The arrest affidavit for just-arrested Tamarac Mayor Beth Flaunsbaum-Talabisco lays out an intricate plot to deliver the 2006 mayoral election to the 57-year-old politician.
It reads like a primer on dirty politics -- and it involves some big new names and one old one in Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, who is deeply tied to the Chait scandal and testified against her former friend in the investigation.
It began, according to prosecutors, in the law office of Parkland Mayor Michael Udine, where Prestige Homes developer Shawn Chait met with Udine and lobbyists Russell Oster and Alex Heckler to "discuss ways Shawn Chait could get involved in the 2006 Tamarac mayors race to influence the outcome of the election."
Oster, a former close associate of convicted former Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne, suggested that Chait finance a poll "to get the lay of the land." Chait agreed and wrote a check for $7,761 to the political firm Sonic One Strategies, owned by Oster and Coral Springs political mailer Michael Kaplan, for the poll, which showed that Talabisco was in a dead heat with her opponents, Karen Roberts and Mae Schreiber.
"[I]t became apparent it was necessary to do some type of
negative advertising against Beth Flaunsbaum-Talabisco's opponents," wrote SAO investigator Angelo Pazienza. "As a result of the poll it was determined a '527' was necessary to fund negative advertising."
A "527" is a controversial form of political committee that is often used to stealthily fund negative attacks. Once the decision was made, Talabisco's campaign manager, Beverly Stracher, contacted Chait to meet with Talabisco at Stracher's home. The meeting occurred on February 28, 2006, two weeks before the election.
At the meeting, Stracher asked Chait to contribute $21,000 to a 527.
"Talabisco was aware that Beverly Stracher had instructed Shawn Chait not to directly contribute to the '527,' so it did not appear as they though they coordinated their activities with candidate Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco," wrote Pazienza. "This was done in order to hide the support the Chaits were giving to [Talabisco] and to hide the relationship between them."
At that point, Stracher contacted Oster and Kaplan, an oft-used campaigner who owns the Coral Springs firm National Political Resources Group, to formulate the attack pieces. Stracher also instructed Chait to deliver the checks to Heckler.
Political operative Barry Harris was chosen to form the 527, apparently because of his friendship with Talabisco. As reported here in the past, they called it "Tamarac Residents for Good Government."
To hide the source of the funds, Chait solicited two of his Prestige Homes development firm's subcontractors -- James Starkweather of Allstar Electric and Michael Lucci of Wholesale Floring Center -- to pony up $10,500 apiece.
At the same time the negative ads were being made, Talabisco loaned her campaign $20,000 to fund positive campaign ads about herself. In those mailers, Talabisco boasted that she had sent $2,000 in contributions from the Chaits back to the developers. This was done at the suggestion of Stracher, wrote Pazienza, to "cloak the relationship between herself and Prestige Homes."
Around that time, Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman had a discussion with her Woodlands neighbor and "friend" Talabisco about the 527 committee. Prosecutors obtained a sworn statement from Lieberman:
"Commissioner Lieberman stated that as a friend she discussed the '527' with [Talabisco] since the vote [on the Chaits' controversial housing project] was coming up so soon after the election," Pazienza wrote. "Commissioner Lieberman felt that Talabisco had a voting conflict because the Chaits put the money in the '527' and Talabisco was going to vote on their project after receiving the money. [Talabisco] told Commissioner Lieberman that she was still going to vote because she had made a commitment."
It is not known if Lieberman received immunity in her own investigation in exchange for the testimony.
Talabisco was apparently very concerned about the vote as well. She asked both Bruce and Shawn Chait to delay the vote. They refused because a key state approval would have expired, hence delaying their project.
Talabisco was elected mayor on March 14. Eight days later, she voted in favor of the project, but not before more pressure from the Chaits. With pressure mounting from citizens, Talabisco appeared to be wavering on her support on the dais.
The Chaits, sensing this, instructed Stracher to "remind" the mayor during a break in the proceedings of "all the money they had spent on getting her elected."
"Mayor Beth Flaunsbaum-Talabisco then returned after the break and voted in favor of the Prestige Homes items that came before the Tamarac Commission," the affidavit states.
Talabisco hired attorney Larry S. Davis to represent her. "When and if this case goes goes to trial, we will prove that the mayor received no illegal compensation whatsoever," he told the Sun-Sentinel.
EARLIER: Tamarac Mayor Beth Flaunsbaum-Talabisco has been charged this morning with felony charges of bribery, unlawful compensation, official misconduct, and conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation, the State Attorney's Office just confirmed.
Mayor Talabisco "turned herself into the main [Broward County] jail shortly after 10 a.m. and is being booked right now," said Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Leljedal. "Her bond totals $9,000."
The 57-year-old politician faces up to 15 years in prison.
The charges are based on her involvement with the dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. Specifically related to an electioneering committee secretly funded by the Chaits that unleashed a torrent of attack ads before her election in 2006. The story was broken here months ago. From a previous post:
Shawn Chait testified to prosecutors that during a meeting with Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco and her campaign manager, Beverly Stracher, at Stracher's home, he was told that he needed to finance a 527 campaign committee to help ensure Talabisco's election.
"I needed to get, I think, two separate checks and bring them to Alex Heckler in Fort Lauderdale," Chait testified.
The Chaits rounded up $21,000 in checks from two subcontractors and did just that. The money financed a last-weekend attack-mailer binge of the opponents of Talabisco, who voted for the Chaits' project shortly after her election to the mayor's seat.
Heckler [said] he served as the attorney for the committee after being approached about it by Democratic operative Barry Harris. There's no evidence Heckler did anything improper. "I think this is the [committee] that raised the least amount of money but has been the biggest pain," Heckler said.
I hear from a reliable source that one witness who testified against Talabisco is none other than Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, who is deeply tied to the Chait scandal.
Talabisco is the third member of the Tamarac commission to be criminally charged in the Chait scandal, joining former commissioners Patricia Atkins-Grad and Marc Sultanof. Also charged in the Chait case is former Broward County School Board member Stephanie Kraft and imprisoned former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion.
The only two members of the 2006 commission who have not been criminally charged are Ed Portner, who is now out of office, and current Commissioner Harry Dressler.
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