Deerfield Beach Commissioner Admits Taking Past Payments From Charity Being Investigated

Deerfield Beach Commissioner Sylvia Poitier told Juice Thursday that she received stipend payments from a charity that later became a recipient of tax dollars for the improvement of the city's low-income housing. That same charity, the Westside Deerfield Businessmen Association, is currently a focus of a forensic investigation based on concerns that its public dollars were mishandled.

Following the unexpected death of a manager at WDBA in late 2003, "I went in and managed for them," says Poitier, speaking of the nonprofit organization based on SW First Street. "I didn't receive a salary," she added. "I received a stipend but not a salary."

I asked Poitier how much that stipend was for. "A couple of times, they gave me $40," she said. "And one time, they gave me $100-something." Poitier said she would have to go back through her books to find the exact amount.

Poitier's daughter Felecia is president of WDBA. Executive Director Dan Poitier is a cousin of Sylvia Poitier's ex-husband. "When I got elected [in March 2005], I immediately left," says Poitier.

That's an important detail. Had Poitier stayed with WDBA and continued to receive stipends, then she would have been legally bound to recuse herself from votes in which the city awarded public dollars to WDBA, which enjoys a status as the city's Community Housing Development Organization, which makes it the destination for state and federal housing funds.

Still, Poitier's remaining family ties to WDBA have put her in a very awkward position. At Tuesday's commission meeting, as City Attorney Andy Maurodis informed commissioners that the WDBA had not cooperated fully with the forensic auditor's requests, Poitier declared a conflict of interest -- only to defend WDBA a moment later as to its efforts to produce financial records.

But last June, long before the forensic audit, Juice raised questions about the striking resemblance between the financial records WDBA furnished to the city (which activist Chaz Stevens posted here) and the financial report that Poitier made to the Broward County Department of Environmental Protection (which Stevens posted here).

The most troubling coincidence: WDBA reports a liability of $74,000 to Lionel Ferguson, Sylvia Poitier's brother. In a filing related to her dry-cleaning business, Poitier reports a $70,000 loan from that same brother.

So either Ferguson loaned roughly $70,000 twice, or that money is the same.

Poitier told me that Ferguson loaned the $70,000 to WDBA so that the organization could pay its taxes. "The Lionel deal was when I was there [at WDBA]," says Poitier. "I know $42,000 of it was for taxes. He paid the tax certificate for them."

This explanation sounds plausible, except that as a not-for-profit corporation, WDBA was exempt from taxes. I tried to circle back to Poitier to get clarification, but she didn't pick up; her voice-mail box was full. Felecia Poitier did not immediately return a message.

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