Bruce and Shawn Chait paid off a who's who of Broward County public officials to get government approvals for their controversial housing development on two golf courses in Tamarac.
The father-and-son team bought since-imprisoned Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion a golf club membership and gave him cash totaling $25,000 before Eggelletion voted in favor of their project. They are the key witnesses in the criminal cases involving Stephanie Kraft ($10,000 cash to her husband), Marc Sultanof (payments for a Honda Accord), and Patricia Atkins-Grad (victory party tab and BMW lease).
The Chaits are also key witnesses in several corruption investigations in which no arrests have been made to date. They gave Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter a golf cart and paid a big contribution to Ilene Lieberman's favorite charity (along with hiring her husband, Stuart Michelson, as their attorney).
There is a lot more, but suffice to say that the Chaits are at the heart of the biggest political corruption case in Michael Satz's nearly 35-year run as Broward State Attorney. In exchange for their cooperation, Satz did the Chaits, who are being represented by eminent attorney J. David Bogenschutz, a remarkable favor. He let them walk away from their own crimes scot-free.
They pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful compensation. No jail time for either of them, just four years of probation. If the son, Shawn Chait, successfully completes the probation, he'll have his record wiped clean.
And what few realize is that they still own those golf courses -- along with those unlawfully gained site approvals -- and still stand to make a mint off of them when the market turns.
Now comes the stunning part of the story. Instead of sitting in jail, the Chaits have filed suit in Broward County Circuit Court against the City of Tamarac for interfering with their business, claiming that the city's failure to give them permit extensions cost them a chance to sell their property, which they claim they sank $14 million into (you have to wonder how much of that is in bribes). Here's a summary of the suit by the Chaits' company, Prestige Homes, that was sent in by a very kind reader:
Action for interference with business relationships, with damages greater than $7 million. The plaintiff invested $14 million in the development of properties. Due to the economic distress, the plaintiff was unable to start construction within one year of the site plan approval. After again failing to begin construction after a new date was imposed, a senate bill was enacted as to site plan extensions. The defendant however, advised the plaintiff it would not take actions to enforce the senate bill. The plaintiff then got a offer for the property, but it fell through because of the outstanding issue with the defendant's position on the site plan extension. Property owners and builders are experiencing severe financial erosion because of these government permit approval processes. The plaintiff has been damaged as a result of the defendant's illegal denial of the plaintiff's rights.
I spoke briefly with Tamarac City Attorney Sam Goren, who called the complaint "baseless" and said the city is fighting the Chaits with two outside attorneys.
The idea that the Chaits believe they are still entitled to site approvals that they obtained through corruption and fraud is astonishing. And the fact that they are still around to wheel and deal in Broward County is incredible. You feel like they should be banished or something at the very least. I'll be doing more reporting on this.
Inside, read embattled Stacy Ritter's quotes that she emailed to a local columnist about her apparently unlawful campaign account. They are priceless.
In a rather toothless column written by Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo on the Ritter campaign, Stacy came to her own defense in an email. Her quotes should come with a laugh track.
-- On her lobbyist husband Russ Klenet's work for her (unopposed) campaign: "I have always considered him to be an invaluable -- and publicly known -- campaign resource in every one of my political campaigns. His campaign work on my behalf was extensive, and reimbursement of campaign expenses was not only appropriate, but actually required by law."
-- When asked what she did at the Diplomat Resort & Spa to justify a $1,889 campaign expense, Ritter wrote, "I don't remember."
Well, hopefully Satz's prosecutors can jog her memory on that one. Unbelievable.
-- When asked why she illegally (according to the Florida Elections Commission) bundled expenses into big reimbursement checks for herself and Russ, she said, "The handling of campaign financial matters was (Russ') domain, in consultation with the campaign accountant."
The campaign accountant, by the way, is Alexssandra Lieberman, Klenet's secretary at his lobbying firm. You get the sense that she's getting set up as the fall girl in all this.
-- She remarked on her "different" kind of campaigning, which involved incredibly expensive and seemingly intimate dinners. "During the campaign, I met with as many community and business leaders and voters as possible, holding dinners, breakfasts, lunches, and get-togethers all over the county... The amount of campaign funds raised and expended is entirely consistent with a Broward County Commission campaign."
At this point, other politicians in Broward County who have run honorable campaign funds should step up and tell people how they feel about being lumped in with her dirty campaign.
-- Ritter also wrote: "My pursuit of excellence and ethics should never be in question. I am open, transparent, and a workaholic for the people of Broward County. I will continue to serve the public, and do so in a manner that promotes integrity and trust in government."
Cue laugh track.