Broward News

Deerfield Investigating Payments Made to Poitier Family Business

In a move that could spell trouble for longtime Broward politician Sylvia Poitier, Deerfield Beach is conducting an internal investigation to determine how a nonprofit run by the vice mayor's relatives spent federal housing dollars.

As the city's registered Community Housing Development Organization, the Westside Deerfield Business Association is entrusted with the role of rehabilitating low-income housing. The WDBA's president is Felicia Poitier -- daughter of Vice Mayor Poitier.

In a letter dated February 4, the city attorney's office demanded to inspect WDBA's records relating to the rehab of six homes.

Although Sylvia Poitier has disclosed a potential conflict based on her daughter's position at WDBA, she has been less open about whether she has a financial stake in the association. In past years, she has voted to authorize funding to WDBA.

This past summer, Deerfield Beach activist Chaz Stevens posted a background report on Poitier that lists her as a "manager" of WDBA. Stevens, who has made the Poitier family's business dealings a personal hobby over the past year, sent his findings to a slew of law-enforcement agencies in June, hoping it would lead to an investigation for public corruption.

It's not clear how much money WDBA has received by virtue of its favored position in the city. But it's at least a quarter-million dollars, which doesn't include the $30,000 loan it got from the city in August 2008 to pay its overdue water bill.

Among the other debts, WDBA allegedly owed Lionel Ferguson, Poitier's brother, roughly $70,000. In a coincidence that may loom large in an investigation, that's about the same amount of money that Poitier claimed to have borrowed from Ferguson as a way of keeping her dry cleaning business from going under.

During a political career that's spanned four decades, Poitier has weathered critics who questioned her integrity. But in the face of that adversity, she's been resilient -- and electable. Currently serving her third consecutive term as a Deerfield Beach commissioner, Poitier was first elected to that position in 1973, remaining in office for 12 years before being appointed to the Broward County Board of Commissioners in 1985 by Gov. Bob Graham. She was a county commissioner until 1998.

The timing of this internal investigation suggests that the recent change in the city manager's office was a factor. Former City Manager Mike Mahaney was fired last month and replaced in the interim by Burgess Hanson. Before that, Mahaney had relied upon Poitier's support to keep his job, especially after the March 2009 elections, when a new commission led by Mayor Peggy Noland was sworn in to office.

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Thomas Francis