There's nothing quite so heartwarming as a convicted political felon crying foul and asking for his hard-earned bribes back. Two former Palm Beach County commissioners are fighting that fight, and their chutzpah is admirable.
Warren Newell and Tony Masilotti, freshly freed from prison, argue in federal court documents that the money and land they received from various developers and business partners were simply undisclosed perks -- not unsavory, illegal kickbacks.
The details are complicated, but here are the basics that sent the two Corruption County ex-commissioners to prison for conspiracy to commit honest services fraud:
-- Masilotti used a secret land trust to make $1.3 million off the South Florida Water
Management District's purchase of 3,000 acres of land in Martin County. In all, various deals netted $9 million in cash and land for Masilotti.
-- Warren Newell raked in $346,000 after a vote that led to the water district's $190 million purchase of rock pits in western Palm Beach County.
Prosecutors argue in court documents that Newell's "conduct comports with the classic example of a kickback -- official action in exchange for undisclosed kickbacks."
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But Newell's lawyer told the Palm Beach Post: "These are not kickbacks. These are failures to disclose."
Masilotti's lawyer echos a similar argument in court documents, saying that one land deal "was nothing more than an investment that increased in value and was then purchased from the petitioner and his brother at a profit."
Call these deals whatever you want, but don't call them proper behavior for a public official. It's strange these men would try so hard to clear their criminal records when the scandals are already burned into the public consciousness.
If they win their appeals and their convictions are thrown out, the money and land they forfeited will be returned to them. Which means taxpayers will have to sit back and watch them enjoy the spoils of shady deals. In a county now enjoying a sordid reputation for corruption, how does that help anyone?