One of the great joys of watching the greatest corruption story in Broward County history begin to unfold during this past month has been watching the Sun-Sentinel play catch-up.
The newspaper discovered Neil Sterling, a lobbyist who has been corruptly running the Broward County School Board with a hidden hand for several years. It followed many stories of mine -- about the board, about Joe Eggelletion, etc. -- running back three years (with no attribution, of course). And it has been running front-page stories digging into local politics on a regular basis for the first time in years.
Thank the FBI for that. The Sentinel, you have to understand, is what I call an "official" newspaper. In general, it listens to local bigwigs and does what it's told, paying short shrift to those who would challenge those same officials. Yes, it's the exact opposite of what a good newspaper is supposed to do, but it paid the bills for years and years.
(Let it be said I'm obviously writing in generalities here -- there are some good reporters at the Sentinel, but the newspaper is afraid of its own shadow and simply doesn't encourage or reward the kind of aggression and doggedness required to root out high-level wrongdoing.)
But now that the FBI has basically confirmed that Broward is about as corrupt a place as there ever has been, the newspaper is running all over itself trying to pretend that it's on top of the game.
The latest catch-up front-page splash about the FBI probe came this morning about prosecutor and Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu, who was the topic of a mudfest here on the
Pulp yesterday after I called her a hero for her undercover assist of the feds in the investigation.
What's being said about her now -- the innuendo, the smears, the baseless anonymous attacks -- only confirm her hero status. (I'm not saying you can't criticize Alu; I have in the past, and I'm sure I will again. She's political, unpredictable, and certainly imperfect.). You don't think she knew this was coming when she decided to fight corruption in Broward County? She risked her political career and her name when she said yes to Uncle Sam.
Nameless folk have come out against Alu, basically using the age-old smear tactic of trying to paint her as a hussy. Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner -- another official exposed by Alu -- actually accused Alu of having an affair with longtime political insider and Broward Property Appraiser investigator Ron Cacciatore. Both Alu and Cacciatore strongly denied the catty claim from the judge.
Hell, people even accused her of having an affair with me, a totally false assertion. I've confirmed that it was lobbyist Judy Stern who started those rumors, and they came after I began writing about former Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion's golf membership bribery case. Stern and Eggelletion are close political allies; Stern even drove Eggelletion's getaway car from the federal courthouse after he was charged with crimes by the feds.
Other than that, the rumors are coming consistently from anonymous attackers, some of whom showed up on this blog yesterday making a bunch of unsubstantiated claims. But the gist of it is that Alu likes a good party and, and as a single woman, has apparently had the audacity to actually date men. Translation: She's a drunk slut!
Oh yeah, they fill up blog boards with it, but when it comes time for accountability, everybody dries up. Take the front-page Alu article this morning in the Sun-Sentinel. The only person silly enough to go on record with this kind of innuendo was Davie Councilman Bryan Caletka, a third-tier politician in Broward County (he was trounced in his bid for County Commission by John Rodstrom). Here's the passage:
Davie Councilman Bryan Caletka, a fellow Democrat who runs in the same political circles and admits he is not a Sheila Alu fan, casts her as a party girl who lured her FBI targets to bars. "I hear people talking about her pretending to be a good friend and in reality she had a knife behind their back."
Of all people, li'l Bryan Caletka is attacking Alu for fighting corruption with the FBI? This is a public school teacher, for God's sake. What the hell is he thinking?
Well, what the article doesn't explain is that Caletka is a good friend of Beverly Gallagher, the School Board member arrested for taking bribe money from undercover agents. In fact, Gallagher invited him to be on the famous FBI boat excursion, an invitation he declined. This guy is so close to Gallagher that he still says he considers her innocent. "I presume everyone innocent if they haven't been found guilty," he told me.
Now that's a man with principle. I called him today, and he told me he based his assertion that Alu was a "party girl" because he'd been at a handful of events where she was also in attendance and that she was drinking at them. "That woman has not turned down a free cocktail as long as I've known her," he said.
Of course, he admits he was drinking too, along with just about everybody else, but whatever. (And Alu says she doesn't even know Caletka at all.)
But Caletka said the real reason he's lashing out at Alu is that she joined the FBI efforts because she herself was in trouble. "When she said she did it to fight public corruption, that really bothered me," he said. "She did it most likely because people were paying attention to her own activities and she was trying to take the heat off of herself."
Do tell, Bryan. Hey, did you go undercover too? I bet you did since you seem to know a lot about the secret underpinnings of the investigation. Yeah, that's it: Bryan Caletka, mild-mannered science teacher by day, secret agent man at night.
Caletka, of course, is talking out of his hind end (hey, he is a politician). The truth is that Alu went to the FBI, not the other way around. The truth is that she joined them to fight corruption. The truth is that she was never in any trouble (unlike Caletka's pal, Gallagher, who wore a wire on her friends only after she was caught stuffing cash into her doggy bag).
But the worst thing about Caletka's stand is that he's hurling falsehoods about why an elected official who actually had the guts to fight what she recently called the political "cesspool" that is Broward County. And in my eyes, the guy just lost any bit of credibility he ever had.
Speaking of a lack of credibility, the Sun-Sentinel also pooh-poohed Alu's work for the feds in a recent dunderheaded editorial.
Going forward, you have to wonder if the trust level will still be there with Alu amongpeople she comes in contact with who might have business dealings with the city. Will other public officials she has contact with be wondering if they have to watch every word they say around her?
Exactly. I mean, it's getting so politicians can't even trust other politicians when they talk about their bribes and extortion attempts. And who else could an elected official trust when they wanted to unburden themselves about the guilt of selling out their public office? What is Broward County coming to?
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That is one of the most outrageously stupid things ever printed in the Sun-Sentinel, which has a long and storied history of idiotic editorials. Thankfully, several readers wrote letters to the editor pointing that out. "It seems that you are shooting the messenger," wrote James Bradford, of Fort Lauderdale. "To say that people might have to watch what they say now because someone might turn them in sounds like you are favoring the bad guy... If one of their own doesn't inform, who will be able to catch a crooked politician? I say kudos to Ms. Alu."
"Let's neither make excuses nor redirect blame, but rather put unethical wrongdoing and shame where it belongs: on those individuals guilty of engaging in self-serving and illegal behavior that compromise the trust of the public," wrote in Dianne Palermo of Coral Springs. "Our communities would be a much better place if more individuals demonstrated the moral fortitude that Ms. Alu has exemplified in this situation."
"Three cheers to Sheila Alu, we need more public servants like her," wrote Bill Venne of Fort Lauderdale. "Why is the editorial stating that the issue is 'Sunrise commissioner admits being informant'? What is wrong with a public official sticking up for the public?"
Gee, so much wisdom. And not a one of them is an official.