Cindi Hutchinson, who won an upset bid in 2000 to become a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner and then rose to the position of CEO of the Riverwalk Trust, turned herself in today at the Broward County Jail on corruption charges.
The Broward Sheriff's Office released a mug shot of a tired-looking Hutchinson after she was booked on charges of unlawful compensation, fraud by a public servant, grand theft, petty theft, and perjury (click here for the warrant).
Hutchinson's fall had a taste of irony considering how she got her start in politics. She won her seat on a platform of controlled growth, knocking out an
incumbent she blamed for too much development on the Intracoastal. Now
she faces charges accusing her of accepting home improvements in
exchange for her votes as a city commissioner.
Hutchinson's attorney, Bruce Udolf, says the work was done "by a close personal friend" and didn't come with a promise of an "official act."
"Not having seen the charges, the only thing I can say is that Cindi maintains her innocence and intends to vigorously defend herself against these charges," Udolf said.
The charges claim she voted in favor off the La Preserve and Georgian Oaks projects in exchange for $14,000 in "gifts and services," according to the State Attorney's Office. Also booked today was Steve Goldstrom, who was involved in the Georgian Oaks development (click here for Goldstrom's warrant).
Goldstrom set Hutchinson up with fences, pavers, fence repair, air-conditioning repair, and other work from subcontractors, her arrest warrant claims. The work happened after Hutchinson voted in 2003 and 2004 to rezone land to allow the housing developments in her commission district. Hutchinson then failed to report the gifts as required by state law.
Hutchinson left the City Commission in 2009 after term-limit rules forced her to leave the post. She has since served as CEO of Riverwalk Trust, which promotes projects and events in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Mark Budwig, chairman of the Riverwalk Trust board, said he couldn't comment about the arrest. "At this point, we don't know the facts," Budwig said. "I can say that Cindi has been an effective, dedicated leader at Riverwalk Trust."
Hutchinson's charges are the harshest accusation she's faced in her 11 years in politics, but it's not the first time she has been accused of wrongdoing. In 2008, while a candidate for mayor, Hutchinson held a jewelry sales party that benefitted a campaign supporter who had sought help from her at City Hall, according to a Miami Herald article. Also that year, a State Attorney's Office investigation determined that Hutchinson had mailed campaign fliers from City Hall and then later lied about it; doing so breached ethics rules, but since it only cost the city $4.32, no charges were filed.
Even with Hutchinson's now-tainted vote, things didn't end well for the Georgian Oaks project. National City Bank foreclosed on the $10 million project and seized it from the developer in November. La Preserve too faced a foreclosure action filed by Wachovia in 2008.
Hutchinson's charges today come four years after she made a stink over another shady development deal. That's when a Fort Lauderdale condo offered to support the expansion of a marina in exchange for $550,000. "I was stunned," Hutchinson told the Sun-Sentinel at the time. "I couldn't think of anything else after I heard that."
If the charges are true, then apparently she could also think about getting some payola herself.
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