When dirty developer Shawn Chait was called in to testify in a deposition about suspected bribes he paid to then-Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion, he called the husband of another commissioner for help. Chait, who along with his father, Bruce Chait, is now cooperating with authorities in one of the biggest corruption cases in Broward County history, called lawyer Stuart Michelson -- husband of Commissioner Ilene Lierberman and city attorney for Sunrise -- to represent him at the deposition. Michelson, sources say, was paid $850 for representing Shawn Chait, who we now know lied at the deposition.
Chait initially came under suspicion after he hand-delivered several thousand dollars in cash to the Parkland Golf & Country Club to pay for Eggelletion's membership. It was so unusual that an employee there photocopied the cash and contacted authorities.
When under oath, Chait told prosecutors that he delivered the cash as a favor for Eggelletion. He said that they had played a round of golf and that Eggelletion was late for an appointment and didn't have the time to carry the cash inside himself.
Both Eggelletion, who is now in prison on money-laundering and corruption charges, and the Chaits now admit the money was part of a
bribe paid to the commissioner in exchange for his vote for their housing project on two golf courses in Tamarac. The Chaits, whose company was called Prestige Homes, also allegedly gave Tamarac Commissioner Patricia Atkins-Grad more than $6,000 -- for her election victory party and BMW lease -- in exchange for her support for the project. Other charges are expected to be filed before the Chaits are scheduled to change their plea to guilty next month.
Michelson's wife, Lieberman, also voted in favor of the Chaits' project. Michelson previously told me he had done code work for the Chaits in Tamarac and received less than $3,000 from the developers. Michelson didn't want to comment on his work for the Chaits when I spoke with him yesterday. Sources, however, tell me that Michelson says he was wasn't paid for any work he did for the Chaits in Tamarac and that he had been mistaken when he told me that he had.
It must be made clear that Michelson's work for the Chaits, which came well after his wife's vote for the housing project, does not constitute a crime unto itself. Florida law says it must be proven there was a corrupt deal or "meeting of the minds" between the two parties to compensate the official (or the official's spouse) in exchange for public favor from that official. If he was paid only for representing Shawn Chait at the deposition, that may be a tough case to make.
The investigation is continuing. Rumors are rampant. More to come.
-- My journalistic adventures have led to all kinds of results, some intended, some not so much. Last week, though, was the first time something I wrote saved a man's life.
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The man is 47-year-old Omar Loureiro, a convicted murderer. Loureiro was on Florida's death row when I wrote about his former judge, Ana Gardiner, having improper ex parte communication with prosecutor Howard Scheinberg during his trial. That led to a new trial, and last week, Judge Lucy Chernow Brown spared the life of Loureiro, who was represented by lawyers Mike Tenzer and Richard Rosenbaum. She sentenced him to life in prison.
I never put Loureiro in the forefront of my Gardiner reporting. I've always been terribly ambivalent about the death penalty and never acted as Loureiro's champion. The evidence was always strong that he had killed James Lentry in brutal fashion, nearly severing his head. In the original article, I wrote that Loureiro, a former ice cream truck driver, wasn't a sympathetic figure but added that he, like all Americans, "deserved an impartial judge who didn't talk about his case with the prosecutor whose goal was to have him executed."
Loureiro has two young daughters who pleaded for their father's life in letters to Gardiner, who recently left the bench rather than face a JQC investigation over her behavior during the Loureiro case. "I will miss my daddy very much and I love him with all my heart," wrote his daughter Jessica, who was then 12.
I'm heartened by the fact that his daughters will be able to get to know their father as they grow older. And I hope that Loureiro will live up to his daughters' love and that he will make sure that this extraordinary second chance to draw breath in this world leads to positive things. And that's all I have to say about that.