School Board Member Stephanie Kraft Has a History of Shady Deals | Bob Norman | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

School Board Member Stephanie Kraft Has a History of Shady Deals

Page 2 of 3

"Neil Sterling was involved in the process," Santeramo said. "He's not just involved in the construction department. He's the common denominator. His fingers are everywhere."

Making the situation even more egregious is that the same committee, with Kraft in tow, just rolled over for Vista when it came to the rate increase on children.

"My insurance is going up at least $100 a month, and I'm one of the lucky ones, because my kids are over 4 years old," says Richard Cantlupe, a social studies teacher at Westglades Middle School. "Some of these poor teachers who have dependents under 4, the rates are just totally outrageous. It represents a major cut in pay."

Superintendent James Notter announced publicly during a School Board meeting October 6 that the district would pick up the cost of health insurance increases. That's simply not true, teachers say.

"I think what the school district is doing right now is scandalous," says Broward Teachers Union spokesman John Ristow. "[Notter] was talking about how the district is picking up the cost of premiums for individual employees, but in fact, they are diverting the cost of premium increases to employees that pay for dependent coverage. Quite literally, the cost of dependent coverage is going up an average of 40 percent. It's a crime for him to be saying at a public meeting we're doing this when in reality they are doing something completely different."

Well, there's a lot of that going on at the School Board right now, especially when it comes to Stephanie Kraft, whose husband's deals have clearly had a corrupting influence on the entire board.

Take Thomas Coates, who is executive director of the School Board's facility management department. He confirmed last week that Mitch Kraft was working for Prestige Homes as the developer put pressure on his office to reduce fees owed to the School Board for two controversial housing developments on golf courses in Tamarac.

I asked Coates, who spoke about the matter reluctantly, if it was especially difficult to negotiate with a developer when a School Board's spouse was working on the other side of the table. "You could say that, yes," he said.

Of course it is. And that's one reason state and federal law makes little distinction between the politician and his or her spouse when it comes to graft: It's all going to the same household.

A trail of records obtained from the School Board confirmed that Mitch Kraft contacted board officials on behalf of Prestige and that Stephanie Kraft herself put pressure on district staff to make sure the $500,000 favor for the developer made it onto the July 24, 2007, School Board agenda, where Kraft was party of the unanimous vote to approve it.

Prestige, however, hasn't built the development yet and hasn't paid the fees, so they have gone back up during the past two years to nearly $1.85 million. Coates wrote in a memo that Prestige Homes owner Bruce Chait complained about it during a September 29 call, saying he hired Mitch Kraft for the specific purpose of keeping the fee down. Chait also said he would complain to Gov. Charlie Crist, whom he claimed supported his project.

Compounding the sleaziness of Kraft's Prestige Homes connection is the fact that the developer is alleged to have bribed former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion with a golf club membership in exchange for his support for the two projects. Eggelletion was charged last month in a federal corruption sweep that also netted Gallagher. No charges have been filed in the golf membership case, though sources say it is still under active investigation.

Although it's a bit surprising just how corrupt Kraft has been, she has favored special interests over taxpayers for years. She was first elected in 1998 on a promise of reform and accountable government. But it didn't take long before it was obvious she was more interested in protecting her political benefactors than the taxpayers.

The first real clue came in 2000, when she lashed out at a School Board audit that found the district had paid too much for a parcel of land purchased from developer Ron Bergeron. Kraft complained that Chief Auditor Pat Reilly's criticism of the Bergeron deal was "misleading and, frankly, borders on the fraudulent."

So why was Kraft defending Bergeron's profit? For one, Bergeron was a huge supporter of Kraft's and contributed money to her campaign and helped provide her a base of support. Bergeron had reason to back Kraft. Her campaign opponent, Don Samuels, had voted against buying the land for the bus depot (which, by the way, has turned into a huge boondoggle).

Another reason was that Bergeron's lawyer/lobbyist/girlfriend, Ali Waldman, helped run Kraft's campaign and served as her campaign treasurer.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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

Latest Stories