Did Drug Money Fund Renovation of Mayor's Home?

The answer: Maybe, maybe not. But it's a fair question.

Mutual Benefits, the fraud-filled firm that employed Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter's husband and paid $117,000 to renovate her Parkland home, was just a moderately successful (and moderately dirty) firm in 2001. Then it made its big push into Central and South America, where it started raking in tens of millions of dollars with investors. That's when Mutual Benefits went to a new level -- and started pouring millions into the political system.

The problem: A lot of that money was supplied by cocaine smuggling cartels.

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Mutual Benefits czar (I want to callm him "godfather") Joel Steinger was working with Jaime Rey Albornoz, an agent who was bringing in the drug money. The feds didn't learn of it until the Coast Guard found more than 13 tons of cocaine on a Russian fishing boat on the Pacific Ocean. The money trail led them to the Mutual Benefits office in Fort Lauderdale.

Albornoz, who was close with Steinger and often visited his home, was a member of a Colombian drug cartel and is now in prison on money laundering and conspiracy conviction. The feds raided the Mutual Benefits office in 2002. During that raid, agents seized records that have since been used in prosecuting the fraud charges.

For more about the drug connection and Vice Mayor Ken Keechl's role in defending Mutual Benefits -- which includes a frivolous lawsuit filed by an activist for trademark violations in Internet postings warning investors of Mutual Benefits' fraud. The claim: That her use of the words "mutual benefits" in "meta tags" accompanying the posting violated a copyright and illegally diverted web traffic from the company's website.

Absolute garbage. To read more on the drug angle and Keechl's involvement, click here.

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