The Rigging of the Hollywood Hills High Construction Project

At the heart of the federal criminal complaint filed against Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher is an allegation she rigged a board committee to recommend that her favored contractor, James B. Pirtle Construction, receive a $70 million renovation project at Hollywood Hills High School.

A look at the School Board documents from that committee indicate that Gallagher did a bang-up job.

According to the complaint, Gallagher's scheme was to get Pirtle the project and then steer millions in subcontractor's work to another construction firm being represented by two lobbyists. What Gallagher didn't know was that the two lobbyists were undercover FBI agents looking to catch her in an act of corruption.

Gallagher, according to the complaint, told the FBI agents that she could rig the Qualification Selection Committee (QSEC). The committee was made up of 11 representatives, including School Board members Jennifer Gottlieb and

Ann Murray. In the audience during the December 17 vote were Pirtle lobbyists Neil Sterling and Barbara Miller.

The complaint doesn't indicate that Gallagher made any claims about rigging the members' votes. She focused on two other members of the committee: Deputy Superintendent Michael Garretson, who heads the construction department, and Hollywood Hills High Principal Harold "Chip" Osborn. Both overwhelmingly chose Pirtle for the job, putting the company over the top.

Garretson gave Pirtle a great score of 95 points out of a possible 100. Osborn gave Pirtle 83 points, with the next highest score going to the Weitz Co., which he gave only 72 points. The other two members of the board that gave Pirtle first place were Gottlieb and Antoinette Setari, who was the designee for Deputy Superintendent Donnie Carter, who heads School Board operations.  

Neither Garretson nor Osborn has returned phone messages from the Pulp. FBI agents claim that Gallagher spoke to both men and told them to vote for Pirtle. She said one reason Osborn would do what she wanted was that he mistakenly believed he owed her his job as principal.

Garretson, though, pops up in more than one place in the criminal complaint. When Gallagher promised to help the construction company the undercover agents were representing to get School Board business, she facilitated it through Garretson, who allegedly expedited the prequalification process for Gallagher.

Gallagher received $1,500 for the meeting, but there is no indication that Garretson received any undue compensation.

Underlying all this is a huge irony: Due to budget problems, the School Board recently canceled the Hollywood Hills renovation project.

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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