It's a small email, but it looms large in the federal investigation of Broward County School Board Member Stephanie Kraft.
The email comes from Kraft to Broward School Board Deputy Superintendent Michael Garretson regarding a $507,000 reduction in mitigation fees owed the district by developer Prestige Homes. Kraft was pushing behind the scenes to give Prestige Homes the break and to make sure it was done on July 24, 2007.
What Garretson claims he didn't know at the time -- and what he was "shocked" to learn recently -- was that Kraft's husband, Mitch Kraft, had been hired by Prestige Homes for the purpose of obtaining the fee reduction from the school board.
Here's the email:
Message Jul 11, 2007 1:05 PM
From: Stephanie A. Kraft
To: Mike Garretson, Susan A. Teich
Cc: Kim R. Simmonds
Subject: agenda item for 7-24
What agenda item # will that item be that we spoke about yesterday regarding the development on the golf course?
Stephanie Arma Kraft, Esq.
School Board Member, District 4
Now it may seem like a harmless but it packs a serious punch. Notice that Kraft refers to a conversation that Kraft had with Garretson about the Prestige Homes matter. We don't know what was said during that conversation. In effect, she phrases her order to put the item on the agenda in the form of a
question. She doesn't ask if the $507,000 break -- from $1.7 million to $1.2 million -- to Prestige Homes will be on the agenda, she asks what agenda number it will be.
And we know that that is exactly how Garretson interpreted the email. He made a visit to Growth Management Director Chris Akakbosu's office and ordered him to put the Prestige Homes item on the July 24 agenda. According to school board records, Akabsosu told Garretson that Prestige had not met the deadline to be placed on the agenda and that it would be impossible to go through the normal process for the item. Here's what Akagbosu wrote in a memo at the time (the italics are mine):
I proceeded to tell [Garretson] about the problems we have been having ... and that we were following our process regarding the receipt date of request and have not even completed nor mailed our correspondence/report regarding the revised proposal back to [Prestige Homes]," Akagbosu explained in the email. "Also, that the cut off for submission of Items for the July 24, 2007 meeting had passed, and as such, the item would not be scheduled for APG and the Executive Leadership Team meeting. Regardless, he directed that I should schedule the Item.
Kraft also sent the same email she sent Garretson to receptionist Bette Ray, who worked under Facilities Management Director Thomas Coates. We also know from school board records that Kraft's husband, in addition to apparently lobbying his own wife on the matter, contacted School Board attorney Alan Gabriel about the Prestige Homes fee reduction.
In other words, the Krafts utilized a multi-pronged approach in making sure the developer received the half million dollar break and that it was done quickly (Garretson told me on Tuesday that the haste apparently had to do with a deal closing that looming for the developer). It's still not known how much money Mitch Kraft was paid by the developer.
While Garretson says he didn't know at the time that Mitch Kraft had been hired by Prestige Homes, Akagbosu and Coates both knew it and conversed about it in their own emails at the time.
On top of all this, Kraft made a phone call to Akagbosu just last month, on September 29, when the fee, which Prestige Homes still hasn't paid, ballooned back up to over $1.8 million. This prompted Prestige Homes owner Bruce Chait to contact Stephanie Kraft and also prompted the developer to complain to Coates that he had hired Mitch Kraft to make sure the fee was reduced. You can read all about that here.
It all adds up to one of the most brazen corruption cases in Broward memory.