It seems that Scott Israel now has two serious challengers standing between himself and another term as Broward County sheriff.
Until this month, only one of the candidates running to defeat Israel — former cop Willie Jones — appeared to have spent much time working as a cop in South Florida at all. Jones, who spoke to New Times in March, is an alumnus of both the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and BSO. Jones has pledged to connect disenfranchised minority citizens to police and "depoliticize" the sheriff's office. But so far, it seems that Jones has been unable to catch up to Israel's fundraising totals — according to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, Jones has raised $22,390.27, to Israel's $307,834.98.
But newly minted candidate Jim Fondo could also give Israel a serious run for his money.
On April 7, Fondo, a 30-year BSO vet, announced his candidacy for sheriff. Fondo rose from a patrol officer all the way to captain at BSO — earlier this week, we reported on a bizarre, seemingly innocuous incident from Fondo's past, in which he was falsely accused of perjury after a cameraman from the TV show Cops asked him to re-create a cocaine arrest on-camera. (Internal Affairs later cleared him entirely of wrongdoing.)
But Fondo's name should mean more to Broward voters than that.
In reality, Fondo is a member of the Broward Sheriff Office's old guard, a man who would, in some ways, bring the department closer to its pre-Israel roots than any of the other candidates on the ticket. And, speaking to New Times, Fondo says it's time for Israel to skip town.
"The honeymoon is over for him," Fondo says. "I don’t think the guys got what they thought they were getting with him. I have hundreds of friends in the department still — if you talk to the deputies, I don’t think the general mood at BSO is a good mood right now."
When Israel first ran for office in 2012, he was something of an outsider at the sheriff's office. After running the tiny North Bay Village Police Department from 2004 to 2008, Israel announced his candidacy for Broward sheriff a few years later. Israel's main selling point was that he simply wasn't a BSO lackey — at the time, incumbent Sheriff Al Lamberti, who'd held the post since 2007, was taking serious heat for his handling of billionaire Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. Rothstein had paid off multiple employees at the sheriff's office, including former Lt. David Benjamin and ex-Deputy Jeff Poole. Both were later sentenced to jail.
Lamberti too was seen as something of a disgrace: After the two men were charged with crimes, the Sun Sentinel called the affair "a big stain on the administration of former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti." The Sun Sentinel also reported that BSO had taken a hammer to Lamberti's hard drive, ensuring any evidence of corruption within the department never saw the light of day.
When Israel took office, it was widely reported that he asked 28 officers to leave, lest they be fired. Fondo's name was on the list (he left in 2012, reportedly taking a $142,000 payout), but he tells New Times his departure was less controversial than it seemed.
"I had just finished my 30th year and could only stay for another year and a half," Fondo says. After Israel won the job, there was a "month, month and a half" before he took office. "In that time, nobody from command talked to me, so I figured, the guy probably does not want me around," Fondo says. "So I put my papers in. The writing was on the wall. I never had any bad dealings with him, so I don’t know why he didn’t want me to stick around."
But now, Fondo says, his friends in the department tell him they don't "have the backing from command."
"They believe the sheriff is trying to change the culture of the agency, gearing it less toward 'law enforcement' and more toward public-safety type things, more social-services type things," he says, declining to elaborate.
He added that many of the "successes" that Israel touts, like his VIPER Unit, aimed to track down "the county's most violent criminals," existed before Israel took office. "VIPER was the old street crimes unit and the regional crimes unit," Fondo says. "Those were the same guys I supervised."
He also criticized Israel for adding too many high-paid management positions, adding that if he were to win, he'd "put more boots on the ground." He also supports adding body cameras, saying that the change is an inevitable part of 21st-century policing.
"For the last at least 12 years of my career, I was an executive-type, command-level officer," he says. "I was putting together budgets, monitoring budgets, keeping my districts between the budgets. And before that, I feel like I was a pretty good deputy. I was there for 30 years and was the kind of guy out on the streets with them. I demanded people work for their paycheck."
When the unions start endorsing candidates, he says, he's confident he'll spring to the top of everyone's list. In the meantime, Broward blogger Buddy Nevins reports that Fondo already seems to have Lamberti's support.