Jury More Deliberative Than Judge

Well, the jury spent three hours (Sentinel reported 2.5 hours, Herald reported 3.5, and I wasn't there, so I'm going down the middle) deliberating on the four official misconduct charges remaining against Keith Wasserstrom before taking a break until tomorrow morning.

Boy, Judge Joel Lazarus must be smart. He made his decision to throw out the most significant charge, of unlawful compensation, in a heartbeat. And that was a lot more complicated than the misconduct charges, which deal solely with the way in which Wasserstrom half-disclosed his interest in the sewage company.

I thought the jury had a better than not chance of convicting on unlawful compensation, but my bet yesterday was that the jury would acquit Wasserstrom on the remaining four counts. The longer the deliberations go, though, the worse it is for Wasserstrom's chances. Could come down to a mistrial, which after the judge's assinine action yesterday, would seem a blessing for the prosecution.

The question is whether the jury bought the act of the shameless huckster Milton Hirsch, who was so over the top I thought he was gonna fly out of the building over the New River. Hirsch, Wasserstrom's attorney, engaged the jury well, and he's undeniably cunning, but they might want to call bullshit on his ridiculous stunts, like saying that Wasserstrom was doing "God's work" and portraying him as an angel. Hirsch, in this case, was a walking and talking farce. At one point in the trial, he pointed at the ever-present yarmulke on Wasserstrom's head and asked a witness, "Do you know what this is?" Lazarus shot him down before we saw where he was going with that one.

The prosecution dropped the ball at this trial on many fronts, but as my column is going to tell you tomorrow, they still established these facts at trial:

In 2003, representatives of a sewage company called Schwing Bioset met with Commissioner Wasserstrom to try to get him to help them get a wastewater treatment contract with the city.

After the meeting, Wasserstrom met with his uncle, Arnold Goldman of Miami, and encouraged him to contact the company and become a lobbyist for them. (Forget that Goldman was neither a lobbyist nor knew anything about the sewage trade. He was in the roofing business).

The company hired Goldman as a lobbyist. Then Wasserstrom and his uncle made a side deal to split half the money he made between them. Goldman, of course, had no entrée into governments, while his political nephew did. As Goldman explained on the witness stand, “There are people in this world who are connectors. Mr. Wasserstrom knows many people.” And the uncle also admitted that he thought the sewage business was going to be “unbelievably lucrative” for the two men.

The contract specified that Wasserstrom wouldn’t make any money in Hollywood. But after signing the contract, the commissioner manipulated his city to choose Schwing Bioset, even though it was ranked last by the city’s evaluation committee and cost several times more than the top-rated company, Florida N-Viro. He set up meetings between company reps and Hollywood officials, cajoled his fellow commissioners to vote for the company, and basically did everything he could to get the company the contract.

 Goldman testified that he and Wasserstrom believed at the time that securing the Hollywood contract was crucial for them to get other municipalities – including Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, and Miami-Dade -- to “piggyback” on the contract and thus get paid millions of dollars they hoped to make from the company. He testified that they considered the delay in securing the Schwing Bioset contract in Hollywood “detrimental” in their efforts to sell the company elsewhere.

Considering all that, though, I would still put my money, though not much of it, on acquittal.

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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