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For Deerfield Beach Mayoral Candidate, Vindication Served Cold

During Deerfield Beach's recent mayoral campaign, Don Cleveland lugged a big piece of baggage: a foreclosure action in which he lost his Sunny Isles home.

A troublesome issue, if only because Cleveland was fairly new in town (moved there in 2001) and had never run for office in Deerfield Beach. The city's got some serious financial problems, and voters may have been apprehensive about a newcomer who had already known a personal financial crisis.

On the campaign trail, Cleveland explained that the foreclosure was the result of his being victimized in an embezzlement scheme. John W. Goff, says Cleveland, lied about how he was handling money -- a Ponzie scheme with insurance rather than investments. The con cost Cleveland his $22,000-per-month income, which he relied upon to pay his mortgage.

Cleveland thinks he was portrayed as a bad businessman, when he ought to have been treated in a fashion similar to those who lost their fortunes to Madoff: a conscientious person with the misfortune of crossing paths with a diabolical mastermind. But that argument relied on voters to take Cleveland at his word, and voters are a skeptical bunch. Especially those who've been burned as much as Deerfield Beach's electorate. Cleveland finished fourth out of six candidates.

That was last week. This week he learned that on February 17 -- exactly three weeks before the election -- an Alabama jury had declared Goff guilty of precisely the same kind of fraud Cleveland describes happened to him.

"I was so involved with the campaign I didn't realize the guy had been convicted in the meantime," says Cleveland. Had he known, he adds, "I would have been more appropriately armed to deal with any allegation related to it."

Whatever satisfaction Cleveland might otherwise feel about a shyster brought to justice is also tempered by his frustration with state regulators and federal law enforcement. Cleveland says he provided documents that could have been the smoking gun in a case against Goff, but as those agencies delayed action, the statute of limitations expired. It seems that made it possible for Goff to fleece more people. Alabama prosecutors counted $4 million in embezzled funds.

Goff, as it happens, used to be a close personal friend of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. When that friendship ruptured it led to Goff suing Riley and linking him to dirty lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A 2007 Harper's Magazine article tells that sordid story.

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Thomas Francis

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