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The Old Man and the Sting

As he sat in the Westin Diplomat hotel room with the "old man," then-Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman spoke of how he's a man of action.

The old man -- an undercover FBI agent whom Salesman believed was a wealthy construction magnate from up north -- asked him how he felt about taking money for helping his company get public construction projects in Miramar.

"I want to make sure I can deliver," said Salesman, who seemed to want to impress the old man during the July 28, 2007, meeting, the videotape of which was seen publicly for the first time this afternoon during the federal trial in downtown Fort Lauderdale. "See, action... that's how I operate."

"Now you're talking my language," said the old man.

"You give as much as you get," Salesman said.

Then the old man got up to get the cash.

"I'm old-school," he told Salesman on the video. "I'm no angel." 

"Neither am I," Salesman said, laughing. "I'm somewhat reformed. I've never been an angel."

The bribe was about to be paid, but first the old man, who played the role of construction big Mike Moretti but is actually Boston FBI agent Michael McGowan, gave him a chance to get out of it, telling him that if he didn't want to do it, he could walk out of the room.

That's when Salesman launched into his peculiar philosophy regarding right and wrong.

""I'm not interested in what is wrong or right because wrong or right can be perceived, depending on who you ask," Salesman said in the video. "It's a perception. My greatest concern is what

works... There's no right or wrong in the world. We're not talking about going out and murdering a little child."

Shortly after that, McGowan stood up, pulled 30 hundred bills out of an envelope, and counted out three stacks of $1,000 each on the table next to Salesman. The commissioner, still seated, calmly reached over and picked up all three stacks one by one, put them together, and, after holding the cash for some time in his hand, put them in his pocket.

The meeting was the climax of the two-year federal investigation into Salesman. During that time, the controversial commish helped agents get construction projects in his city and introduced them to several other targets, including former Broward Commissioner Joe Eggelletion, who is set to serve a 30-month prison sentence himself after pleading guilty to federal money-laundering charges and state corruption counts. 

Salesman, though, didn't cooperate with the feds or strike a plea deal, so if he's found guilty, he will almost surely serve north of five years (the sentencing guidelines call for five to seven). Both federal prosecutors and Salesman's defense attorneys will give their closing arguments in the morning to the jury, which will then deliberate for a verdict. 

The day started with the conclusion of testimony from FBI case agent John Osa, who managed the case and played a key undercover role as a "quasi-lobbyist" working for the old man in the front construction company used by the FBI, called Target. When chatting with Osa (often at Hooter's), Salesman played the role of tough guy.

"They don't fucking know you," Salesman told Osa at one point when they were discussing getting work in Lauderdale Lakes through then-Commissioner Hazelle Rogers, now a state representative. "They're talking to you because they know me."

During one meeting, Salesman said, "I'm gonna have one drink and get my ass out of here... I got two balls to go to tonight... at the same fucking time."

Ah, the hectic life of a politician. Salesman was also caught on tape trying to help Osa and other agents get work with Broward County through Eggelletion. Salesman set up a meeting between Eggelletion and the old man in May 2006. Eggelletion was supposed to help the agents get a county contract for building sidewalks, but it never materialized. Salesman at one point said Eggelletion "wanted to work behind the scenes." The agents' attempts to get Hazelle Rogers to secure them Lauderdale Lakes contracts also never came to fruition.

But Salesman had a "game plan" for the Target guys; they would take small jobs -- like a $34,000 gazebo project -- and once they'd proven themselves, they'd move up to the half-million range and beyond.

"You take the shit nobody else wants...," Salesman told Osa. "When the big shit arrives, I say, 'They earned their turn.'"

Osa hammered out a deal in which Salesman would get a 1 percent cut of the total cost of the projects he helped steer to Target. At one point when talking about another construction project, Osa said the kickback for Salesman would provide the commissioner "another trip to Hedonism," referring to the commissioner's professed love of the sex resort in his native Jamaica.

It was good stuff, but the finale was the entrance of the old man, who had been talked about so often at trial that he seemed almost a myth. "I'd love to see him," Salesman's friend and associate, Roxy Hare, told me in the morning. "They say so much about him."

When he walked in, he looked the part. With his bald head and bushy mustache, McGowan bears a close resemblance to TV icon Wilford Brimley. Though his is rather ironically a younger Brimley, since McGowan is only 53. McGowan, a former Miami Beach police officer, has been an FBI agent in Boston for more than 20 years and was cast in the role of the old man because he'd played a similar part in a public corruption trial in Boston.

Again, he didn't have a large part in the FBI operation, but it was a vital one. He was not only a huge shadowy presence in the background of the investigation but he was the closer.

And his presence, along with the videotape, may have closed any door Salesman was hoping for to save his freedom. The defense attorneys, Jamie Benjamin and Daniel Aaronson, are hinging their defense on the idea that Salesman was working as a "consultant" legally while he was on suspension after getting hit with DUI and fleeing police charges.

The problem with that idea is that Salesman closed some of the deals with undercover agents after he was reinstated in March 2007. And the crucial meeting with the old man at the Diplomat occurred on July 28 of that year, four months after Salesman returned to office.

Salesman arrived at the luxury Hollywood hotel and initially met with Osa in the lobby. He was then led to McGowan's room, where he took a seat while the old man pretended to have a business conversation on the phone. After some small talk, McGowan and Salesman talked about his acquittal on the DUI charges. "The irony is these were my own police," said Salesman of the officers who arrested him.

McGowan asked him if he had to call him "Commissioner" now instead of Fitz.

"I hate the damn word...," said Salesman. "Call me Fitz."

Then Salesman began talking about what he could do for the old man and his company. He spoke of a park-building renovation that might amount to a $500,000 contract.  

"Can we get our hands on that?" McGowan asked him.

"That is what I'm working on," Salesman said. 

They also spoke of a project to build a gym floor (which Target ultimately completed). McGowan told him he expected to grow his business in Miramar since Salesman had returned to office. 

"There is growth," Salesman said. "As a matter of fact, we're building a $22 million state-of-the-art cultural center right now."

Then he said he would help the company get part of $80 million in new capital improvement projects that year, including a new police department, a new command center for fire rescue, and other projects.

He said he'd just spoken with Miramar's chief operations officer, Lowell Borges, about Target. "Lowell is very happy," Salesman told McGowan. "Just spoke to him just now... He said there is more work in the pipeline."

Salesman summed up his value to the old man this way: "I'm in there, and that is what I do. I have a good relationship with the rest of the commission and the city managers. And that, as a matter of fact, is why Target is even in there now because there are a lot of people there... that wanted these [projects], you know, smaller companies that wanted thse gazebos and the floor. I called 'em; I said, 'Look... give it to you guys.'"  

When McGowan asked Salesman if he was "satisfied" with previous payments for his efforts, the commissioner said he was. Soon thereafter came Salesman's pitch on right and wrong and the handing over of the money.

"You're my special friend in Miramar," McGowan said.

"We're on the same page," said Salesman.

Soon we'll see if the old man brought in his fish or if the jury lets him get away. 

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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