I delved into some freshly released State Attorney's Office records today and learned that the State Attorney's Office was digging deeper into since-indicted former Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion's business than we knew.
And it provides an interesting tour of corruption in Broward Town. We find a lying developer (under oath), another developer forever angry that Eggelletion wouldn't use his influence for him, a bureaucrat with blinders on, and a subject of an investigative report of mine regarding Eggelletion's corruption declaring that he believes me, your Pulp host, to be "poop."
Prosecutors last year reinvestigated Eggelletion's lobbying work for Waste Management in Miramar -- which bagged the commissioner $15,000 but failed to get Waste Management any business. Eggelletion was able to get then-Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman's vote, but it wasn't enough. Salesman told state ethics investigators that he considered Eggelletion a "mentor" -- and he followed Eggelletion's lead right into prison, where both men now sit.
The State Attorney's Office also dug again last year into Eggelletion's representation of developer United Homes in Lauderdale Lakes back in 2004 for a huge city housing project called Bella Vista. Eggelletion's work for United Homes was first broken by this article in December 2004, and the SAO initially declined to press charges in its ensuing investigation.
Then-corruption prosecutor John Hanlon, who was infamous for softball interviews in cases involving public officials, deposed United Homes President Tony Mijares on January 24, 2006. In the interview, Mijares admitted hiring Eggelletion and paying him $10,000 but said it was for a project called Celebration Point in St. Lucie County.
"And that $10,000 was not paid for him to do anything on your behalf in Broward County, is that
correct?" asked Hanlon, who had a bad habit of leading his witnesses.
"That is correct," Mijares testified.
"While you had leaned on Commissioner Eggelletion for his background and contacts in Broward County, you had never asked him for that assistance, is that right?" asked Hanlon.
"That is correct," answered Mijares.
The exchange is indicative of the lax way State Attorney Michael Satz's office used to investigation corruption. It often seemed that Hanlon and others were in the business of coming up with a defense for the officials and then carrying it out in sworn statements before clearing them.
The problem: It wasn't true. On August 6 of last year, Mijares was brought back to the State Attorney's Office for another deposition, and again he was given immunity. In that interview, Mijares admitted, with his attorney Mike Dutko at his side, that he had hired Eggelletion as a "consultant" on the Bella Vista project in Lauderdale Lakes.
This time, it wasn't Hanlon but Jeannette Camacho doing the interviewing. Unlike her retired former colleague, Camacho got to the truth.
Understand that Eggelletion was not only a Broward County commissioner -- who voted on matters concerning United Homes projects and openly touted the firm on the dais -- but also a former Lauderdale Lakes commissioner. Then-Lauderdale Lakes commissioners Hazelle Rogers (who is now a state representative) and Llevoyd Williams acted on his advice, and they ultimately put United Homes over the top for the project.
If $10,000 sounds like a small amount to help snare a multimillion-dollar project, that's because the original contract was for $60,000. The $10,000 was just a retainer fee paid to Eggelletion, and Mijares admitted the invoice was falsified to make it appear the money was paid for work in the St. Lucie County deal when it was really for Bella Vista.
At some point, Eggelletion called Mijares and told him that he couldn't do any more work in Lauderdale Lakes for him and that he wanted his written contract back, Mijares testified. The developer said he returned the contract as instructed and didn't keep a copy of it. The additional $50,000 was never paid, said Mijares, in part because Eggelletion never asked for it.
It's not specified in documents, but I'm betting that Eggelletion was covering his tracks after being exposed in New Times.
Interestingly, Eggelletion was the subject of a bidding war for the project. Because of his political pull in Lauderdale Lakes, developer Milton Jones also tried to hire Eggelletion as a consultant while he competed for Bella Vista with United Homes. Eggelletion initially agreed to represent him for the "discount rate" of $20,000 but then backed out of it after United Homes offered the bigger money.
Jones said Eggelletion was going to help him get the Bella Vista contract cheap because they were longtime friends and fellow Florida A&M alums, served on boards together, socialied at the Elks Club, and their wives were sorority sisters.
"Small world," remarked Camacho.
"Yeah," said Jones.
"Why did you reach out to Mr. Eggelletion?" Camacho asked Jones.
"Because he was a legislator from that district, and prior to him being a legislator... he was a city commissioner in Lauderdale Lakes, and he continued to live in Lauderdale Lakes and had a lot of influence in that community, and we felt that he could help us with politics there... It's the politics that certain individuals had. If you don't get those forces behind you, no matter how good your project and presentation is, it's difficult to win."
He found that out the hard way when Eggelletion told him that he would be representing United Homes instead, and despite the fact that Jones was convinced he had a better project, the commission -- with almost no discussion -- went with Eggelletion's company.
Jones said the ordeal mortally wounded his friendship with Eggelletion, though he was still "cordial" with him.
"I told [Eggelletion] that there was no loyalty, as long as we've known each other," Jones testified last year June 23. "We thought that you gave us your word, and you broke your word... His comment to me is he had to do what was best for his family."
The state also deposed Lauderdale Lakes CRA director Gary Rodgers, who gave a colorful description of his first meeting with Eggelletion. He said Eggelletion called his office and insisted on meeting at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday to talk about a townhouse project being built by Lennar Homes.
"I'm like, 'Well, OK, who is this guy?" testified Rodgers. "Finally the day comes. He knocks on the door. I let him in. He sits down, and he does one of these things with his glasses, and he says, I want you to be aware I'm a resident of Lauderdale Lakes, and I have great concern for what happens here, and it's my understanding, to cut to the chase, these Lennar guys are going to come in here and build townhomes, and I don't like it."
Understand that Eggelletion also represented a development firm called Cornerstone that was a rival of Lennar's. Rodgers said he told Eggelletion that Lennar had the right to build the project and that trying to stop them would lead to a lawsuit with the city.
"And he did one of these, you know, eyeglass tilting, leans forward and said, 'Well, you know, heads could roll over such a think like that. Townhomes are shit, and I don't want them in my community.'
"And I just casually leaned back and said, 'Well, I'm sorry you're uncomfortable or unhappy, but you're not threatening my job, are you?' And I leaned appropriately back into him... 'I'm not going to put up with this crap,' so he kind of backed off."
Camacho asked Rodgers, "Did you know of any relationship between United Homes and Josephus Eggelletion?"
"Not until I read the Bob Norman article," Rodgers said. "And I believe we were in the midst of negotiating the actual contracts at that time... And [the article] made all these allegations... [I]n discussion with Mr. Mijares, I did say, you know, this is uncomfortable, I don't like this, in a conversation kind of thing, you know, 'What the hell's going on here?' kind of thing. And he says, 'Oh, that's a bunch of bullshit... that guy,' meaning Bob Norman, 'is a piece of poop, whatever, don't give it any credence.' So I really didn't."
"Did you make a statement or a response to Bob Norman in regards to the allegations of either Josephus Eggelletion working for United or any other issues involving United and Mr. Eggelletion?"
"Yes, I did," answered Rodgers. "He needled me. Norman called me a few times, and he kept saying kind of like 'Come on, you know and I know' kind of attitude. I'm like look --"
"What was he referring to?" asked Camacho.
"... The allegation Norman was making is that the cone of silence had been violated because Eggelletion had, quote, lobbied on behalf of United Homes on Bella Vista to my board."
"I don't know. I said, 'Bob' -- this is me talking to Norman -- 'how would I know that? How? You know, I'm not in their pockets riding around. I don't know.'"
I remember those conversations, and it took a long time for the truth to come out. I felt that Rodgers was a solid official, but like so many bureaucrats, he kept his head in the sand.
One of the more interesting revelations to come from the files is that even after the scandal broke, Rodgers and Mijares continued to go to Eggelletion for help, in part based on Mijares' personal and financial relationship with the commissioner. They tried to get Eggelletion's help in securing $17.8 million in federal stimulus money in 2008.
On October 8, 2008, Rodgers emailed Mijares asking him to contact Eggelletion about the funds.
Camacho asked Rodgers, "So you're asking Tony to call --"
"Eggelletion," he answered. "That was my intent, sure. Because I know they're close."
"You know they had a relationship? And what were you asking him for to do?"
"Simply get us on the agenda so we could be heard to get the appeal," answered Rodgers.
Rodgers noted that they are still waiting for the money, so he doesn't believe much came out of it. In the end, Rodgers said he noticed that Eggelletion would sometimes recuse himself from a vote and then "give an hourlong speech in support" of it at the same time.
"That's definitely something for your office to think about here in Broward," testified Rodgers. "I've always found that rather peculiar. I guess we have more than one commissioner-consultant that believes that's true. At least if you listen to Bob Norman, there's more than one."
True that. Understand that this entire investigation was Camacho going back over something that the State Attorney's Office had already investigated and cleared. Only this time, she rooted out the lies and found the truth.
Eggelletion ultimately wasn't charged in the United Homes matter -- he pleaded to taking money from the developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. But it's instructive because we know that Camacho and her colleagues are now reinvestigating matters relating to both Ilene Lieberman and Stacy Ritter that were brushed aside after lax investigations in the past. Maybe she'll dig up the truth in those matters as well.