After an audit of Deerfield Beach festivals declaring that three then-city commissioners secured scores of tickets to the city's mango festival "to garner political support" -- and the ensuing complaints filed by city activist Chaz Stevens -- those three former commissioners earned a trip to Tallahassee for a probable-cause hearing before the Florida Ethics Commission.
Those three lucky former commissioners are Sylvia Poitier, who's awaiting trial for five misdemeanor counts of falsifying public records; Steve Gonot -- who's appealed his yearlong jail sentence for misconduct, grand theft, and falsifying records; and Pam Militello.
Between the damning report released last year by forensic auditing firm Kessler International, an email to commissioners from the city attorney, and some missing or nonexistent records, this may be a problem for the three amigos.
Records showed that those three requested dozens of the $35-value tickets to the 2006 Carl Nixon Mango Festival, with one document showing Poitier for some reason receiving 262.
Florida Statutes say those three needed to file disclosure forms for gifts more than $100 and also disclose a conflict of interest if one exists. Public records requests for those documents filed by Stevens came back empty.
According to an email from City Attorney Andrew Maurodis attached to the complaint, he precisely explained that taking two or more tickets would be considered a gift and said commissioners may not have been able to take even two tickets if the festival were to be considered a lobbyist.
After it was realized all three of the former commissioners had voted to approve various amounts of funding toward the festivals, here's how it looked in Kessler's report:
Furthermore, from interviews and supporting documentation we obtained it was revealed that Commissioner Sylvia Poitier, Commissioner Steve Gonot and Commissioner Pam Militello saw an opportunity to capitalize on at least one of these street festivals and secured blocks of tickets for free and distributed the tickets to garner political support.
Now the three amigos have received the same letter, inviting them to Tallahassee for the hearing at 10 a.m. on December 2.
"The sole purpose of the probable cause hearing is to evaluate the results of the preliminary investigation," the letter says.
That means no new evidence nor witnesses may be used at the hearing, and this stage of events will decide whether there's probable cause to believe there was a violation of state ethics laws. If it moves forward, it would likely involve a trial and recommended penalty, if needed.
Two additional complaints were filed by Stevens against current former Mayor Al Capellini and Commissioner Marty Popelsky over the same matter, but those investigations didn't make it this far.
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