Broward County is rife with corruption. One politician is headed to prison (Joe Eggelletion), another is under criminal investigation by the state (Diana Wasserman-Rubin), another is under federal probe (Stacy Ritter), and another has been spending campaign money like a drunken sailor (Ken Keechl).And that's just the County Commission. Let's not start with the School Board.
But have no fear; we have a new corruption fighter who is going to clean up the filth and scum in office: Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz.
You might know him, since he's the same guy who let corruption flourish over the past 30 years. But things have changed. For instance, tomorrow he's going to give a news conference about fighting corruption. He hasn't done that before -- or at least not since Ronnie Reagan was in the White House.
The truth is that Satz sadly might be the only hope, because every other alternative (minus the feds) has proven to be a bigger joke than he's been since he landed in office in 1976. We've seen that recently in the joke of an investigation done by the City of Fort Lauderdale concerning Police Chief Frank Adderley's presence at the scene of a crash involving cigar man Moe Sohail and the state ethics commission giving the green light to Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman to make her unpopular vote to overturn the voters' will to build the courthouse.
Let's look at the Sohail crash first. FLPD spokesman Frank Sousa, who once upon a time worked on the Rothstein protection detail, told Pulp research assistant Lyn Evans that the police investigation "left no leaf unturned." I'm wondering if it didn't miss entire trees.
Sohail's Bentley was being driven by his girlfriend, Sarah Merricks, at a high rate of speed on NE Third Avenue in downtown Fort Lauderdale when it crashed into a BMW that turned in its path. The Bentley was flying. Sohail and Merricks had just come from Bova Prime, where sources tell me they were drinking alcohol. In the car were stacks of
cash -- some of it in denominations of hundred dollar bills -- that Sohail was seen stuffing into a white paper bag.
In short, it doesn't look good for Sohail -- a former federal informant who has been charged with economic crimes in the past -- and Merricks at that point.
Enter Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. He calls Chief Adderley on the phone, and the chief -- who frequents Rothstein's restaurant, flew on his jet plane to New York for a Jets game, and allowed his officers to provide protection for him -- runs to the scene. You've seen the photographs of Adderley standing next to Rothstein beside the crash site.
In the end, the cash isn't impounded, and Merricks isn't tested for DUI. The other driver, Danielle Filler, gets a ticket for the crash. And everybody is off on their way.
Don't kid yourself. It was another Rothstein special.
Let's start with the cash. When cops pull somebody over and there's large bag of cash in the car, they confiscate it. Period. People don't carry paper bags full of hundred dollar bills, and when that kind of cash is present, it's often obtained from an illegal source.
It's no big deal. All the cash carrier has to do is prove that the cash was for a legal transaction and he gets it back. If he can't say where it came from, he doesn't. It's that simple.
In this case, the cash wasn't seized. Fire Lt. Tom Connor, the only officer who testified to seeing the cash, didn't take it. And neither did any of the police officers present.
Now we may never know why Sohail, who had apparently stopped at the bank prior to the crash, had all that cash. The city's investigation -- done through its Office of Professional Standards -- sure as hell didn't get to the bottom of it. You see, it's a pretty-much useless civil unit that doesn't even have subpoena powers. The OPS kindly asked Sohail for an interview, and he, in not so many words, told them to kindly go fuck themselves. Here's the line from the city's official report on the crash:
"Since Mr. Sohail was unwilling to be interviewed by this office, 'at this time,' we were unable to determine whose cash it was, where the cash came from, why the cash was in the vehicle or whether there was anything inappropriate about the cash being there."
Now that's some investigation.You can click here to read the final report.The problem, of course, is that the investigation was conducted by a city that is now in bunker mode and by an investigative body that is toothless and weak. The Office of Professional Standards doesn't have subpoena power, so once it steps outside the city ranks, it relies on the kindness of strangers like Sohail, who, along with his attorney, Bruce Zimet, wasn't having any of it.
This is reminiscent of Commissioner Stacy Ritter's recent push to create an "Office of Inspector General" to investigate corruption at the county level. Yes the inspector general would have suppoena power, but it would be civil in nature, like the the great Florida Commission on Ethics.
I've always said the ethics commission was simply the crooked state Legislature's attempt to legalize corruption. The OIG is just more of the same. Keeping it civil reduces the politicos' risk factor considerably if they decide to profit on their office.
Which brings us back to Commissioner Ilene Lieberman. We know about her ownership, along with her husband, Sunrise City Attorney Stuart Michelson, of two office properties near the courthouse. She asked the ethics commission for an opinion on whether it would be OK for her to vote for a new "judicial complex" in the area of the properties.
Obviously the building of a new courthouse will lift property prices in the surrounding area, and Lieberman would benefit from that. But the commission determined that since there were 488 properties in the area, she was OK because her benefit would be "remote or speculative" and wouldn't be "special."
Isn't that special?
The name on the opinion is none other than Norm Ostrau, then a member of the ethics commission and currently director of the Public Ethics Academy at Florida Atlantic University. Ostrau is also the go-to guy for the media when they need a quote about corruption. He's also someone whom Satz himself is endorsing as the new toothless inspector general.
Oh, Ostrau is also a former state legislator and a lobbyist with Blosser & Sayfie (see: Hospital District, North Broward), and his record in combatting corruption is dismal. Just what we need: a politician/lobbyist trying to clean up Broward County, the same dog chasing the same tail.
The only answer, unfortunately, is Satz or the feds. Satz has perfectly good felony laws -- those regarding unlawful compensation and official misconduct -- on which to nail corrupt officials. It's a matter of will. After 30 years of neglect, he's been showing some signs recently, apparently spurred on by the federal investigation that brought down Eggelletion and School Board Member Beverly Gallagher.
Satz can hit aberrant officials with criminal sanctions, you know, like jail time. Keith Wasserstrom is in jail right now because of it, and if his case showed us anything, it's that a random jury in Broward County is sick and tired of corruption and will hold these jokers' feet to the fire.
It's time to throw out all the smokescreens and false hopes -- the ethics commissions, the offices of professional standards, the OIGs -- and rely on the law.