After the Miami Herald over the weekend broke a story on yet another Stacy Ritter vote that benefitted the lobbying business of her husband, Russ Klenet, I think it's time we had a one-stop shopping spot for all the alleged misdeeds of the Ritter-Klenets.
Because of its length, the post jumps. I will update as the saga unfolds.
-- It begins in the summer of 2007 with a notebook left behind at a commission meeting by a supervisor working for URS, the company that has been paid about $100 million to manage Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Klenet worked as a lobbyist for URS but when his wife, Ritter, was elected to the commission in November 2006 he claimed to have cut ties with that company and all others doing business with county. The notebook, however, listed Klenet as a member of its lobbying "posse" as late as April 2007, months after Ritter took office. Worse, Ritter had made herself the
"airport liaison" for the county commission and had been advocating on the dais for URS every step of the way. Here is link.
-- Next was the Vista Health Plan vote. Ritter voted to give Vista the contract without disclosing that the company had hired her husband's firm to lobby the commission seven weeks before. She also served on the insurance commission that worked on the matter. Ritter claimed because her husband didn't actually lobby the commission on the matter -- his partner William McKinley was the registered lobbyist-- the vote wasn't a conflict. Yet, Klenet served on the firm -- Tallahassee-based Dutko, Poole, McKinley -- as the "managing director" for Broward County operations. One of the state's biggest long-running jokes, the Commission on Ethics, backed up that ludicrous contention. From the article: "Even longtime, corruption-hardened county government insiders privately say that Ritter and Klenet are violating the public's trust and heading for serious trouble." Here's the link.
-- Ritter's relationship with URS deepens when her county emails show that Klenet was serving as a conduit to her from the company and that she was sharing county information on airport matters with Klenet, potentially for URS' benefit. All the while Ritter was doing URS's bidding on the dais and behind the scenes as commissioner. Here's the link.
-- The Miami Herald reports on Ritter's June 2007 vote for ES&S, the electronic voting machine company. Klenet had been a long-time lobbyist for ES&S and his new firm, Dutko Poole McKinley, was representing ES&S at the time. The lede (there is no link available any longer):
Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter voted in June to approve a $5.4 million, no-bid deal to buy new optical scan voting machines from a company that's a client of her husband's lobbying firm.
The proposed contract is with Election Systems & Software -- the company that in 2002 sold Broward the controversial touch-screen voting machines that are now being replaced. Ritter's husband, Russell Klenet, was the lobbyist who landed that original $18 million contract.
Klenet was last registered to lobby for ES & S at county hall in 2005; in 2006 he promoted a printer developed by ES & S to create a paper trail for its iVotronic touch-screen system.
County officials said neither Klenet nor anyone else has lobbied for ES & S this year, but Klenet said he still consults for ES & S on matters outside Florida as a senior vice president of Tallahassee-based Dutko Poole McKinley. He has told clients he ''merged'' Russ Klenet & Associates into the firm on March 1.
Again, Ritter tried to explain away the gross conflict by pointing at the ethics commission ruling. Unbenownst at the time, Klenet was also receiving $2,000 a month at the time of his wife's vote, allegedly for work he was doing outside the county.
-- The Broward State Attorney's Office investigated all of the above allegations and, amazingly, cleared Ritter of wrongdoing. Assistant State Attorney Dave Schulson reported that he'd found no conflicts of interest or improper actions. The ludicrous finding questions State Attorney Michael Satz's ability to investigate corruption involving the core Broward County power elite. (See Jenne, Ken). Ritter says she's going to be more careful in the future. ''To avoid any potential or perceived conflict and to make the public feel more confident in what we do as a body, I will choose to abstain and file the necessary forms if there's an issue which could be perceived as a conflict of interest," she tells the Herald.
-- Ritter backs Barack Obama and serves as his campaign chairwoman in Broward County. Obama calls Ritter a true friend. After the election Ritter interviews at the White House for a job in the Obama Administration. Here's the link.
-- The Sun-Sentinel reports that Klenet has been sued for $2 million by alleged fraudster Steven Steiner, a former principle of Mutual Benefits Corp., a giant Ponzi scheme that had paid Klenet $20,000 a month for lobbying in Tallahassee and another $100,000 to renovate Klenet and Ritter's home in Parkland. Even after the company was shut down by the SEC for ripping off investors, Klenet maintained ties with the crooks who ran it and used their money to help him buy a new viatical company, Life Settlements International. Here is the link.
-- The Pulp learns that in 2006 Mutual Benefits paid a whopping half-million dollars to fund a negative campaign against Oliver Parker in a state house race, helping Ellyn Bogdanoff win teh Fort Lauderdale seat. Here's the link.
-- The Pulp learns that while Klenet was working for Mutual Benefits, Ritter voted on legislation in 2004 designed to shield the company from regulation by the state's department of banking and finance. She never disclosed the conflict. At that time, Mutual Benefits was already the subject of numerous complaints across the nation, so both Ritter and her husband should have known they were voting for and accepting money from a fraudulent operation. Here is the link.
-- Former state senator and current Broward Commission candidate Steve Geller's involvement with Klenet and Mutual Benefits is detailed. A victim of Mutual Benefits is interviewed: "I don't trust anyone in Florida anymore." Here is the link.
-- Stacy Ritter hits back at the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel and New Times, saying she is innocent and that the latter publication is good only as fish wrapper and to find a "good penis enlarger." Here is the link.
-- The Sun-Sentinel reports that Ritter voted on a bill while she served in the state legislature that benefitted yet another client of Klenet's, a Broward doctor named Mark Ginsburg. Klenet and Ginsburg also a 63-foot yacht together. Here's the link.
-- The Miami Herald writes yesterday about another serious Ritter conflict of interest, this one involving a vote favoring another client of her husband's, Arena Operating Comany, Ltd:
Broward Mayor Stacy Ritter voted last year to shift tens of millions of dollars in insurance risk from the owners of the Florida Panthers to the public. At the same time, a Panthers company was paying her lobbyist husband tens of thousands of dollars.
Ritter's vote, part of a unanimous May 13 decision by the Broward Commission, lowered the county's hurricane coverage requirements this year on the BankAtlantic Center. The move allowed the Panthers to avoid paying as much as $15 million in commercial insurance premiums.
Here's the link. UPDATED: Ritter, who initially didn't deny she voted on the matter, was actually not present at the time of the vote. The Miami Herald published a long correction of the story. Ritter's husband, however, did work for the company and Ritter never filed a conflict form with the county.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.