Prisonville, Florida: Low Taxes and Big Yards, All for the Price of a Box Full of Immigrants | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Prisonville, Florida: Low Taxes and Big Yards, All for the Price of a Box Full of Immigrants

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One of the emails was sent by Poliakoff to CCA's lawyer and copied to Lynn. Regarding a proposed increase in the facility's capacity, Poliakoff wrote: "My position is, amend the agreement and show me the money and then we can talk."

Di Scipio posted this email and others on his anti-CCA Facebook page, with show me the money highlighted. He began to wonder about "the money" that was involved for Poliakoff and other council members.

Poliakoff explains that show me the money was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the additional federal money that CCA would be required to allocate to the town if the detention-center capacity were expanded. But Di Scipio went on to scrutinize Poliakoff's billing records.

The town officially contracts with Poliakoff's law firm, Becker and Poliakoff, of which he is the principal lawyer of several who attend to town business. In 2010, the town paid the firm more than $450,000 in legal fees. In addition, the firm gets $35,000 a year from the town for state legislative lobbying, regardless of how much lobbying it does. These figures have been in place since early in the town's history, when Poliakoff's father, Gary, was town attorney.

A portion of Poliakoff's billing last year was for negotiations concerning the CCA deal. In March — a particularly critical month — the firm charged $48,912 in legal fees, a high for the year. At least $3,836 was billed by Poliakoff for CCA matters.

Poliakoff says that he does not personally get paid a lot and that surrounding municipalities pay more, sometimes nearly double that yearly amount, for legal services. But surrounding municipalities also have populations much larger than the Ranches' 7,400.

The lawyer also says that the town's contract with CCA stipulates that the company eventually repay all legal fees incurred by the town on the company's behalf. "They're aware that they need to make the town whole," he assures.

Through the emails, Di Scipio also learned how Poliakoff and CCA carefully managed the town's courtship of ICE officials. In early March, an email thread revealed, Poliakoff traveled to Washington, D.C., along with Lynn and Mayor Jeff Nelson. The invitation from ICE was for town officials to make a presentation on their readiness for a detention facility, but CCA was running the show — right down to the accommodations.

After he booked rooms at the J.W. Marriott in downtown D.C., Poliakoff sent an email to Lynn and Nelson. "The rate for the basic room is $439 a night, but CCA says we need to stay there. Charlie, you can sleep in my tub if you want," Poliakoff wrote.

Two days before the Washington presentation, CCA Vice President Lucibeth Mayberry wrote instructions for the town officials to follow during the presentation. "We would like the mayor to help us on the site [map] slide... in explaining why the community views the prison as a good fit for that location," Mayberry wrote. "We need to concentrate on hammering home the positive location of this site."

When Southwest Ranches and CCA talk about community support, they're often talking about the leaders of area homeowners' associations and longtime residents like Chaples, who have been invited to several meetings with CCA.

CCA operates 14 ICE detention facilities of varying security levels. In a white paper presented to ICE about the Southwest Ranches site, CCA proposes that ICE pay it a daily fee of $66 to $69 per detainee. If the town ends up winning the ICE contract, it can expect to take 4 percent of that — or just under $3 per detainee per day — and pass the rest on to CCA and its shareholders.

In April, Poliakoff drafted a letter of support for the prison and sent it to Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose districts include the prison site. They signed a shortened version of the letter, anticipating construction and staffing jobs for their constituents. Di Scipio publicized the fact that Wasserman Schultz received a $1,000 campaign donation from CCA just weeks after signing the letter.

Poliakoff, for his part, has repeatedly played down the importance of the vocal protesters, citing an estimate of their number at around 100 people. "You're looking at 170,000 total residents in Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines," he says. "Is [100] a significant number?"

Around the time of the D.C. trip last spring, the town's basic services of firefighting and emergency medical rescue were in turmoil, partly because of the detention center plans. The town backed out of its longstanding agreement to pay the Broward Sheriff's Office to provide these services, eventually choosing to get them from neighboring Pembroke Pines.

Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue spokesman Mike Jachles says that Southwest Ranches moved to cancel the contract because the town believed it could get a better price elsewhere. But there was another factor in the town's decision to cancel. Poliakoff had been trying since the end of 2010 to get BSO officials to offer their easy approval of expanded service to the proposed detention center, and he wasn't getting the answer he wanted.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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