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Note From The State Attorney's Office

I asked State Attorney spokesman Ron Ishoy about the last time an elected official went to trial on corruption charges in Broward County (John Lomelo, acquitted) and here's what he sent me. Interesting for historical perspective and surely will be a blast from the past for some of you old-time, hardcore Browardites.

Bob ---

The goal is not to have a sensational trial of an elected official; the goal is to root out political corruption in government, be it elected officials or top administrators.

From 1977 through 2002, this office brought serious charges against more than 20 top administrative government officials both elected and appointed from throughout Broward, including a port director, chief building inspectors, top fire officials, utilities department administrators, head of the Criminal Justice Institute and environmental regulators. We secured at least 12 convictions in those cases, most of which netted heavy fines and/or jail time. The convictions (trials are noted) include:

Port Everglades director John Flynn (plea) Larceny grand theft 1979

Ben Eigner (plea) Tamarac Chief Building Inspector Bribery 1980

M.D. Jones (plea) Superintendent, Water Department Lighthouse Point 1980

David Reed (trial) PB Property Appraiser Official misconduct, theft 1981

Jerry David (trial) Margate director of utility department Dealing stolen property/grand theft 1986

Robert T. Lacey (plea) Director, Criminal Justice Institute 12 counts theft 1987

Jimmy Joyner (plea) Instructor Criminal Justice Institute 1987

Frank Badalamente (plea) Commissioner, Pembroke Pines Scheme to defraud grand theft 1990

Francis Neuzil (plea) Miramar Chief Fire Marshal Grand theft 1991

Joe Harden Jr. (plea) EQCB official Unlawful comp, perjury 1991

Walter Rode (trial) Engineer, Broward Public Works Department Unlawful compensation 1991

Michael Halperin (plea) Brow Cty Parks and Rec administrator Unlawful compensation 1998

James Quinn (plea) Director of Information Services (BSO civilian administrator) Unlawful comp 1999

Scott Cowan (plea) Broward County Commissioner Election law violations 2001

In addition, SAO brought charges in that period against at least 96 other rank-and-file governmental employees charged with everything from stealing taxpayers’ money and goods to using their jobs to deal cocaine. The vast majority of those charged (at least 74) were convicted and punished.

Since you’re counting trials of elected officials, I refer you to an interesting SS story that lists some of the trials of elected Broward officials, all pretty sensational enough to be highlighted in the press corps’ once-famous Yellow Feathers annual roast, I seem to recall.

After the jump: Text from the 1988 Sun-Sentinel Article

Paper: Sun-Sentinel Title: POLITICIANS TOUGH TO CONVICT PROSECUTORS RARELY SWAY TRIAL JURIES Date: September 25, 1988 The acquittal of Sunrise Mayor Larry Hoffman of theft charges last week showed once again that many Broward politicians are brought to court but few are sent to jail.

Prosecutors who obtain indictments easily from grand juries have a hard time getting convictions from trial juries. A politician usually makes the most sympathetic of defendants, prosecutors say.

''You go to a homicide trial and the murderer may have a record as long as your arm,'' said Norman O'Rourke, acting head of the public corruption unit of the Broward State Attorney's Office. ''Our defendants tend to be personable, popular, upstanding citizens.''

In recent years the five-lawyer public corruption unit has prosecuted cases against former Dania Mayor Chester Byrd, former Mayor and current Dania City Commissioner John Bertino, Lauderhill City Council member Ilene Lieberman and former Sunrise Mayor John Lomelo. Like Hoffman, all were acquitted.

Hoffman, 63, was charged with theft; the state said he used a city-owned chain saw for his own benefit and ordered city workers to repair his daughter's riding lawn mower. The prosecution built its case and then watched the defense call witnesses to testify about Hoffman's commendable careers as soldier, police officer and public official.

''We objected to it, but it got in front of the jury. It was a litany of World War II heroics,'' O'Rourke said.

Juror Christopher Hutchins of Pembroke Pines said Hoffman's background was not the deciding factor. The jury perceived a double standard at work, he said.

''I think he was there just because he was the mayor,'' Hutchins said. ''I couldn't understand it, why I got picked for a trial like this. If it had been anyone else he wouldn't have been there.''

Several days later, juror Mary Jane Ford of Fort Lauderdale was still trying to figure out why the case went to trial.

''I did think the charges were petty compared to the cost of the trial and everything,'' she said. ''It just wasn't that earth-shattering.''

A politician has to be caught virtually in the act of lining his pockets before a jury will convict him, both prosecutors and defense attorneys say.

''Not that any offense that violates the public trust isn't serious, but misuse of government funds, election law violations, Sunshine Law violations, they're not the type of heinous crimes that people get outraged by,'' O'Rourke said.

''You drag out pictures of a bloody corpse and people want to convict someone,'' he said. ''You tell them a public official took a city TV home to watch the World Series and they start thinking about the times they did almost the same thing.''

David Bogenschutz, the Fort Lauderdale lawyer who defended Hoffman and several other local politicians, helped start the public corruption unit 15 years ago.

''Many, many things are technically crimes,'' he said. ''But they suffer in translation to a jury. I think it's just the nature of the beast that the cases that get through indictment are mostly misdemeanors.''

Even former Sunrise Mayor Lomelo -- who went before grand juries 19 times and three times was indicted and acquitted before a federal court jury found him guilty of extortion and mail fraud -- does not blame the State Attorney's Office.

''They're bound by law to investigate every complaint that comes into their office,'' he said. ''They cannot just dismiss it themselves.''

The grand jury system is at fault, Lomelo said. ''The grand jury should be an adversary hearing place. If you have a targeted person he should be made aware of it and allowed to defend himself.''

Lomelo, who served 2 1/2 years in prison on the federal conviction, said the result would be fewer indictments and more convictions.

But that is not necessarily the State Attorney's Office's objective, O'Rourke said. Cases involving elected officials account for perhaps one-tenth of the work of the unit, which also investigates and prosecutes crimes involving police officers, appointed public officals and individuals whose professions are regulated by the state.

''Who knows how much corruption is out there,'' O'Rourke said. ''We deal with the situations that are brought to us. I like to think we do a service just as much when we clear someone's name ... as when we convict someone.''

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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

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