So I solved one of the outstanding mysteries of the indictment of GOP moneyman Alan Mendelsohn: The mysterious figure called "Contributor #4" is veteran Broward credit counselor Howard Dvorkin.
But this really isn't about Dvorkin -- who almost surely isn't in any trouble -- but about the man who got him into the mess, lobbyist Russell Klenet, husband of Broward Mayor Stacy Ritter.
Once again, Klenet is all over this thing.
But to understand it, let's hear Dvorkin's story, which begins in 2004, when he needed a lobbyist to help him change legislation in Tallahassee affecting the business in Sunrise he founded, called Consolidated Credit Counseling Services. He says the only lobbyist he knew was Klenet, who lived down the street from him in Parkland. He says he'd only met him once, while trick-or-treating in the neighborhood with his children.
"I knew he was a lobbyist, but I really knew nothing about him," Dvorkin says of Klenet.
Soon he would. He agreed to pay Klenet $50,000 to try to change the legislation, paying him $25,000 up-front. A week or two later, Klenet came calling for the
second half of the money. Only Klenet tells him he wants it to be written in a check as a donation to the exclusive Pine Crest School.
"He said he was having a tough time with the bill but that he knew a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who might be able to help," says Dvorkin. "He said the only thing I needed to do was make a donation to Pine Crest. He said, 'You give this donation and you don't have to pay the rest of the bill. Just pay the donation.'"
Dvorkin said he was only too happy to pay the money to a school rather than a lobbyist, especially since his brother was on the Pine Crest board. He says he wrote the check and gave it to Klenet.
Later, Klenet called him with bad news.
"Klenet called me up and said it did not happen," Dvorkin recalls. "He said, 'You got nothing for it.' It wasn't a pleasant end to a business relationship."
Dvorkin says he never hired Klenet again for obvious reasons and basically forgot about it until an FBI agent contacted him a couple of years ago.
"The agent calls me and asks me to explain the check," says Dvorkin. "I told him it was a donation to Pine Crest. He asked me why I made it, and I told him."
Then Dvorkin called Klenet, who told him about Mendelsohn.
"I said, 'Russ, what the fuck is this?'" he recalls. "And Russ said that the guy has big problems and that they are investigating him and he doesn't really know about it."
It wasn't until the indictment came out last week that he learned that the $25,000 donation collected by Klenet had been converted to tuition money to pay for Mendelsohn's son's education at the private school.
"I'm pissed," says Dvorkin. "How would you feel about it? I'm getting dragged into something that I don't have anything to do with. And here I thought I was doing something good for the community and it turns out Pine Crest is taking that check that says 'Consolidated Credit' on it and applying it to someone's tuition."
Apparently a similar ploy was pulled on Contributor #3 in the indictment, Danny Adkins of Mardi Gras Gaming (Adkins isn't commenting but says he's cooperating fully with the investigation). From the indictment:
In 2004 and 2005, Mendelsohn circumvented certain lobbying disclosure obligations under State of Florida law by directing Contributor #3 and Contributor #4 to make donations to a school in exchange for his lobbying services. At his direction, Mendelsohn then converted and caused the conversion of those donations to payments for his children's tuition bills. Mendelsohn caused these payments to be omitted from or falsely characterized in pertinent tax returns, forms and reports filed with the IRS and the State of Florida.
What's most interesting about that passage to me is that Contributor #4, Dvorkin, was never Mendelohn's client. He says he didn't even know Mendelsohn's name until the last week. He worked strictly with Klenet.
Dvorkin's account of what happened supplies some of the best detail to date on precisely how Mendelsohn raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it that was allegedly misspent on paying his mistress and at least one public official. He also took a lot of the money from Klenet's top client, convicted felon and con man Joel Steinger, who operated the Ponzi scheme Mutual Benefits at the time. Mendelsohn allegedly claimed to have prompted his good friend Charlie Crist to stop a state investigation into Mutual Benefits as a result of payments made to him as well.
Dvorkin says he contacted Klenet yet again last week and asked him what this was all about.
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"I said, 'Dude, I'm getting dragged into this, and I don't know anything about it,'" says Dvorkin. "Klenet apologized. He said, 'I didn't know, nobody knew, what this guy was up to.' I don't dislike Klenet; I'm just pissed that I got put into this situation."
So did he ever get that legislation changed that he needed?
Yes, only it was through Ron Book, the current lobbyist for the company.
"He's a straight-shooting guy," Dvorkin said of Book. "He does what he says. Of course, he is a lot more expensive."