Back in November, I likened the Scott Rothstein scandal to a slow-motion wrecking ball moving through Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti's command staff.
It's still doing damage.
Since Rothstein imploded, the sheriff's onetime right-hand man, Lt. David Benjamin, has been demoted from Lamberti's inner circle and is the subject of several internal investigations.
Now it's Undersheriff Tom Wheeler's turn.
In a clear sign that Lamberti has lost confidence in Wheeler, the sheriff yesterday promoted Lt. Col. Ricky Frey to colonel with the title of (take a deep breath):
"Executive Director of the Department of Law Enforcement in Charge of All Law Enforcement Operations."
Although the title may be a little redundant, it's also unambiguous: Frey answers to no one other than the sheriff. Sources say that Wheeler, who has been rendered little more a lame duck, was
none too happy about the sheriff's power shift.
In lieu of the sheriff, I spoke with Lamberti's good friend and confidante, attorney John Contini, who has become sort of an unofficial spokesman for the sheriff. Contini, after speaking with Lamberti about Frey's promotion, said that Wheeler would "technically" remain undersheriff but that Frey was "filling in a critical need" at the top of the agency.
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"There are obviously critical needs where Frey is going," said Contini. "There are more changes that may occur subject to the exhaustion of various reviews. For the time being, Wheeler is still technically the undersheriff. The sheriff has clearly been let down by some people he thought he could trust."
Since Rothstein's fraud unraveled, so has the knot of power that Wheeler and Benjamin, close friends, held at the top of the agency. Wheeler's relationship with Rothstein, which involved unreported flights in Rothstein's Gulfstream V, is currently under internal investigation. Lamberti removed Benjamin as his executive officer last month after he learned that Benjamin escorted Rothstein to his jet when he fled the country for Morocco and secretly formed a consulting company that received at least $30,000 from the now-jailed swindler.
The new top dog, Frey, spent 25 years in the patrol and law enforcement side and was shot in the neck while on duty during the deadly Waffle House shootout in 1980 (Lamberti was called as backup during the shootout as well). During the past several years, he has headed the corrections department and won a national jail administration award in 2008.
Frey recently ran into some controversy when it was discovered (here) that he was "triple-dipping" on the state system and was pulling in a total of $320,000 a year even though he was often traveling and working special details like the Super Bowl. Click here to read about that.