When Sunrise City Commissioner Sheila Alu tried to put the city's garbage contract out to bid, things began to get very weird. And it began a four-year odyssey that came to an end yesterday, when she went public with her work for the FBI.
It started with harassment. The company that had the Sunrise garbage contract, All-Service Refuse, didn't take kindly to her suggestion. And the company's lobbyist at the time, Howard Kusnick, made it personal when he requested Alu's divorce file from the courthouse. From there, things went downhill. Here's an account of what happened from New Times' Thomas Francis written in 2006:
In late June 2005, a few months after telling All Service lobbyist Howard Kusnick that she was going to make a motion that All Service's contract with Sunrise be put out to bid, Alu had a series of harrowing encounters. It started with a gold Ford Taurus that one afternoon followed so close to Alu's back bumper that she was finally forced to
pull over and, in a panic, call police.
She received phone calls from a man who wouldn't identify himself and hurled obscenities, like "bitch" and "fucking cunt." Then a black SUV appeared, driving slow past Alu's home while her daughter played in the front yard.
She also learned of an ethics complaint filed against her with the state, alleging that she received thousands of dollars in free legal services from her divorce attorney, gifts that she was ethically bound to have disclosed. Copies of the complaint were mailed anonymously to the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel. The Florida Commission on Ethics found no violations.
Out of respect for Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine statutes, Alu did not contact fellow commissioners about the harassment. But she was in almost constant communication with the Sunrise Police Department and with City Manager Salerno, among other city staff, and given the speed with which gossip travels though City Hall, Alu assumes that her fellow Sunrise commissioners would have heard secondhand about All Service's tactics. Those commissioners, of course, could have put pressure on the company to rein in its strong-arm tactics.
Alu, whose ex-husband had been a Plantation police officer, still had friends on the force, and those officers took turns parking in her driveway, where they'd write their reports. She'd wake in the morning to find their business cards tucked between her front doors, a gesture that helped her sleep, she says.
What nobody knew was that she was so upset by what was happening that she also went to the FBI. Alu says her first meeting with an FBI agent came at Nova Law School, where she was a student at the time. The agent took a report on her All-Service allegations and told her he would get back with her. Then the agent called and asked her to meet with him and the head of the FBI's public corruption unit.
That meeting occurred at the now-defunct Ireland's Inn in Fort Lauderdale, where Alu was staying at the time with her daughter out of fear for their safety. She went over the whole All-Service fiasco again. The agents told her they needed evidence on tape to prove that she was being threatened, so they set up a ruse to get an All-Service executive to meet with her. Alu never could get the meeting, but it gave her basic training in undercover work. She allowed the FBI to tap her phone and learned how to handle a recording device.
From there, agents started asking her to make introductions with officials in a public corruption investigation that was aready under way. She agreed.
"I did it because I hate public corruption," says Alu. "Broward County is a cesspool. But I had no idea that it would turn into the stress that it took on me. They just kept taking me around, and I kept getting deeper and deeper into it."
In July 2006, the agents asked her to make an introduction with School Board Member Beverly Gallagher. "I was only introducing people," she says. "I never set anybody up. And I never imagined that [Gallagher] would actually take a bribe."
Of course, Gallagher did, according to the feds, leading to last week's revelations. Alu says she would do it all over again.
"I don't regret it," she says. "I think people are either going to look at me as a hero or a -- what do you call those people, a squealer? But I'm a prosecutor. My passion is to uncover public corruption. Nothing is going to change that."