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Frank's Plantation

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Allsworth, a former state representative, is the go-to guy for business owners in Plantation who need changes in zoning or city codes in order to operate in the city. Allsworth, who worked closely with Veltri's administration, routinely convinces council members -- almost all of whom are recipients of Allsworth campaign contributions -- to make the changes. In Veltri's last city council meeting, for instance, Allsworth and his law partner William Laystrom lobbied the council to have the rules changed to allow a school in a strip mall and three fast-food restaurants on Broward Boulevard. "We've enjoyed a great relationship over the years," Allsworth said to Veltri at the meeting.

That relationship, Veltri says, wasn't affected by Allsworth's federal conviction on charges of laundering millions in drug money in 1992 or an earlier indictment, later dropped, for his alleged role in an extortion scheme involving former Sunrise mayor John Lomelo -- who was convicted -- and a nursing home company Allsworth was representing. Allsworth now says his past legal problems are "ancient history."

Veltri says he felt sorry for Allsworth, who lives only a few blocks from him, during the indictments and the conviction. The two men continued to have lunch together, and Veltri kept alive a spirit of cooperation between Allsworth and the city. "Emerson is a good development guy, and he's good at working both sides and cleaning up glitches," Veltri says. "I'd hire him in a minute if I needed him."

Veltri did hire another former Gulfstream official, Arnold Ramos, as an engineering consultant for Plantation. Since the early '80s, Veltri had also appointed Ramos to various city boards, and the powerful engineer is currently chairman of Plantation's planning board. Ramos' company, Keith and Schnars, is the city's paid traffic consultant and, on occasion, its general engineering consultant. Neither Veltri nor Ramos says he sees any conflict in Ramos' approving plans as a city official that his company may later be paid to work with as an engineer.

"If he does a good job, you use him," Veltri says.
Ramos, like Allsworth, has been in trouble in the past, too -- he was indicted while serving as Plantation's planning chairman for allegedly bribing the mayor of Sarasota to support his engineering projects.

His career began in the Florida Department of Transportation then led to Gulfstream, where he remained five years before starting his own engineering company (which also contracted with Gulfstream developers). The new company, Mid South Engineering, was twice implicated in scandal, once for overbilling the state on road projects, which led to a felony conviction for one of its vice presidents, and later for payments the company made to the Sarasota mayor, Ronald Norman. Norman was convicted of accepting bribes. The indictment against Ramos was dropped after the state failed to tie him directly to the payments. Ramos steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and at the time said the payments were consultant fees.

Ramos' role in Plantation, according to published reports, was also investigated in 1985 after he was accused of accepting $9500 from a developer in exchange for changing Plantation parking laws, under his purview as the planning board chairman, that would allow the client to build a shopping center. Such dubious dual capacities have marked Ramos' participation in the city for years, like his role in erasing a square mile of lakes and canals Gulfstream promised to include in the development.

In the application, Gulfstream promised that 24 percent of the entire land area would serve as a water-retention area -- which is needed to protect against floods and to avoid water runoff from its shopping centers into neighboring areas. By 1983 it was clear that such a percentage wasn't being met, so Gulfstream officials -- saying they never really planned to put that much water in their development in the first place -- tried to amend the development order to require only 13 percent water, which comes out to a square mile less than originally promised. To do so they needed the city's approval.

At that time Ramos had already left Gulfstream and, as Veltri's appointee, was serving as chairman of the city planning board. Ramos was also on the board of the state-run Old Plantation Water Control District, creating an intriguing situation: It was the water district's job to make a recommendation on Gulfstream's proposed water reduction to the city planning board, which would then steer the city's decision.

On October 24, 1983, the water district sent a letter -- listing Ramos' name on the letterhead -- to Arnold Ramos, himself, chairman of the city's planning board. The letter declared that there was "no basis for objection to the change proposed by" Gulfstream. Ramos' planning board followed suit, of course, and voted to authorize it, and Veltri, who received a copy of the letter, took that advice. The square mile of valuable water-retention area was erased from plans.

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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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