Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner should have let a sleeping dog lie.
In one of the more vile parts of Gardiner's deposition in the Omar Loureiro investigation, she implied that Sheila Alu and Ron Cacciatore, who is listed as a witness in the case, had an affair.
"According to Sheila, Ron and her started having a relationship," Gardiner testified. "They were having that relationship back in 2007. According to her it started that he was coming to her house to watchmovies. I remember at one time I had a conversation with Ron and I said something to the effect of, 'Ron... I know you like to play on the east side of town, but I know your wife is a very nice lady... You have to be careful about what you are doing with Sheila."
The implication is clear. Well, I talked with Cacciatore today, and he said that although he is friends with Alu, the allegation of an affair is completely untrue. He was actually joking about it. Alu has also said there was no sexual relationship.
"Tell you what, I'll challenge to Ana Gardiner to take a lie detector test with me," Cacciatore says. "If she's lying, she will resign from the bench. If I'm lying, I'll do whatever she says."
This kind of Peyton Place rumor and innuendo is exactly what Gardiner seems to want the public to focus on. But there are serious issues at play here, deadly serious. So let's get to them.
Cacciatore, an investigator in Property Appraiser Lori Parrish's office, says he didn't want to be involved in the Loureiro case. He said he didn't even call back Palm Beach Public Defender Carey Haughwout, who was leading the investigation.
Now, he says, he wants to tell the truth to anyone who will listen.
And what he says is explosive. Alu, says Cacciatore, told him about the night at Timpano shortly after it happened. He says she told him Gardiner and Scheinberg were laughing about the Loureiro case, on which Scheinberg was prosecutor and Gardiner was judge.
"She was agonizing over the behavior of a sitting judge," he says. "She was agonizing over what she'd heard. She told me the whole story about the restaurant and [Gardiner and Scheinberg] laughing over the photographs. She said something about the guy was almost decapitated. She said one of the jurors had passed out. It must have been gruesome."
He says he gave Alu some pragmatic advice: Don't go to the authorities. He says he knew she would be targeted by powerful forces. "I'm not going to lie, I told her to forget about it," says Cacciatore. "I knew they would try to make her out ot be the bad one, when in reality she did the right thing. Sometimes the right thing can cause you more problems. It's just the way it is."
But it goes deeper. Cacciatore was a good friend of Judge Charlie Kaplan, who was there that night. Cacciatore helped run Kaplan's campaign to become judge. He says that Kaplan too was agonizing about what he'd seen.
"Everything that Sheila said happened at that table, Charlie Kaplan told me he witnessed," says Cacciatore. "He told me they were laughing about the case, they talked about the pictures, the juror, everything. He said it should not have happened, but it wasn't his business."
When a JQC investigation began, Kaplan was in the middle of it. There is speculation Kaplan gave a statement to the JQC. It's not clear if he told the whole truth or not. But Cacciatore says it ate at him horribly and he told him the true account of that night at least a dozen times. "He agonized over it, it made him sick," says Cacciatore. "To be completely honest, I think it may have helped bring on this heart attack."
Charlie Kaplan died of a heart attack at the age of 45 last October. He is survived by three children.
Cacciatore says that Kaplan also confided in defense attorney Raag Singhal about the truth of what happened that night. Another source confirms the same thing. I left a message with Singhal and will update if warranted.
There's a lot more going on here, but this, above all else, is reason why Judge Lucy Chernow Brown must have that evidenciary hearing scheduled for May 26. ALL witnesses must testify, even those not currently named on the list that have come to light. The Florida Supreme Court, which got this ball rolling, must also ensure that the public is supplied with the entire truth. The integrity of Broward County (if there is any) depends upon it.
And now a key witness is definitely ready to testify.
"For Ana Gardiner, a Broward Circuit Judge, to lie under oath to discredit me, she needs to resign the bench," Cacciatore says. "She should not be a judge."