It sure seems like car dealer Rick Case is getting special treatment from the BSO, but don't try to ask the sheriff about it. Sheriff Al Lamberti has refused to respond to questions about whether his department is doing special favors for a campaign contributor.
Looking for comment, the Pulp emailed and called Lamberti. When that didn't work, I posted a note on Lamberti's Facebook page seeking a comment. The sheriff finally responded, but not by answering the question. When
I asked if he'd like to respond to this story, he wrote:
"Yes. This is my personal Facebook page and you are disrespecting my prior posts that I do not mix personal with business. As for your question, these contributions were among $800k or so that were made during a countywide campaign. They aren't secret. Your reporting of erroneous facts was not only disrespectful but outside the bounds of responsible journalism. I expect a full retraction."
There are several incorrect statements in that response. First off, the idea that the sheriff doesn't mix work with his Facebook page. If he had previously posted that he kept work off that page, I didn't see it in the months we've been Facebook "friends." Besides, his profile photo is Lamberti in a BSO uniform, replete with an official sheriff's office badge -- that seems like he might be mixing work with Facebook.
Second, the records were secret. Up until last week, they did not appear in the official records on the Broward County Supervisor of Elections website. That could have been something as simple as a computer glitch, but either way, the records weren't available to anyone from the public who wanted to see who donated to Lamberti's campaign. After the Pulp asked about them last week, they finally appeared on the website on Friday. The records show that the Case family donated $4,000 to Lamberti's reelection campaign.
Third, there's nothing erroneous about what appears to be special treatment being given to Case. It began in 2009, when BSO purchased Smart cars from a Case-owned dealership. The foreign-made microcars are more expensive and less usable than cars that cost less; Lamberti refused then to answer questions about whether he cut the deal as political payback to a contributor.
Then in July, BSO launched an investigation into whether a TSA screener had taken a $450 pen that Case had left behind at airport security. The screener, Toussain Puddie, found it on top of a filing cabinet and says he just pocketed what appeared to be a stray pen. Case didn't call TSA to complain -- he called BSO. Deputies launched a two-week investigation that ended with Puddie in handcuffs, charged with grand theft.
Is that special treatment? Well, if someone who hadn't donated to the sheriff's campaign had called BSO to complain about a federal employee who supposedly pocketed a pen, think a full-scale investigation would be conducted?
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After Lamberti's response to my post on his page seeking a comment, I wrote that we were looking for him to weigh in on this story. I left my phone number and explained that we'd run a retraction -- if he'd explain what was wrong with our previous stories.
In response, Lamberti defriended me and banned me from his page. That's right, not only will he not comment but asking him to do so will get you shut out of his page. So the lesson is that if you need a favor from BSO, perhaps the way to do it is donating to Lamberti's campaign. If you'd like to question whether that's ethical, don't expect a response.