Remember the patrol car that hung from a tall crane off Interstate 95 during the sheriff's race?
It was a gaudy endorsement for Sheriff Al Lamberti during his heated 2008 campaign. On the side of the car were the words "Keep Al Lamberti Our Sheriff." Under it was the disclaimer, "Political advertisement paid for and approved by Al Lamberti, Republican for Sheriff."
The problem was that Lamberti never reported that the crane being used was an in-kind contribution from local roofing contractor Rob Kornahrens, who has done millions in business with local governments. I wrote last year about a complaint that was filed with the Florida Elections Commission regarding the unreported -- and seemingly very valuable -- favor.
Well, the FEC finally ruled that Lamberti had violated state law by failing to report the contribution and fined the sheriff $500. The sheriff was represented in the case by Tallahassee lawyer Richard Coates, who negotiated a settlement with state investigators.
But this one still stinks. The FEC found that the use of the crane by the sheriff's campaign for at least two weeks was worth only $400. That's a ridiculously low sum. I reported at the time that a crane of that size generally rents for $1,000 a day.
This is a crucial, because in Florida, it's a third-degree felony for a candidate to
knowingly accept a contribution that is in excess of the $500 legal limit. I think anyone in their right mind would agree that the crane ad with a patrol car dangling on I-95 is worth well over $500 (and mind you, we're still not sure where the crane came from, though Kornahrens said it was supplied by a "private citizen").
A clue as to why the worth of the contribution was gutter-balled by the FEC comes in the final order. In it, the state called it an "inoperable crane." The use of a broken crane I suppose wouldn't be worth as much as use of a working one.
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Inoperable, huh? Funny, I talked to Kornahrens after the complaint was filed, and he never mentioned that the crane was broken. "It's my own private crane," he told me. "It was a private crane on private property that wasn't going to be used. It's no different than a sign on a building."
You might think he would mention it if the thing was broken. And for a busted crane, it seemed to hoist that patrol car a few stories in the air without any problems. It works well enough to create a helluva political ad for the sheriff, that's for sure.
The value of the crane usage, of course, is the heart of any criminal charge regarding this case. The sheriff included a clause in the consent order with the FEC that the agreement is not "acknowledgment of guilt as to any criminal charge that might arise from the allegations that form the basis of the complaint."
More digging is required here. What do they say? Oh yeah: The coverup is worse than the crime.