Ethics Reform Turns Into Memogate; Intriguing Rothstein Figure Leaving Town | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Ethics Reform Turns Into Memogate; Intriguing Rothstein Figure Leaving Town

The bid by a gaggle of commissioners to kill a key ethics provision could blow up in their faces in a very big way.

An emergency Broward Ethics Commission meeting regarding county Attorney Jeff Newton's outrageous memo telling commissioners that the ethics reform bill was unconstitutional was held this morning and recently concluded. There were fireworks.  

A reporter known to the Pulp was there, and she reports that Bob Wolfe, an ethics commissioner, called for Newton's firing for his memo. I won't disagree with that, but an investigation must be done in the county to determine who exactly put Newton up to writing the memo and where the ridiculous wording originated telling our elected officials that they would be violating their oath of office if they passed a lobbying ban.

From the Sentinel reporting: "Drew Meyers from the county attorney's office is defending his office against questions whether County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman wrote County Attorney Jeff Newton's memo blasting the ethics reform. He said she didn't, and that the county attorney's office was not doing anyone's bidding."

Bullshit. Somebody put Newton up to his shenanigans. And Lieberman -- who lobbies under her married name of Ilene Michelson -- is suspect number one. Other suspects were named here yesterday, including Stacy Ritter, whose husband is a lobbyist and would be affected by the legislation, and John Rodsrom, who also works as a lobbyist.

You want to hear the chief irony? The county's attorney at the hearing, Drew Meyers, has a wife who is

a lobbyist. Dawn Meyers is an attorney at Berger Singerman, which has represented clients before the county. Berger Singerman has also contracted with the county to do legal work. If Broward County government were an actual family, its tree wouldn't have many branches and the Department of Children and Families would be all over it.

A veteran Broward politician, in a frank off-the-record conversation, told me recently that in Broward County, people run for office "to get rich." There are several Broward County commissioners who I believe fit that description. The ban on lobbying -- which is not only clearly constitutional but also desperately needed in this county -- would cripple those efforts. 

That is why we need a full investigation into Newton's memo. Any secret actions by the lobbyists (or lobbyists' wives) on the board to kill this measure are clearly designed for personal financial gain. Proof that Lieberman or any other commissioner whose family income is bolstered by lobbying efforts was involved in manipulating Newton to write the memo isn't just underhanded politics; it very well may be a crime.

Think about it. The public voted in 2008 to create the Broward Ethics Commission to clean up this town. The commission comes up with meaningful reform and presents it to the board, which by law must vote on the measures. Commissioners don't like what the publicly mandated board comes up with because it will affect their incomes (let's not forget these people are already collecting a $90,000-plus salary from taxpayers). So they secretly try to derail the reform using the county attorney as their tool.

It's so ugly, so deceitful, so Broward.

-- Diane Barnett, who had numerous ties to Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, is leaving town, according to sources. It's not known where Barnett, who is engaged to major Rothstein feeder Barry Bekkedam and did contract work for a business in which Rothstein was an investor.  

Barnett did work for the health care consulting firm Edify, in which Rothstein was an investor, and serves as a member of the advisory board for Broward Bank of Commerce, in which Rothstein invested. At the same time, her fiancé, Bekkedam, was an integral "feeder" to Rothstein's investment scheme. His Pennsylvania-based hedge fund, Ballamor Capital Investment, lost $30 million in the Rothstein scheme, according to court documents. Bekkadam claimed to have put $100 million of his "ultra high net worth" clients' money into the scheme through close Rothstein associate and investor George Levin and Banyon. Most of that money apparently came from one client, Fort Lauderdale businessman Doug Von Allmen, who is now suing Bekkedam and numerous other alleged co-conspirators in the Ponzi.

I'm trying to determine the reason for Barnett's leaving and will update when I do.