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Does Foundation Have Legit Reasons for Dropping Allen West From "Finest Couples" Gala?

Juice is still waiting to hear back from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation about its reasons for asking congressional candidate Allen West and his wife, Angela, to step down from the "Finest Couples" gala. But in public remarks today, the foundation spokesperson cited the fact that West is in the midst of a campaign -- that's the reason he was dropped.

So let's see who the foundation is honoring instead of West. Full list of the South Florida "Finest Couples" after the jump, along with analysis of what makes them so fine.

Here's the master list, with the names of West and his wife already removed. But let's take a closer inspection.

Jaime and Jeffrey Backman -- He's a former Broward judicial candidate who backed out in April, presumably because he realized that winning huge settlements for victims in Chinese drywall cases paid a lot better than a job on the bench. If Backman isn't already a generous donor to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, maybe being named a "Finest Couple" will convince him to get out his checkbook.

Anne and John S. Bukata -- He's in charge of the Broward Sheriff's Office division in Oakland Park.

Sylvia and Joseph Cobo
-- He's an ethically challenged commissioner for the Broward Health public hospital system who's under criminal investigation for abusing his office. Cobo, who runs a consulting practice in Fort Lauderdale, is also a generous contributor to the man who appointed him to that position at Broward Health, Gov. Charlie Crist.

Gale and John Fontaine -- The Lighthouse Point couple runs 4 Corners Bingo, which rakes in dough at locations in Lauderhill and Pompano Beach. Donor potential!

Damaris and Steve Jensen -- Whatever this couple does, it pays well. In 2006, they paid more than $3.5 million for their home in Southwest Ranches. A safe bet that they're generous toward the foundation too.

Lisa and Joe Kessling -- He's the Broward Sheriff's Office detective who emerged as a hero in the months after 15-year-old Eric Brewer was burned by a group of classmates in Deerfield Beach.

Meike and George LeMieux -- He's the Crist-appointed U.S. senator who formerly ran the most politically connected law firm in Florida. When his term ends this year, LeMieux's sure to make millions as a lawyer/lobbyist, then put that toward a campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. The guy's also ethically bankrupt, but for a foundation that wants money and political influence, he's quite a prize.

Nikki and Glen Levine -- He runs a personal-injury firm. In fact, it's the same firm (Andijar & Levine) that is the presenting sponsor of the "Finest Couples" gala. So he's already a donor, and now that he and his wife are a "Finest Couple," maybe they'll remain donors long into the future.

Vicki and Bob Morency -- He's general manager of WSBR 740-AM, the talk-radio station in Boca Raton.

Diana Santa Maria and Brian Sidella
-- He's owner and president of Forever Young Medspa. Considering the market for being "forever young" in South Florida, let's assume the couple's making bank. Surely, the foundation considered that possibility.

Lisa and Craig Tanner -- I believe this couple has a printing company and that it was active in the charitable efforts for Michael Brewer.

Stacey and Michael Udine
-- He's mayor of Parkland as well as a Fort Lauderdale attorney.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a little pay-for-play when the ultimate winner is a charity that works toward finding a cure for cystic fibrosis. Those who donate to this worthy cause deserve this gala and plenty more.

But the list of "Finest Couples" still reveals inconsistency on the part of the foundation. If it can't invite West to the gala, then why is it inviting Michael Udine? He's running for reelection this November.

Granted, Udine is running unopposed, meaning that his race doesn't have a fraction of the intensity of the one between West and Congressman Ron Klein. But the foundation named its "Finest Couple" honorees in early July -- two months before Parkland's filing deadline. "That's sad," says Udine, who told me this afternoon he wasn't aware of a controversy over the foundation gala. "The whole thing sounds very unfortunate."

That same Newsmax article I referenced earlier points to several past foundation honorees who were involved in political campaigns.

West himself believes that Klein's wife played a role in the foundation's decision. But its leadership could have just as easily picked another reason. West's seeming desire to abridge Muslims' freedom of religion, perhaps? His history of abusing an Iraqi detainee could work too.

Unfortunately, the foundation doesn't appear to be very concerned about their "Finest Couples"' moral fiber. For instance, there is considerable reason to doubt the integrity of nominees Joseph Cobo and George LeMieux.

Neither has been indicted, much less convicted of corruption. But you would think that in 2010, a charitable foundation would have learned a valuable lesson from the Bernard Madoff and Scott Rothstein sagas: namely, to make sure the donations are coming from good guys.

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Thomas Francis

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