The State Attorney's Office has served subpoenas in the ongoing criminal investigation of Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin, the state attorney's office has confirmed.
Prosecutors have subpoenaed records involving the dealings of Wasserman-Rubin and her husband, Richard Rubin, in the Town of Southwest Ranches. Sources have said numerous subpoenas have been issued in the state attorney's investigation of Wasserman-Rubin, which has been ongoing for at least two years.
CORRECTION: Keith Poliakoff, deputy attorney of the town of Southwest Ranches, reported to us that his legal and lobbying firm, Becker & Poliakoff, has not been issued a subpoena, which contradicts earlier reporting both here and in the Sun-Sentinel. I am trying to determine who has been issued subpoanas.
Tim Donnelly, head of the SAO's special prosecution unit, wouldn't confirm the existence of the investigation or that the subpoenas had been issued.
Back in 2004, Wasserman-Rubin voted on a county green space grant for Southwest Ranches. The problem was that the grant was written by her husband, who had been paid obscene amounts of money by the city for his services. He raked in about $1 million from the tiny town, including $429,000 in one 14-month period. What did he do? He wrote grant proposals, many of them to the county.
Critics said he was paid the big money because he had the pull on the commission with his wife to guarantee a windfall from the county.
I first reported in 2005 that Wasserman-Rubin had voted on her husband's grants. One of the votes led directly to at least $15,000 in bonuses for her husband. Wasserman-Rubin was part of a clique of politically connected profiteers who raked in windfalls by gaining virtual control over the town and exploiting its large swaths of open land, some of the last remaining in the county. It was the financial raping of a small town.
New Times reader Ray McKinney got fed up and filed a complaint about Wasserman-Rubin with the Florida Ethics Commission. She was found guilty of ethical violations and in 2007 was fined
$15,000 for her transgressions, a huge penalty for that mostly toothless body.
Still, all it proved was that corrupt leadership was profitable -- remember, her husband pulled in about $1 million from the town. There was plenty of money to go around, and several of the couple's friends got into the act as well.
One was Ira Cor, the real estate broker and convicted felon who recently showed up at the FBI yacht party during an undercover sting in 2008. Cor is most famous for his leading role in a huge land boondoggle involving the Broward County School Board and a plot of Southwest Ranches land he was trying to sell. The county bought it for $4.3 million before realizing that it was swampland, unsuitable for a school.
Cor orchestrated a lot of strange land deals for the town, reaping obscene payments. He raked in more than $750,000 in taxpayer money on land deals and grants. Cor had an ace in the hole with Wasserman-Rubin too -- he hired Richard Rubin as a sales associate at his real estate brokerage. And yes, Wasserman-Rubin voted on Cor's Southwest Ranches land deals on the county commission too.
At the top of the heap of those getting rich on Southwest Ranches was former Town Manager John Canada, a former county official who was also bringing in a huge payday. Well, not just Canada but also his wife and daughter. A private contractor with the city, Canada hired his wife, Pat, as the town's finance director and his daughter, Shari, as town clerk. Townspeople joked that they'd been taken over by Canadians. Together they split a contract with the town that paid off $655,000 in 2005. As you read these figures, consider that the entire town had an annual budget of just $6 million. It was an absolute raid.
Canada's family hold on the town was nepotistic and unlawful -- it basically violated every rule of good government -- but Becker & Poliakoff allowed it to happen. Town Attorney Poliakoff and son Keith (another family duo) were also reaping profits. They charged the town $175 an hour for up to $200,000 a year for legal work, and on top of that, they garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra fees on town land deals and other matters.
The Poliakoff firm is also a major lobbying force in Broward, often representing private firms before the County Commission and cities like Hollywood. Well-known lobbyists Bernie Friedman and Alan Koslow work for Becker & Poliakoff. And guess who served as Wasserman-Rubin's campaign manager? If you guessed Bernie Friedman, you get the prize.
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You can read the whole sordid story here (it won a Sunshine State Award for the best government report of the year, so it shouldn't be too bad). Half of the same Southwest Ranches gang was also involved in the Pinnacle development firm scandal.
It's some ugly stuff, and it's about time the State Attorney's Office took it seriously. A lot of it happened five years ago, after all, it's been more than two years since Wasserman-Rubin was fined for it by the ethics commission. Canada was run out of town shortly after the article came out, as were Rubin and Cor. (The Poliakoffs live on, however).
Neither of those factors, however, matters in a criminal investigation. The statute of limitations doesn't even start running on Wasserman-Rubin until after she leaves office, and the ethics commission is civil in nature, not criminal, so there is no double jeopardy in play.
It seems that a fire has been lit under State Attorney Michael Satz since the feds came in and rattled his turf with the arrests of a county commissioner (Josephus Eggelletion), a School Board member (Beverly Gallagher), and others in the fall. He's already charged both Eggelletion and Tamarac developer Bruce Chait in a development scandal. There will be plenty more on that later.