It seemed inevitable that Bill Scherer's name would come up in the wide-ranging federal investigation that is enveloping Broward County right now. Scherer, a prominent attorney, landowner, and power broker, has always had his hands in a lot of pots.
One of them was Gulf Building Corp., a construction company that is now owned by his son, John Scherer, who is also a partner in Scherer's law firm, Conrad & Scherer. That company is now at the center of an ongoing federal investigation into corruption in Broward County.
A Gulf employee named Skip Aniekwu, who worked under the wing of John Scherer, has been charged in a bribery scheme in the City of Miramar. Aniekwu said he needed $50,000 to pay off three unnamed Miramar city officials. The $50,000 appears to have gone missing -- as has Aniekwu, who isn't in custody and is rumored to have fled the country.
Also in the thick of the mess is well-known attorney W. Earl Hall, a former partner at Scherer's law firm and
lobbyist for Stephenson. Hall, a former city attorney in Lauderhill, helped Scherer land the contracts in Miramar.
Gulf, however, was very successful in Miramar. Along with partner D. Stephenson Construction, owned by Dolphin Hall of Famer Dwight Stevenson, the company won $30 million worth of city contracts in Miramar.
There is no indication that the Scherers were involved in Aniekwu's scheme or were knowledgable about it. But the story of Gulf Building Corp. and how John Scherer came to control it illustrates the nature of both politics and business in Broward County. And the story really begins at the North Broward Hospital District, the always controversial taxpayer-subsidized public health system.
In 2001, Scherer was serving as general counsel at the hospital district, controlling millions of dollars in legal fees. That year, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed John D. Collins to the hospital board. Collins, founder of Gulf Building Corp., was a big Republican fundraiser, as was Scherer. Both men, in fact, were named "Rangers" for George W. Bush for raising at least $250,000 for the president's campaigns.
The following year, in 2002, Collins hired John Scherer to work at Gulf Building Corp. Is it good government protocol for a district board member to hire the general counsel's son? Of course not. But this is Broward County.
At the time, Gulf was building the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. But John Scherer made clear what his mission was once he joined the construction firm in a recent interview with the Daily Business Review:
When Scherer joined Fort Lauderdale-based Gulf in 2002 to oversee construction of the Seminole casino project, he found the company did not build public projects.
"I came to Gulf, and they said, 'We don't do any of this,'" Scherer said. "This is a big market we really were missing out on."
Once Scherer got the go-ahead to pursue public projects, Gulf quickly lined up $30 million worth of work with the city of Miramar, he said. Currently, most of the jobs Gulf pursues are publicly funded, including recently awarded federal hospital projects in Cape Coral and Orlando.
In 2004, Bill Scherer and Collins were both expunged from the hospital district by then-Gov. Jeb Bush as a result of investigative reporting done in this newspaper on conflicts of interest on the board, many of them involving Scherer.
But Gulf was going strong. And it was also trying to score contracts at the Broward County School Board, which has also been rocked by the federal investigation. Aniekwu, according to a source close to the investigation, was also involved with undercover federal agents at the School Board and became close with Beverly Gallagher, who has been charged in the corruption case, and representatives from Pirtle Construction.
Interestingly, school district records show that both John Scherer and Aniekwu were present at a December 17, 2008, School Board committee meeting during which Pirtle was chosen as the contractor for a $70 million renovation project at Hollywood Hills High School. The feds allege that Gallagher rigged that vote to favor Pirtle.
Only recently, John Scherer bought out Collins to become president and owner of Gulf Building Corp. The timing really couldn't seem to be worse.
Neither Scherer returned phone calls from the Pulp. Again, neither is implicated in the federal investigation, and there is no indication of wrongdoing. But it sure is interesting where Bill Scherer turns up. This year he's been in the news when his son-in-law, Anthony Mercer, was charged with drug crimes. Mercer's felonies magically turned into misdemeanors, much to the dismay of the folks at JAABlog, who suspected Bill Scherer's friendship with State Attorney Michael Satz might have influenced the handslap. Then there was the case of pervert BSO deputy Charles Grady, who also seemed to have gotten off light after it was learned he was sexually assaulting female detainees. Grady, it turns out, had been dating Bill Scherer's daughter, Elizabeth, who is also one of Satz's favorite prosecutors and was the wife of Anthony Mercer. (I know; it's a soap opera, right?)
Whether there has been favoritism or not, you have to expect the feds won't play any such games in its investigation, which promises to continue for the foreseeable future.