Deputy to Be Reinstated After "Political" Firing

Well, I've been busy with other things today (hint: a national cable news network is preparing a piece on a certain Ponzi schemer who used to do some of his best thinking on a toilet made of gold), but there is one interesting development at the Broward Sheriff's Office to report.

Before Scott Rothstein went kablooey, two of his pals -- Undersheriff Tom Wheeler and Lt. David Benjamin -- basically ran the BSO. Wheeler and Benjamin were tight and both were extremely political and power-hungry (Wheeler's still in power, so I shouldn't put him in the past tense).  

Sheriff Al Lamberti, a hands-off guy, let Wheeler and Benjamin run amok -- and they engaged in some serious intimidation of deputies who weren't towing the Lamberti line. Remember this classic phone recording Benjamin left with Dep. John Bailen, who was a big supporter of Lamberti opponent Scott Israel:


Ah, great stuff. Another supporter of Israel, Dep. Jeremy Reynolds, was fired after the election. On October 15, 2008, he called in sick and then was seen at a sheriff's political debate. He also used a sick day on Election Day to work on Israel's campaign.

Well, Reynolds fought for his job back, claiming he was fired for political reasons, and last week the arbitrator in the case, Philip Harris, ruled in Reynolds' favor. Reynolds is set to return to work on March 1. 

"The culture within BSO is politically oriented," Harris wrote in his January 9 decision. "The aura of free will that emanates from the Sheriff's Policy Manual... does not square with

what the Arbitrator believes is the real world in BSO. Specifically, if Reynolds had not supported Scott Israel, his policy violations" wouldn't have risen to a firing offense.

Harris relied on the words of Benjamin and BSO Chief Roy Vrchota, director of the Professional Standards Committee, to make his ruling. Vrochota told Reynolds:

You said you decided to get political, you voted for the wrong guy and your guy lost. You work for a political department and you should have kept your head down... Anybody that doesn't see an elected Sheriff Office as a political department really has their head buried in the sand.  

Harris also cited testimony from former Dep. Russell Diperna, another Israel supporter who was fired from BSO. Diperna testified that he had a meeting with Lt. Benjamin after the election. Diperna testified that Benjamin named several deputies who supported Israel and said, "They had cushy positions, they shouldn't have gotten involved in the campaign, and they're going to lose their cushy positions."

Diperna also testified that Benjamin told him, "You made it personal, and you're going to suffer the consequences."

It might sound like business as usual, but it's bad business when any law enforcement agency, let alone one the size of BSO, is preoccupied with politics. And with an election every four years, it's inevitable. Unfortunately, it hit a fever pitch under Lamberti, mainly because he left Benjamin and Wheeler in charge of the store. That doesn't excuse Lamberti -- and he's proving to be just as political as his predecessor, a former state Senate president named Ken Jenne, ever was. I have been getting calls from more folks inside BSO than I ever have, and all of them express the same basic complaint: The politics being played at BSO these days makes working there all but unbearable.  

I'm going to expose more about the agency in the coming days, and it all goes to a crucial point: We should have an appointed sheriff, or chief, and leave politics to the politicians. 

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman