Tamarac City Manager Jeffrey Miller wasn't in the middle of the scandal involving dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. He was at the top of the bureaucracy.But Miller said in a sworn statement with prosecutors that he was well aware of the Chaits and the controversial housing project they were trying to build on two golf courses in his city. He knew they were in a hurry -- and he knew they had friends in high places.
"No matter what it was, whether it was a site plan approval, a land clearing permit, no matter what we did as staff, they were always trying to expedite the process," Miller told Assistant State Attorney Jeannette Camacho on July 1. "And when they didn't get it expedited, our feeling was, I didn't know this for a fact, but our feeling was they would call one of the commissioners and say, 'Look, you know, staff's not doing this fast enough; can you
put some pressure on?' So there was some pressure."
Miller, who has been city manager for the past decade, said most developers "have very little if any contact with the commission," making the Chait project "unusual." He said there were a few commissioners who were strongly in the Chaits' corner, including Marc Sultanof and Patricia Atkins-Grad, who has since been charged with Chait-related crimes.
But there was one commissioner, said Miller, who applied that pressure more than any others: Commissioner Ed Portner, father of Broward Commissioner Stacy Ritter. Both Portner and his daughter voted for the project (it was only later that Portner, angry at Ritter's support of his opponent, Beth Talabisco, in the mayor's race, that he menaced his daughter with a gun at her Parkland home).
"Would you see Bruce and Shawn [Chait] there with the commissioners on occasion?" Camacho asked Miller.
"I would," the manager answered. "I saw them with Commissioner Portner... I didn't see them in any other office except Commissioner Portner's. I did see them on occasion chatting with commissioners."
"Did the Chaits ever... threaten to call the commissioners on you?" asked Camacho later in the interview.
"Oh yeah, several times," said Miller, who was given immunity in the case.
He said they never named a specific commissioner they would call. "I thought for the most part they would call Commissioner Portner. He's the one I thought they would call."
Portner has repeatedly denied to me that he ever took anything of value from the Chaits -- including his purchase of a Jaguar automobile on which he put down a $5,000 cash down payment. He told me he enthusiastically supported the project because he thought it would be good for the city and its tax base.
Camacho also seemed to have a special interest in Chris King, former director of community development in Tamarac who recommended the Chaits' housing project.
"Were you aware or did anybody ever tell you that the Chaits were giving him anything?" she asked.
"Absolutely not," answered Miller. "And if I had ever heard anything like that, he'd no longer be working there. That's for damned sure."
"As you sit here today nobody ever told you, nobody ever mumbled to you, nobody picked up the phone and said they had concerns that Chris King was getting stuff from the Chaits?"
"Absolutely not," answered Miller.