way, never disclosing that her husband was being paid by the lobbyist. But here's the coup de grace: Stephanie Kraft personally steered through a lucrative and highly controversial contract for Sterling's client in the health care world, Vista Healthplan Inc., to make Vista the sole provider of health insurance for board employees.

She sat on the Superintendent's Insurance Advisory Committee and used her position to back Vista. She helped the firm get a three-year contract to provide health insurance to 41,000 school district employees. The contract was worth $1.7 billion. That averages out to about $565 million a year. Previous contracts to cover school district employees had cost about $200 million a year. The reason for the huge increase has never been explained.

Vista has jacked up rates on employees' children by as much as 45 percent. The huge rate increase will add hundreds of dollars each month to the bills of many shocked and dismayed employees. The committee on which Kraft sits voted unanimously to approve the increase before the full board voted to authorize it. The committee was made up of several district officials, a couple of union officials, and three board members, including Kraft, the terrible Bob Parks, and Robin Bartleman.

Five companies made the short list, but the committee voted Vista as number one. It was Kraft's job to rank the companies, and she led the charge for Vista. She gave Vista a whopping score of 95, versus her second-highest score of 81 for Humana. Of course, she never revealed that her husband was on Sterling's payroll at the time. 

Ever heard of unlawful compensation and official misconduct?

All right, you Als (LaManna and Lamberti), there's your tip. Put your detectives on it. If you wipe out that little cluster of School Board corruption, the sheriff will be a hero in many eyes, including those who work for the largest employer in Broward County, the School Board. And you've got to make cases. You can't just sit there investigating or you'll look like J. Edgar Hoover building up dirt on everyone just so he can build files on people and get the edge on them. That's sleazy. It's time to act.