Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter said today that she received a golf cart from developer Bruce Chait, the developer who has been charged in a state bribery case involving Rittter's former colleague, Joe Eggelletion.Ritter supported Chait's controversial housing project in Tamarac and voted as a commissioner to approve it on August 22,
Before her vote to approve the project, Ritter didn't disclose that she had received the cart, which she claimed to me in a phone call today was worth less than $500. Her father, Ed Portner, was [Corrected] VICE mayor of Tamarac at the time and was also a crucial supporter of the project.
After I asked her about the golf cart allegation, Ritter confirmed Chait had given her a golf cart from one of the golf courses he'd purchased to build townhomes. She initially indicated that the cart was an in-kind contribution from Chait when she was running for office, but then said she couldn't remember if it was a contribution or if she paid for it.
"It might have been an in-kind contribution, it might have been a personal check, but it was under $500," Ritter said during a lunch break at today's county commission meeting. "I just don't
remember. I absolutely got it from [Chait] but I was not in office at the time."
She said she couldn't recall when she received the cart, but said it was definitely between her exit from the state legislature in 2004 and her election to the county commission in 2006. During that time she was running for both state Senate, a bid she dropped, and the county commission.
Chait contributed $2,000 total -- including the maximum $500 apiece from himself, his wife, his son, and Prestige -- to her Senate campaign. Those contributions were either spent during the Senate campaign or rolled over to her county campaign. Chait was pushing his housing project at the time. Ritter said her acceptance of the golf cart had nothing to do with her elected office or her vote for the project.
She used it for riding around in her neighborhood in Parkland, though she claimed that now it is "old and broken-down." She said she received it after the Chaits bought the golf courses and liquidated its assets, including golf carts.
"I know I got it from the Chaits from the old golf course," Ritter told me. "I don't know if I personally paid for it. I was a private citizen. I was not in elected office. They were getting rid of the golf course stuff and I live in a community where there are a lot of golf carts, even though it's not a golf community."
She said she never received anything of value from the Chaits other than the golf cart and the campaign contributions.
This is the first new development in the Chait case since father and son were charged in December on bribery, unlawful compensation, and perjury charges. They are accused of giving $25,000, including a golf club membership, to Eggelletion in exchange for his vote to approve And the surfacing of the golf cart allegation may signal an indication that the Chaits are cooperating with state prosecutors.
The Chaits also hired the husband of Broward School Board Member Stephanie Kraft to help it get a $500,000 mitigation fee reduction from the school district. School Board records reveal that Kraft use the power of her office to help push for the fee reduction. That case is under federal investigation, according to numerous sources.
The Chaits didn't stop there; the developers also hired Sunrise City Attorney Stuart Michelson, the husband of Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, in a code case in Tamarac. Michelson recently told me that he received only $2,000 for his work and that it had nothing to do with his wife's vote for the project two years earlier.
The Ritter revelation comes on the same day that we learned about subpoenas in a criminal investigation by the State Attorney's Office involving Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin.
And if you want irony, it's also the day that Ritter pushed for the creation of an ethics czar position. The commission asked attorneys to draft a referendum to form the position of inspector general. "The public needs to know we are serious about doing something about the perception of misconduct and that we are trying to do the right thing," Ritter told the Sentinel. "The public unfortunately thinks we are all corrupt, and if we can do something to fix that image, we should."