I've always thought of Broward Commission newcomer Ken Keechl, who now holds the position of Vice Mayor, as a benign force. Sure, he's subject to the wiles and temptations of Broward's ruling class like anyone else, and he's fallen prey at times to special interests. But he's sort of a goofy fun sort with a huge swath of Blago-like hair, and it's easy to assume that our first openly gay commissioner is a decent fellow.
And I'm not saying he isn't. I'm just saying that right now I'm seriously wondering what this guy is all about.
Why the sudden suspicious eye-squint? Well, his former longtime law partner, Michael McNerney, was recently arrested in a federal fraud and money laundering indictment for his involvement in infamous viatical company Mutual Benefits Corp. Well, the U.S. Attorney's Office doesn't call MBC a company so much as a Ponzi scheme. I'm not going to get into the guts of the case here, but it involves AIDS patients, life insurance policies, investors, and an $830 million ripoff, according to the feds. The SEC, which shut down the firm in 2004, says McNerney "participated in a wide-scale fraud ... falsely promising investors 'safe' and 'secure' investments when they knew that MBC had, among other things, improperly acquired policies, pressured doctors to rubber-stamp false life expectancy figures, and mismanaged escrowed premium funds in a 'Ponzi' scheme fashion."
So what if Keechl's long-time law partner was busted in a Ponzi scheme, you ask? I mean, it wasn't Keechl himself, right? Well, yes and no. Keechl obviously wasn't indicted and there's been no evidence that he broke any laws. What is known, however, is that Keechl worked side-by-side with McNerney and that McNerney put Keechl in charge of coordinating MBC's legal defense when angry investors began suing. Keechl's law firm even paid a $10 million settlement in a class-action suit filed by MBC victims.
Keechl's involvement with MBC actually became a rather sticky campaign issue back in 2006 when Keechl beat Jim Scott for his commission seat. But oddly neither the Sun-Sentinel or the Miami Herald mentioned the Keechl connection in reports on McNerney's recent arrest.
When I called Keechl for comment, I was told by his office that he resigned from the firm two years ago and that he had no further comment. Well, it's not exactly news that he resigned from the firm -- and all the alleged wrongdoing occuring long before that. In fact, one wonders if his resignation from the firm, which he said at the time was to devote himself full-time to politics, didn't have something to do with the broiling MBC scandal. Either way, Keechl refuses to address these very serious issues. And that, in my view, is troubling all by itself.