The Broward State Attorney's Office railroaded Hollywood Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom. Not because the recently convicted politician was innocent of official misconduct (the jury knew he was guilty as sin) but because so many other obviously corrupt politicians are skating by without threat of punishment.
You can't help but wonder: Was Wasserstrom a scapegoat for State Attorney Michael Satz? Satz, after all, is a politician too, currently running for reelection in 2008, beholden to the same political machine that generates so much corruption. All of that may help explain his historic reluctance to prosecute corruption cases, which has garnered him a great deal of criticism in recent years.
Perhaps part of the reason he went forward with the Wasserstrom prosecution was to placate critics while doing little to shake up the establishment on which he relies.
The theory is supported by whom Satz didn't indict in the case: Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti, a close Wasserstrom ally. The mayor's son, Stacey, was set to profit from the foul sewage deal at the heart of the scandal, making the mayor nearly as guilty as Wasserstrom. But Satz's office gave her immunity, for which it received little in return but Giulianti's defensiveness and claims of computer breakdowns that made retrieving key evidence impossible.
Giving a free pass to a mayor while slamming a less influential commissioner? That, as they say, is backasswards. But the Hollywood mayor is just one of several local politicians profiting from their public office who seem to be escaping Satz's attention.
I now give you the Terrible Trio, three eminently indictable Broward pols who are trampling the taxpayer's trust with, if not immunity, a good deal of impunity:
• Beverly Gallagher. Although Gallagher, the Broward School Board chairwoman, talks a lot about helping children, the real benefactors of her reign have been a pair of lobbyists, Neil Sterling and Barbara Miller.
Sterling and Miller have teamed up to form what might be described as a vertical monopoly of influence at the School Board. They run campaigns, raise huge amounts of money for candidates, then get them to vote for their heavyweight clients, including school builder James Pirtle and consultant Bernard Zyscovich, who are involved in hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of board projects.
Miller has run Gallagher's campaigns, and the lobbying pair has raised huge amounts of money for her. In turn, Gallagher has shamelessly advocated for Pirtle and Zyscovich on the dais, even when it seems to be squeezing out competition for board projects and makes no sense to taxpayers. That, unfortunately, is politics as usual. And it's legal.
But Gallagher has crossed the line. Shortly after she was elected to the School Board in 2002, she got a cush, elbow-rubbing job as "executive director" of a scholarship fund at the Community Blood Centers in Lauderhill. The CBC also does business with the School Board and — wouldn't you know it? — Sterling is its lobbyist.
Sources told me last year that Sterling procured the job, so I asked Gallagher about it in a phone interview, prompting her to break down in tears, admit that Sterling got her the job, and promise to quit. She said it was going to be tough, though, since she wasn't getting any alimony from her ex-husband, Fort Lauderdale attorney Thomas Gallagher.
"But how am I going to pay my mortgage this month?" she asked me. "How am I going to put my kids through college? And how will I get another job? If I ask my other friends, like George Platt... I can't do that either." Platt, of course, is another well-known lobbyist who works at the School Board.
Well, that was last June — and Gallagher is still working at the Sterling-connected blood bank. According to her most recent financial disclosure, the job netted her about $38,000 in 2006 (the chairwoman also received $35,000 from the School Board and nearly $12,000 in alimony).
By all appearances, it seems a crime on par with Wasserstrom's. But as far as can be ascertained, Satz's office — the only agency that can root out corruption in Broward other than the invisible FBI — hasn't investigated the case. Maybe it cuts too close to home for the top prosecutor; Barbara Miller, after all, is one of Satz's top campaign advisers and has run his campaigns in the past. Miller is also one of Mayor Giulianti's key confidantes.
It's a small world in Broward politics.
Instead of being prosecuted, Gallagher is partying it up. It's election time again, and last week, the political elite threw a reception and fundraising kickoff for Gallagher. Care to hazard a guess where the shindig was held? Neil Sterling's million-dollar home on Bayview Drive in Fort Lauderdale, of course.
Gallagher sent out invitations from her AOL account, listing her "friends" hosting the event — and giving her big bucks — at Casa Sterling. It's a funny thing about elected officials: As soon as they get into office, they suddenly have a bunch of rich and influential "friends." And some of them, like Gallagher, actually seem to believe that the lobbyists and developers truly adore them rather than just want to suck their blood like the civic vampires they are.