Mayor Beth Mum on Corruption Investigation -- But What About the Slush Fund?

After the mostly noneventful emergency meeting at Tamarac City Hall this morning, I asked Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco if she had taken anything of value from dirty developer Bruce Chait. 

Flansbaum-Talabisco very graciously declined comment, saying that she couldn't discuss the ongoing State Attorney's Office investigation. Then she walked away.

Next to the mayor's seat was Atkins-Grad's empty chair, her name tag already taken off the dais. Chait, of Prestige Homes, paid Flansbaum-Talabisco's colleague and friend, Patti Atkins-Grad, $6,300 in bribes, according to prosecutors, leading to her being charged with several felony corruption counts that could put her behind bars for 15 years. 

The 64-year-old Atkins-Grad is accused of taking cash for her vote, but sources tell me that at least part of the investigation centering on Flansbaum-Talabisco involves a shady electioneering committee that slammed her opponents -- Mae Schreiber and Karen Roberts -- in an attack-mailer smear campaign on the last weekend before Flansbaum-Talabisco was elected mayor in March 2006.

The committee, with the apple-pie name of Tamarac Residents for Good Government, raised $21,000 in one day shortly before the election in March, according to city records. Behind the smear campaign was none other than

Barry Harris, the Democratic Party operative and close ally of Democratic Chair Mitch Ceasar. That a Democratic official would slam two lifelong and loyal Democrats in Roberts and Schreiber is bad enough, but the real question is where the money came from.

I found that out this morning. It came from two companies that each ponied up $10,500 on the same day, March 9, 2006, just before the election. One is a Miami firm called All Star Electric, the other a defunct out of Coconut Creek called the Wholesale Flooring Center.

I contacted All Star Electric owner James Starkweather today to ask him why in the world he put out more than ten grand in a political race in Tamarac.

"I don't know anything about it," he said.  

"Do you know Barry Harris?" I asked him.

"Who is he?"

"He's a political Democratic guy in Tamarac. Have you ever worked as a subcontractor for Bruce Chait or Prestige Homes?"

"I can't say anything about this, unfortunately, at this time," Starkweather concluded. "I'm sorry, man."

I tried to squeeze in one more question -- "Have you been contacted by the State Attorney's Office?" -- but he had already hung up the phone.

I was unable to contact the former principal of Wholesale Flooring, a woman named Caryn Lucci, and the number I have for Barry Harris doesn't work. Harris didn't go wanting in the deal, as he picked up $1,600 from the committee for "consulting, election night activities, reimbursement, mail handling." Wonder if he made it to Atkins-Grad's $4,000 victory party, which was paid for by Chait the developer.

I just can't believe, especially after the cryptic phone call with Starkweather, that Chait didn't play a hand in funding that committee. It makes no sense, otherwise, but I'm still looking for the smoking gun.

Wonder what about $20,000 can buy in attack ads? Well, at least three mailers were sent out, two targeting Roberts, a former commissioner, and one hitting Schreiber, a longtime Tamarac Democratic Club president and wife of former Tamarac Commissioner Joe Schreiber.

More coming.

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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