Former Plantation Councilman Alleges "Political Assassination" | The Daily Pulp | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Former Plantation Councilman Alleges "Political Assassination"

Well, Maj. Pat Roberts can't claim to be an ethics crusader anymore. The veteran officer with the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco lost the moral high ground. Now he's just another mercenary playing politics and looking to make a buck.

Roberts, as you may recall, went on a one-man jihad against former Plantation Councilman Rico Petrocelli, claiming he played funny with money he handled while running the Plantation Athletic League. The allegation involved money Petrocelli raised for a party he held for disabled children. The investigation on Petrocelli done by Roberts, a former supervisor with the DABT, ended up going to the State Attorney's Office, which cleared Petrocelli of wrongdoing and showed he didn't personally profit. 

But the damage was done. Petrocelli was dragged through the mud, making way for Pete Tingom to narrowly beat him in last year's City Council election. Roberts even filed a complaint with the state's Elections Commission, saying that Petrocelli had unlawfully abbreviated the words "Paid Political Advertisement" as "Pd. Pol. Adv." on his campaign literature. Amazingly, Petrocelli was hit with a $500 fine for that supposed transgression.

Petrocelli always said Roberts' actions were politically motivated. Roberts, after all, is friends with Mayor Rae Carol Armstrong and city councilwoman Diane Bendekovic. Both women supported Siobhan Edwards, Petrocelli's opponent in 2005, when he was first elected to the council.

Both also supported Pete Tingom against Petrocelli in last year's election. Roberts also helped campaign for Tingom.

Councilman Tingom is now in in charge of the PAL Task Force. One member is Pat Roberts, who was appointed by Mayor Armstrong. 

"The mayor, Diane and Pete Tingom are all good friends -- that goes way back," Petrocelli told me this morning. "They found someone who was willing to go after me, and then they took the information, printed it, and sent it to everybody in Plantation at election time. This was a highly coordinated political assassination."

While the allegations always seemed trivial, it was hard to question Roberts' motivation at the time. He was an officer with the state and a PAL volunteer, after all. Now, though, it's easy to question him. Why? Well, now he's just another revolving-door bureaucrat who has cashed out to work for the other side.

The Sun-Sentinel's John Burstein had an in-depth couple of stories on Sunday's front page regarding a strip club represented by Scott Rothstein's law firm, which once again has been busy hiring former government officials. 

This time, the officials are from the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco and include Roberts, who signed on at the law firm on June 1.

Roberts oversaw an investigation into Cheetah Hallandale Beach, a strip club that was

raided in March for alleged prostitution and drugs. Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler attorney Robert Buschel defended Cheetah. This summer, Roberts and two of his ABT buddies, Lt. Michael Fisten and attorney Michael Wheeler, all quit their jobs and went to work at, yes, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. Roberts, as an RRA guy, is now working with Cheetah owner Joe Rodriguez -- one of the targets of his 19-month criminal investigation -- on compliance issues.  

Talk about prostitution!

Don't get me wrong: Law firms hire former law enforcement bigwigs, prosecutors, and the like all the time. The former officials then use their expertise and, yes, relationships to help those they used to go after. It's typical, but it's still highly distasteful and ethically questionable. For those playing along at home, it's spelled S-E-L-L-O-U-T. 

What sets Roberts apart, though, is the speed with which he went from supervising the investigation into Cheetah to working with it. While a settlement agreement has been signed between the ABT and Cheetah precluding any more action in the case, there are still a few unresolved issues, according to Burstein's article, which also reported that Roberts has been accused of contacting agency officials on other cases.

Rothstein told me this morning that he has found no indication that Roberts has done anything wrong but that his firm is looking into the matter. "If he did [cross any ethical line], I would fire him," Rothstein said. "You do anything in this law firm unethical, you are terminated. You lie, you die. I do tolerate human error. Lawyers can be taught how to make a better case, but they can't be taught a moral compass."

Well, I think it's safe to say that Pat Roberts has proven himself to have a questionable compass after what he did this summer, whether he crossed the line or not.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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