By John Christie, Naomi Schalit, Theresa Sullivan Barger and Nathaniel Herz, ©Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
Florida’s Kel-Tec CNC Industries says its SU-16D semi-automatic rifle is “especially suited for low intensity urban combat”
Jan. 9: UPDATE: Bloomberg News reported today about $1.6 million in Florida state and local tax subsidies for Connecticut-based Colt Manufacturing Co.
Gov. Rick Scott announced the states’ commitment in December 2011 to helping Colt built a new regional headquarters and manufacturing center and create 63 new jobs in Osceola County.
“As a supporter of new job creation and the Second Amendment, this announcement sends a clear message that Florida is both open for business and a defender of our right to bear arms,” said Scott, who added that he was personally involved in bringing Colt to Florida.
Taxpayers across the country are subsidizing the manufacturers of assault rifles used in multiple mass killings, including the massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. last month.
A Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting examination of tax records shows that five companies that make semi-automatic rifles have received more than $19 million in tax breaks, most within with the past five years.
“I feel horrified at the power of the gun industry over our political system, that it could exert such influence,” said Newtown resident Barbara Richardson, who lives between the homes of one of the 6-year-old victims and the shooter.
Saying she respects hunters who are ethical and good neighbors, she “absolutely [does] not” support taxpayer subsidies to help manufacture assault rifles: “They’re weapons of mass destruction.”
Any new jobs due to tax subsidies are “not worth it,” said Richardson, a nurse whose first patient ever was a 19-year-old accidentally shot by his 13-year-old brother with their father’s gun.
The states providing the subsidies since 2003: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Oklahoma.
Officials point out that such tax breaks are generally given to a range of businesses, not only to gun manufacturers, in the belief by state legislators and governors that they will attract industry or create or retain jobs.
In Florida, Cocoa Beach’s Kel-Tec CNC Industries received nearly $15,000 in state training reimbursements in 2012.
A Florida gunmaker
According to the privately held Kel-Tech’s web site, the manufacturer is among the country’s top five handgun makers, “specializing in innovative rifle designs and handguns for concealed carry by law enforcement personnel and qualified citizens.”
Among Kel-Tec’s current product offerings is the SU-16D, “a gas operated, semi-automatic rifle” equipped to accept a standard M-9 bayonet. Marketing material on Kel-Tech’s site calls the SU-16D “especially suited for low intensity urban combat” and says potential customers include SWAT team members and “civilians in high risk environments.”
Kel-Tec was incorporated in 1991 by George Kellgren, the company’s president.
In the wake of 1999’s Columbine High School massacre, The Denver Post reported that Kellgren was the Swedish-born designer of an inexpensive, military-style submachine gun in the 1970s that later evolved into the Tec-DC9 – the weapon used by Columbine killer Dylan Klebold.
“I feel horrified at the power of the gun industry over our political system” – Barbara Richardson, Newton, Conn. Photo: Theresa Sullivan Barger
One of the tax breaks that went to a Smith & Wesson plant in Maine was based on a program initiated by then-Gov. Angus King, now the senator-elect from that state.
King, in an email to the Center, said, “Various tax incentive programs have been enacted over the years in Maine and virtually every other state to encourage and support job creation, particularly in the manufacturing sector. No one suggested at the time these programs were created—or since, as far as I know—that the government should decide which particular businesses within broad categories would be more or less desirable.”
Yet many economists have thrown cold water on the idea that these programs create any net new jobs.
Kim Rueben, an economist with the Tax Policy Center in Washington, said, in most cases there is no increase in the numbers of jobs; instead, she said, such programs encourage businesses to move to the state with the best subsidies.
Sen.-elect King pointed out that the Maine Smith & Wesson plant doesn’t make semi-automatic rifles (it does make semi-automatic handguns).
But Rueben, the economist, countered that any savings, such as tax reductions, “go to the bottom line” of a publically-held company such as Smith & Wesson, regardless of the origin of the subsidy.
The vast majority of the subsidies went to two of the largest and most recognized arms makers in the country’s history: Remington, which got $11.9 million from four states, and Smith & Wesson, which got more than $6.7 million from two states.
How many assault-style rifles the two manufacturers make is unknown because they do not break out statistics for assault rifles from other rifles, according to a declaration in a 2009 civil case by a research coordinator for the National Rifle Association.
However, Mark Overstreet characterized Remington’s and Smith & Wesson’s assault rifle production as “prolific.” Overstreet testified that the dozen manufacturers that did break out their numbers had made 1.6 million assault rifles between 1986 and 2007.
The other assault rifle makers that got state tax subsidies were Sturm, Ruger; and Bushmaster, which police say was the make used in the Newtown shootings.
The types of subsidies include tax credits, grants, rebates, reimbursements for training and property tax abatements.
“I think it would be disturbing to people to know that they are essentially subsidizing the manufacture of these guns,” said Cathie Whittenburg, the Maine-based spokesperson of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a national non-profit organization. “It’s certainly not something I want to be doing.”
Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence predicted that the public will “react very angrily to” taxpayers subsidizing assault weapons.
“Finally, after decades, we are having a serious conversation, and with this conversation is coming invaluable education about what politicians are actually doing,” said Everitt.
The Center’s findings are based on a comparison of the known makes of semi-automatic rifles with state records and the “Subsidy Tracker” data base compiled by the Washington-based organization Good Jobs First. A Good Jobs First spokesman said while its data base is the most extensive available, it is not comprehensive.
Semi-automatic rifles, often also referred to as AR-15s, were used not only by Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, but also in the Christmas Eve shooting in Webster, NY by William Spengler, a 62-year-old ex-con who killed two firefighters and wounded two others. Both Lanza and Spengler also killed themselves.
Excluding the recent New York shooting, Mother Jones magazine has reported that since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders using firearms in the country, in 30 states. Assault weapons like the AR-15s were involved in more than half of those shootings.
Smith & Wesson, one of the two largest recipients of state tax subsidies, did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the subsidies granted to the company.
Remington Arms, the other large recipient of subsidies, responded through a spokesman for its owner, the Freedom Group, by emailing a link to a publication, “Firearms and Ammunition Industry Economic Impact Report 2012.” The publication was produced by the gun industry’s trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
“For your story, you may want to include the following firearms industry economic impact data,” wrote Teddy Novin, Freedom Group’s director of public affairs.
The study details the industry’s jobs numbers for 2011: 98,752 employed by gun manufacturers, with an additional 110,998 jobs in “supplier and ancillary industries.”
“In fact, in 2012 the firearms and ammunition industry was responsible for as much as $31.84 billion in total economic activity in the country,” write the study’s authors.
Maine senator: no red flag
Click to read the full table
In Maine, Smith & Wesson has received two types of tax subsidies. From 2008-2010, it received $107,120 from the Employment Tax Increment Financing (ETIF) a program the state says encourages businesses to hire new employees by refunding from 30-80 percent of the state withholding taxes paid by the business for up to ten years.
Smith & Wesson’s plant in Houlton also received $51,671 in abatements for property tax on its equipment under the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program, initiated by King.
The Bangor Daily News recently reported that Smith & Wesson officials say it has invested $3.3 million in the past three years in its Houlton plant and the payroll has grown to $4.2 million.
Bushmaster, maker of one of the most well-known assault rifles, was located in Windham. The plant closed in March 2011, when its owner, Freedom Group, moved the operation to New York. Freedom also owns Remington. In 2010, Bushmaster was exempted from paying $2,405 in taxes on its business equipment under BETR.
State Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, co-chair of the legislature’s taxation committee, said, “There are lots of different tax breaks and credits that … lots that people may be outraged about. My goal … would be for the legislature to have a conversation about tax breaks and how we evaluate them and how effective they are.”
The Senate co-chair of the committee, Anne Haskell, D-Portland, said the state police purchased Bushmaster rifles from the company when it was based in Maine.
“The fact that we’re providing a tax break to a company that’s providing jobs and high quality firearms to our state police doesn’t raise a red flag for me,” Haskell said.
Massachusetts’ $6m deal
In 2010, Massachusetts approved $6 million in tax breaks to Smith & Wesson, which announced it would move its Thompson/Center hunting rifle division from New Hampshire to Springfield. The move meant an expansion of the firm’s Springfield headquarters and the addition of 225 jobs there.
James Debney, president of Smith & Wesson, said the company chose the Bay State over several other states because local and state officials, including Gov. Deval Patrick, “collaborated … to make our choice clear.”
Locally, the company got a $600,000 tax break from Springfield on top of the state’s $6 million.
“It’s a big win for the city – 225 jobs and $14 million (in investments) this year alone,” John D. Judge, the city’s chief development officer, told the Springfield Republican.
New York: public good?
Remington Arms received $5.5 million in New York subsidies and grants since 2007. The company was founded in Ilion, NY in the early 1800s and its purchase by Cerberus Capital Management, which owns the Freedom Group, was announced in April 2007. Almost $4.5 million of the subsidies were targeted at luring 200 jobs to Ilion from Remington and Cerberus-affiliated manufacturing plants in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The subsidies became an issue in 2012 when Remington and another subsidized New York gun manufacturer, Kimber Manufacturing, fought against proposed state legislation that mandated microstamping for bullet casings, which gun control advocates and police said would help solve gun crimes.
The gun-control advocacy group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV), said that the gun companies’ opposition to the legislation meant they weren’t serving the public interest.
Jackie Hilly, executive director of NYAGV, said, “I do have a problem with people who are taking money from the state … and then flatly refusing to serve some sort of public good. That’s public money that’s being used, and I think there should be some kind of public good that comes out of it.”
Kentucky: 100 new jobs
Kentucky granted Smith & Wesson $6.1 million in subsidies since 1998, including, $4.5 million to subsidize the expansion of the company’s Graves County facility, where it planned to add 100 jobs.
Gov. Steve Beshear’s office did not return phone calls asking for comment on the subsidies. But at the time the grant was made, Beshear said, “The creation of 100 new jobs and a $5 million investment in the Commonwealth will have a tremendous impact and is a testament to our ongoing commitment to support our existing industries.”
Newtown: shift in thinking
A college student having coffee at Starbucks in Newtown last week said that while she doesn’t like subsidizing assault-rifle makers, she knows there are other Americans who don’t like funding programs she and her friends care about.
“I don’t understand someone’s need to own an assault weapon,” said Mary Hamula, 18, of Newtown. “If this hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have a huge problem with tax subsidies. I’m a big proponent of government-subsidized healthcare.”
But she felt that public opinion might shift support away from tax subsidies for assault weapons.
“I think with everything that happened in Newtown, I think the culture around guns is going to change. If something positive comes out of it, that’s all we can ask for,” she said. “It did break us. Nobody here wants that to happen to another community.”
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell, Maine. Email: email@example.com. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org. John Christie and Naomi Schalit are senior reporters with the Center. Nathaniel Herz is a reporter with The New York World. Theresa Sullivan Barger is a freelance writer in Connecticut. Dan Christensen provided additional reporting.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
The Broward Inspector General’s Office appears poised to ask Broward prosecutors to investigate a Hallandale Beach group that received at least $25,000 in city funds.
The Zamar School of Performing Arts had been slated to get another $50,000 from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency last week. The deal fell apart, however, shortly after it was discovered that Zamar was ineligible for the funds because its status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit had expired.
CRA Attorney Steven Zelkowitz said the county’s Inspector General’s office has informed him investigation of Zamar by the State Attorney’s Office was “ongoing.” The Inspector General has been investigating allegations of mismanagement at the city and its CRA since last spring.
City Manager Renee Crichton Miller and CRA executive director Alvin Jackson confirmed that a the state’s investigation involving Zamar was underway, although both said Zelkowitz was the source of their information.
A spokesman for Broward State Attorney Mike Satz said Friday that the matter has had some review, but that no criminal investigation was underway.
“I’m told that we have not received anything formally on this yet,” Ron Ishoy said on Friday. “The case was apparently discussed last month at the public IG Oversight Committee meeting that (Assistant State Attorney) Tim (Donnelly) sits on.”
Inspector General Scott declined to comment.
Zamar’s president and director Deborah Brown did not respond to repeated phone messages seeking comment. A person who answered the phone at Brown’s office initially advised a reporter to hold for her. A short time later the line went dead and follow-up calls to Zamar were sent to an answering machine.
Zamar provides arts and education programs and job training and job placement, according to city documents.
County investigators are believed to be nearing the end of a months-long examination of city grants and contributions to community groups, CRA land buys and loans to local businesses. City commissioners – who do double duty at the board of directors of the CRA – and various city employees have been interviewed, and thousands of pages of city records examined.
In June, Browardbulldog.org reported those records included files on eight community-based groups that received city funds, including Zamar.
Zamar, which got $25,000 in CRA funds three years ago, operates on city property at 501 N.W. 1st Avenue – in a building once owned by a group headed by City Commissioner Anthony Sanders.
The city leased the property for a one-time payment of $10 to the Palm Center for the Arts in 2009 shortly after acquiring the property. While Palm Center was prohibited from subletting the facility, the city later modified the agreement to permit Zamar to operate a summer camp there in 2009.
When the Inspector General asked the city this year for records about Zamar and Palm Center, state corporate records listed Brown as president of Palm Center and a principal and director of Zamar. At that time, Palm Center had received at least $107,000 in CRA funds over the past three years.
The IG’s probe has also involved a review of the city’s acquisition of 501 N.W. 1st Avenue from Commissioner Sanders’ nonprofit, Higher Vision Ministries. The group purchased the property in 2001 for $45,000 and sold it to the city eight years later for $235,000. Appointed to fill a vacancy in 2008, Sanders did not vote on the purchase.
In between, the CRA gave Sanders’ group a $46,000 property improvement loan. The city only required Sanders’ group to repay $31,000 of that loan, the rest was forgiven.
The Inspector General’s office has yet to say why it is interested in Zamar and why prosecutors should look at it.
City Manager Miller said Zelkowitz was likely contacted about Zamar by the Inspector General because it involved the CRA, whose directors are the five members of the city commission. She added she has no other information on the nature of the Zamar probe.
“I’m concerned when a non-profit is under scrutiny,” said Miller.
Zelkowitz declined to elaborate.
Earlier last week, Zamar had a setback when it was announced that the group had withdrawn its request for CRA funds for this fiscal year.
Commissioners, as CRA board members, were to vote on the $50,000 GRANT on Dec. 17. Shortly before, however, city staff learned the group did not have current 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, making it ineligible for the funds.
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward General Medical Center
A new state-ordered study compares the value of Broward Health’s operating assets to those of a “distressed hospital” worth “significantly below book value.”
The study by the audit firm Deloitte determined Broward Health’s fair market value to be $271-$320 million, without counting the tens of millions of dollars in annual property tax revenues it receives. If those taxes are included, Broward Health’s value rises to $503-$532 million – or “slightly above book value,” Deloitte’s 69-page report says.
The firm will present its findings to Broward Health’s governing board at a public hearing at 5 p.m. today at the Westin Cypress Creek in Fort Lauderdale.
The hearing is a requirement of Florida’s “Sale or Lease” law, passed last March at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott, that required all public hospitals to determine how much they are worth and evaluate the possible benefits of selling or leasing their facilities to a private corporation.
Before the law was enacted, Broward Health’s board spent many months looking at whether to privatize. That effort, however, stalled for reasons that remain unclear.
The North Broward Hospital District, whose business name is Broward Health, operates four hospitals and 22 other medical facilities. Its flagship is Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
As a special taxing district, it receives property tax dollars from Fort Lauderdale to Parkland to help care for indigent patients. Last year, the district took in $154 million in tax revenues, according to an annual report.
Broward Health’s board of seven governor-appointed commissioners voted on July 25 to hire Deloitte for $275,000 to put a price on the district.
Deloitte’s final report, submitted to Broward Health last week, analyzed the district’s fair market value in two scenarios: with and without tax revenue.
“Deloitte made no conclusion or recommendation in the report,” Broward Health CEO and President Frank Nask said in an emailed statement. “The next step is for the board to review Deloitte’s report and vote on accepting it as a matter of public record.”
Frank Nask, president and CEO of Broward Health
Commissioners Debbie Kohl and David Di Pietro, board members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, did not return phone messages seeking comment.
A PUBLIC PROCESS?
The board began to discuss the idea of leasing its facilities to a community nonprofit corporation prior to the passage of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Also known as “Obamacare,” the legislation requires uninsured individuals to obtain private health insurance or pay a penalty starting in 2014.
Nask broached the subject at a board meeting on July 22, 2009.
“If everyone gets insured, then we would not receive tax dollars,” he said, according to the meeting minutes.
At a special meeting on Sept. 10, 2010, the board passed a resolution authorizing Nask “to initiate and facilitate” the lease process.
Commissioner Clarence McKee, an appointee of former Gov. Charlie Crist, was the lone vote against the resolution. He said it seemed rushed and that he needed more information and time to make an informed decision.
“This looks like a done deal,” he said, according to the minutes.
The board acted without seeking public comment, fueling a backlash.
At a public tax hearing a few days after the meeting, critics berated board members for not allowing them to voice their opinions before the vote.
Four town-hall style meetings were later held about the matter. The resolution was ultimately repealed and replaced with a slightly different version.
The new resolution authorized Nask “to explore and to evaluate all potential options for the district to respond to the impacts of federal healthcare legislation … including, but not limited to, the potential lease of the district’s facilities.”
But according to Nask, the possibility of transitioning the public hospital system into a community-based nonprofit that could lease or sell its assets is now moot.
“As far as a transition process from 2010, the board simply made a motion to study a possible transition,” Nask said. “There’s nothing to proceed with because the law changed.”
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Mayor Joy Cooper
Hallandale Beach city commissioners last night fired the executive director of the city’s embattled Community Redevelopment Agency after just two years on the job.
Alvin B. Jackson Jr.’s termination comes amid an ongoing investigation by the Broward Office of the Inspector General into management practices at both the city and the CRA prior to Jackson’s arrival.
Mayor Joy Cooper led the ouster, saying commissioners “expected competency, transparency, and communications” that Jackson failed to deliver despite “second and third chances” to improve.
“It’s not just trust,” said Cooper. “It’s the work product,” she said. “It’s been frustrating….I have not seen many of the plans he’s developing.”
“It seems we have lost trust” in Jackson, said commissioner Anthony Sanders, who along with commissioner William Julian backed Cooper’s motion to terminate Jackson “without cause.”
Removing Jackson “without cause” allows him to receive a severance package of health insurance for nine months after his final workday, January 18, 2013, and 20 weeks of pay (about $50,000), in accordance with his contract.
The commission, sitting as the CRA’s board of directors, voted 3-2 to oust Jackson.
Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy and newly elected commissioner Michele Lazarow opposed Jackson’s firing.
Lewy said he favored holding a public hearing at which commissioners would have discussed their specific complaints about Jackson’s performance. If cause for dismissal was established, the city would not have to pay Jackson any severance.
Cooper, however, said she did not want a hearing about cause to avoid airing the city’s “dirty laundry.” She declined to elaborate after the meeting.
Jackson was stoic after the termination vote.
“I’m done,” he said. “When you’re being asked to leave you’ve got to do what’s best for the community. I did not want to impede progress (of projects).”
CRA Executive Director Alvin B. Jackson Jr.
The mayor became upset with Jackson when he approved CRA staff salary hikes, including for himself, during the 2011-2012 fiscal year without guidance from city commissioners.
She also complained when the CRA staff failed to discover that a community group recommended for a city grant had failed to maintain its status as a non-profit group, making it ineligible for the funds.
The CRA collects and oversees the use of property tax dollars to promote business and revitalize neighborhoods. Those dollars are supposed to be spent on projects within the district. Three-fourths of the city, including the area around City Hall, is within the CRA’s boundaries.
When Jackson took over two years ago, the CRA was under the controversialdirection of the city manager’s office. He was hired shortly after city commissioners fired City Manager Mike Good for excessive absences and other problems.
After Good’s departure, an outside auditing firm found that the CRA had failed to properly track city land acquisitions totaling more than $28 million and loans to local businesses.
The Inspector General’s Office began its probe last April. City officials have been questioned and thousands of pages of documents have been obtained about those land deals, loans and various city grants and donations to community groups.
As they dismissed Jackson, commissioners also acknowledged that the CRA had greatly improved under his leadership.
Among other things, Jackson initiated a broad plan for the CRA district and created procedures to ensure accountability for loans and grants.
“We are better off now than under Mike Good, “ said Lewy.
“When he took over the CRA was a train wreck,” said Julian. “There is a good staff now, important projects are underway.”
Julian said he thought Jackson deserved a “second chance” despite some admitted mistakes. But the idea faded when Jackson told commissioners he thought the time had come for him “to move on.”
While some speakers at last night’s public meeting backed the vote to fire Jackson, others faulted it and complained about the lack of improvements in the city’s low-income, predominantly blacknorthwest section.
“He should not be dismissed,” said resident Gerald Dean, who complained that the CRA’s few efforts there have been ineffective.
Mary Washington, a northwest area civic activist, noted the city used the rundown conditions in the northwest section to establish the CRA in 1996.
“I thought by now we’d have decent housing,” she said, adding it hasn’t happened.
“All the CRA money is being spent in the eastern portion of the CRA,” Washington said. “It’s time the northwest to get the balance of the money. Please follow through; we want our community back.”
Cooper told commissioners that after Jackson leaves, City Manager Renee Crichton will temporarily guide the CRA until a new permanent director is found.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Miami-Dade County Court Judge Steven Leifman
Two more South Florida judges may have violated ethics rules by serving on the board of a private company that controls public health care spending.
Those Miami-Dade judges sit on the board of a nonprofit corporation that is paid by the Department of Children and Families to administer tens of millions of behavioral healthcare dollars.
A Florida Supreme Court ethics committee issued an advisory opinion in June that said judges should not serve on such boards.
Four judges, including the chief judge of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, recently quit a similar healthcare board in Broward because of the ethics ruling.
Nevertheless, Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman and Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, the court system’s gurus for mental health and substance abuse, have chosen to remain as volunteer board members of the Miami-based South Florida Behavioral Health Network. Leifman is board chair.
Leifman and Cohen say the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee’s June 11 opinion is a narrowly drawn ruling that doesn’t apply to their situation. They are resisting it out of concern that their forced departure would seriously weaken an organization that “really serves the public,” said Cohen.
The judges together have asked their court’s general counsel to research the ethics ruling with an eye towards possibly getting the situation changed.
“We’re getting a second opinion,” said Leifman, a county court criminal division judge. “We’re in a holding pattern.”
Both judges said that if becomes clear they should step down, they will.
Cohen said the circumstances in Miami-Dade are not the same as in Broward.
“I think it’s a very different situation than what happened in Broward,” said Cohen, a circuit court judge in the unified family and juvenile divisions. “We were never put there to impress anybody.”
The Supreme Court’s ethics committee offers advisory opinions to judges and judicial candidates about whether their conduct might violate Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct.
While opinions are only advisory, conduct consistent with an opinion may be evidence of good faith on the part of the judge in disciplinary proceedings.
SPIN OFF ISSUE
Whether judges should serve on the boards of private companies that have or are seeking government contracts arose as an issue as DCF spins off services it once handled.
An unidentified judge in Palm Beach asked the ethics committee its opinion after he was asked to serve on the board of a managing entity being set up there to administer $52 million “as part of the privatization of DCF funds.”
The ethics panel, made up of a dozen judges and lawyers from around the state, said judges should not serve on the board of a managing entity because it is “in essence a governing entity” – an inappropriate place for a member of the judicial branch.
Oversight of government spending “is a clear responsibility of the executive branch, no different than the operations of the police and fire departments,” the opinion says.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen
Judges Leifman and Cohen acknowledged that their board service may require them to vote on a contract or payout – but it is unusual.
“Rarely or never do we vote on money going to a particular provider,” said Leifman. “Bids are put out, people bid and there’s a point (ranking) system. There are committees that none of us board members sit on that decides who gets what.”
Leifman acknowledged that the board influences contracting indirectly through its personnel and policy decisions.
Relationships with private companies also can lead to conflicts, especially if the managing entity “is viewed as a conduit or agent for (a) vendor,” the opinion says.
It cites Canon 2(b) of the Code of Judicial Conduct: “A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”
That was a problem for the judges on the board of the Broward Behavioral Health Coalition, which is chaired by former DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth.
The names and titles of three of the judges were used in bid documents submitted to DCF last winter by Butterworth. Records show their presence on Broward Behavioral’s board impressed DCF negotiators.
Broward Behavioral signed a $44.8 million-a-year contract with DCF effective Nov. 1. The contract ends June 30, 2016.
Miami-Dade’s South Florida Behavioral Health Network became a DCF managing entity two years ago, with Leifman as chair.
Unlike in Broward, there was no bidding process when the Health Network got the contract “so there was no issue about someone using the prestige of the office to become a managing entity,” Leifman said.
Further, said Leifman, the June ethics opinion “flies in the face” of previous opinions that allow judges to serve on boards that have an impact on the administration of justice.
Leifman and Cohen, judges since the mid-1990s, will consider their options after they get their “second opinion.” Leifman said that could include asking the Supreme Court itself for its opinion.
Said Cohen, “We’re not interested in corralling money for treatment. We’re just interested in having a system that really serves the public…but without our expertise, it won’t be as good as it is now.”
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
Milt Grant in 1964
Milton Grant made millions as he rock ‘n’ rolled Washington DC television, hosting a highly popular 1950s dance show, among other ventures.
“The Milt Grant Show” featured guests like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Harry Belafonte, who performed for teenagers – girls in circle skirts and petticoats, boys in sport coats and ties – bopped on the dance floor.
But since he died of cancer at age 83 in April 2007, Milt’s legacy has moved from the dance floor to the courtroom. The longtime Fort Lauderdale resident’s fortune – originally worth $58 million – remains hostage to a messy legal estate battle that pits family against family.
Milt Grant’s only son, Thomas J. “Jeff” Grant, has filed estate-related lawsuits several times in two states, including last month in Broward Circuit Court. He contends the professional estate administrators in charge of his father’s three trusts have ignored his father’s wishes and taken sides against him while raking in millions of dollars in fees. He wants the administrators removed and the unjustified fees returned to the estate.
“He would be rolling in his grave if he knew what was happening,” said Grant, 45, of his father.
After his TV show ended in 1961, Milt Grant went on to build Fort Lauderdale-based Grant Communications. In 1966, he launched Washington, D.C. television station WDCA, which he later sold for $13.5 million. He helped start stations in Dallas and Houston, which he ultimately sold for more than $150 million. In 1984, he founded independent WBFS, Channel 33 in Miami.
Today, Grant Communications controls seven TV stations in Alabama, Iowa, Virginia and Wisconsin, including Fox and CW affiliates.
Along the way, Milt Grant also built two families.
He fathered two daughters with his wife, Shirley Grant, to whom he remained married until his death – although court records state they had been estranged for 51 years. She lives in Maryland, and did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
Court records state Milt Grant spent the latter half of his life with girlfriend Tommy Jo Price. The couple never married but had Thomas Grant together. Price died in a Miami Beach hospital in April 2008, a year after Milt’s death. She was 64.
Grant’s November lawsuit accuses Bessemer Trust Company of Florida and Boca Raton lawyer Daniel Mielnicki, his father’s estate planning attorney, of “conspiracy, corruption and greed” that amounted to a breach of fiduciary duty. The complaint asks Judge Speiser to remove Bessemer as trustee and Mielnicki as the legal protector of Milt’s living trust, and seeks money damages to be determined by a jury.
A similar request for a jury trial has been filed in Delaware, where Milt’s two irrevocable trusts are managed.
Among other things, Grant’s complaint contends that his mother was “abruptly fired” from her job at Grant Communications after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Upon her death, Bessemer Trust officials allegedly told him that there was no money in the huge estate to bury her.
“Shockingly, there was apparently enough money for Bessemer to pay its management fees and attorneys’ fees hundreds of thousands of dollars per month,” the complaint says.
Court records show Grant filed a similar wrongful termination complaint about himself shortly after his father’s death. Grant, who sold national advertising for Grant Communications, claimed that his father’s will had provided for his continued employment at a salary of $125,000 a year.
But Broward Circuit Judge Mark Speiser ruled against him – determining that a job was not a property right that could be passed down through a will.
An appeal is pending in Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Court documents filed by Grant’s lawyer state that Grant and Shirley are each projected to receive approximately $20 million from the estate.
But Grant’s new complaint accuses Bessemer of “extravagantly favoring” Shirley.
“Bessemer’s blatant collusion to hide information from Thomas while providing it to Shirley, entering into secret agreements with Shirley and to pay her more money than Milt intended, and actions to divide Milt’s estate for Shirley and Bessemer’s benefit to the detriment of Thomas are multiple reasons to justify the removal of” Bessemer as trustee, the complaint says.
For example, Grant’s lawsuit claims that Shirley, who received $1,500 a month from Milt Grant after they separated, has received about $3 million from estate assets since his death. But Price and Grant, who were financially dependent upon Milt Grant, have received about $250,000 since his death.
Bessemer has filed a motion asking the judge to put Grant’s lawsuit on hold until certain issues in the case are resolved.
“Bessemer Trust believes that Thomas Grant’s claims are unfounded,” said Bessemer in-house lawyer Julian Swearengin in an emailed statement.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST?
Attorney Mielnicki is accused of having conflicting interests in his dealings with the estate. For instance, the suit says, as an attorney at Greenberg Traurig Mielnicki “drafted an approximate one-million dollar gift to himself” in Milt’s estate plan.
Mielnicki, now a partner in the Boca Raton office of Berger Singerman, had other roles in the estate. He wrote himself in as the trust protector of several of Milt trusts, a post intended to represent the decedent’s intentions. He also chose Bessemer, according to the suit.
“The many hats worn by Attorney Mielnicki is a concern for us,” said Grant’s Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Jennifer Walker. “He was all over the place.”
Mielnicki did not respond to interview requests.
Despite the prolonged legal battle, Grant remains hopeful.
“There’s no guarantees, but I’m very optimistic,” he said.
Milt’s legacy, which includes headlining a TV show with an audience that reportedly exceeded Philadelphia-based Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” continues outside court.
“We were part of the great new beginning of television, and there was just so much energy,” Grant once said to the Washington Post. “It made me fall in love with television and all its powers.”
Karla Bowsher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
When Bob Butterworth filed a bid last winter on a $44.8 million-a-year Department of Children and Families private management contract he signed a “Statement of No Involvement.”
By signing the statement, the former Florida Attorney General certified that neither he nor anyone else at the non-profit Broward Behavioral Health Coalition was involved in developing the DCF program for the project his company was bidding on.
Yet as DCF Secretary in 2008, Butterworth oversaw the state’s push to shift the job of administering local substance abuse and mental health services to private “managing entities” like the company he now chairs.
Butterworth described his involvement at Broward Behavioral’s inaugural board meeting last month.
The approved minutes of that Oct. 1 gathering say, “Chair Butterworth provided (a) history of managing entities created under his leadership in 2008 as DCF secretary with the goal of making local decisions and to advise the state how to best serve the community.”
The minutes also note: “At this time, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has six (6) statewide ME’s and is now looking to Broward County to contract.”
Butterworth signed a four-year contract with DCF effective Nov. 6 to oversee government-funded programs in Broward. The deal was delayed for months by a competitor’s unsuccessful bid protest that alleged DCF illegally steered the contract to Butterworth’s group.
DCF will pay Broward Behavioral up to $162.6 million through June 30, 2016, the contract says.
‘TO INSPIRE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE’
DCF operating procedures require potential vendors to sign a “Statement of No Involvement” to promote fair competition “and to inspire public confidence that contracts are awarded equitably and economically.”
Fort Lauderdale attorney Joseph M. Goldstein, author of the Florida State Procurement Handbook, said the state relies on certifications made by those it does business with.
“There would be contractual and potentially criminal ramifications if you falsely certified in (bid documents), even if it’s not sworn,” he said.
In an interview last week, Butterworth downplayed his involvement in the creation of managing entities.
He said that while he supported their use as a way to increase local control, and recommended Gov. Charlie Crist sign the bill authorizing their implementation, managing entities were not a major emphasis of his administration and he was not actively involved in advocating for them.
“I don’t recall the issue coming up. It was a small portion of a large bill. I thought it was a good idea,” he said. “I asked my legislative director later on after I got involved, ‘What role did we play?’ He said we basically went along with the bill that the (service) provider organizations were pushing.”
BUTTERWORTH MADE MONEY
Broward Behavioral’s for profit partner in the deal, Concordia Behavioral Health, paid Butterworth and his Fort Lauderdale law firm, Fowler White Boggs, to represent them in the matter.
“Yes, I received compensation, but my total representation was at a drastically reduced rate and I didn’t bill all my hours because it was something I believed in,” he said.
However, Butterworth declined to say how much he and Fowler White were paid by Concordia.
BrowardBulldog.org reported last month that Concordia’s owners include a silent partner, Coral Gables healthcare entrepreneur Miguel B. Fernandez, who is a major contributor to Gov. Rick Scott.
Gov. Rick Scott
A Hollywood resident, Butterworth is a longtime Democrat and Florida political insider whose five decades of public service includes stints as Broward sheriff and judge.
Gov.-Elect Crist named Butterworth to head DCF in December 2006 amid a barrage of negative publicity focused on its failures to safeguard children under its protection. Butterworth served until August 2008.
PUSH TO REFORM
Butterworth said that as secretary his “major emphasis” was on restoring the agency’s reputation and reforming its foster care system.
State records, however, show that DCF under Butterworth was also focused on the development of managing entities as a “new business model” for the delivery of behavioral health services. In fact, it was a “strategic initiative” of the agency in its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Plan for 2007-2010.
In 2007, “the department began to strengthen community systems of care by encouraging the development of managing entities,” says a 2009 DCF report on their statewide implementation following the passage of enabling legislation the previous year.
Former DCF staff analyst John N. Bryant said he helped write the bill that ultimately passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Crist. Bryant said several people at DCF, including then Assistant Secretary Bill Janes “worked actively for its passage.”
Janes said he recommended the bill to Butterworth, but noted that Florida’s provider organizations, not DCF, initiated and developed it. ”It was the department’s role to provide comment on the bill,” he said.
Janes, who reported directly to Butterworth, said managing entities were then a “new concept” for DCF and Butterworth was not particularly familiar with them. “But I’m not going to head in a direction he doesn’t approve. He’s my boss. If he doesn’t agree with it, it’s not going to move forward,” Janes said.
QUIRK IN LAW
DCF Secretary David Wilkins announced in October 2011 that non-profits could submit bids for the job of Broward “managing entity.” Broward Behavioral was incorporated the same month.
Broward Behavioral and the Partnership for Community Health, a group of established local health care providers, were the only bidders. The Partnership ranked higher and state evaluators also deemed Broward Behavioral’s proposal “nonresponsive” because it did not include paperwork required to demonstrate financial stability.
Because there was only a single responsive reply, a quirk in state bid rules allowed DCF to ditch the sealed bid process in January and negotiate with anyone.
Two months later, Wilkins awarded the contract to Broward Behavioral.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Initial findings by Broward’s Inspector General of mismanagement at Hallandale Beach City Hall have led officials to revise plans for a $12.7 million bond issue, according to city and county records obtained by BrowardBulldog.org.
Exactly what has gone wrong at City Hall remains unclear as the Inspector General’s investigation continues, but it’s now known to involve an alleged mistake with the bond issue, and a possible violation of state law.
“We are pleased that your administration has ultimately acted to address the issue identified by the investigation,” Inspector General John W. Scott told City Manager Renee Crichton in a Nov. 7 letter.
“Clearly, we remain concerned with the circumstances that allowed such an immense oversight to occur in the first place,” Scott wrote.
“Our final investigative report will detail those circumstances and contain recommendations which we hope will, if enacted, create institutional controls that will prevent such misappropriation from occurring in the future.”
Although Scott has prompted action at City Hall, the head of an agency under scrutiny is questioning the county IG’s authority to investigate, and to allow partial information on that investigation to become public.
Hallandale CRA Executive Director Alvin B. Jackson Jr.
“Nowhere in the (county) code is the Inspector General provided with the general authority to act as a watchdog agency by providing correspondence making allegations and recommending future courses of action,” said Hallandale Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Executive Director Alvin B. Jackson Jr. in a Nov. 13 letter to Scott.
Jackson criticized Scott for expressing his concerns in letters to the city manager and city commissioners that “are now public record” and “can cause unnecessary negative publicity.”
“We would respectfully request that the Inspector General refrain from sending any further correspondence concerning” the CRA, Jackson said.
The Redevelopment District was established by the City Commission to collect and oversee the use of property tax dollars to promote business and revitalize neighborhoods. Those dollars are supposed to be spent on projects within the district.
The IG’s office has been investigating city management practices, including those at the CRA, since April. Agents have questioned city officials and asked for records concerning CRA property acquisitions and business loans and city grants and leases with community groups.
In his Nov. 5 letter, Scott wrote that he was concerned about a Nov. 7 city commission agenda item regarding $12.7 million in revenue bonds. The bonds would complete Phase One of the city’s $23.2 million bond issue approved by the city commission in 2007 for park improvements and land acquisition.
“The OIG (Office of Inspector General) has obtained substantial evidence that the funding appropriated for the capital improvements of Joseph Scavo Park and South Beach Park, two parks included in Phase One, would constitute a violation of the Florida Community Redevelopment Act, which requires that Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds should only be expended for capital improvements within the CRA boundaries,” Scott said in his letter.
“Upon questioning by OIG Special Agents, city and CRA officials have verified that the CRA is scheduled to pay the bond over 20 years, even though the parks in question are located outside of the CRA boundaries,” Scott said. “Therefore, the City will risk violation of Florida law if it expends the funds as presently appropriated.”
“The OIG is particularly concerned that city staff have acted unilaterally in accessing the funds for city — not CRA– purposes and in doing so, have neglected to consult the CRA Director,” Scott said.
Scott went on to “strongly recommend” that commissioners halt the use of CRA funds to pay for parks outside the district’s boundaries.
Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Crichton
In her Nov. 6 response letter, City Manager Renee Crichton challenged Scott’s interpretation of events, saying he had “misrepresented certain facts.” She suggested that included wrongly accusing the city of using the CRA – governed by Hallandale’s five city commissioners – to cover its bond obligations.
SHARING COSTS TO PREVENT TROUBLE
Crichton said the city would make sure debt service payments are proportional between the city and the CRA. She noted city projects outside the CRA district accounted for only 22 percent of the $25 million in bond funds.
The city manager’s assurances seemed to satisfy Scott that the bond would be paid back appropriately. Still, he pointed out in his reply that if not corrected the city could have gotten itself into bigger problems.
“Both the city’s finance director [Patty Ladolcetta] and Dr. Jackson have recently admitted to the OIG special agents that the CRA was intended to pay 100 percent of the bond, despite the fact that the bond was in the city’s name and several hundred thousand dollars had already been spent outside the CRA district,” Scott stated. “This fact was corroborated by various documents obtained by the OIG.”
“As a watchdog for the taxpayers of your municipality,” Scott added, “we believe it is our duty to inform the commission of concerns which might jeopardize the funding of the overall project.”
“After reviewing the city’s revised approach, as outlined in your letter, we agree…the city could correct its initial misappropriation of the CRA-funded bond.”
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Ex-Hallandale Beach City Manager Mike Good
Hallandale Beach taxpayers quietly coughed up nearly $500,000 in 2009 to settle a complaint by a ranking city official that his bosses had failed to include him in a generous management retirement plan for top city leaders.
BrowardBulldog.org recently obtained a copy of the settlement. It shows that then city manager Mike Good had a confidentiality clause inserted into the agreement in hopes of keeping news about it from the public.
To collect the hefty payout, which he got without having to sue, former Utilities/Sanitation Assistant Director Gordon Dobbins agreed not to contact the media and almost anyone connected with the city and to refrain from making disparaging statements “in perpetuity.”
The city appears to have gotten off cheap.
The cost could have been closer to $1 million if the city had to pay Dobbins for all the benefits it failed to provide him from the time the plan was implemented, and he was eligible to join, in October 2001.
The settlement with Dobbins ended the possibility of a legal battle that could have been both costly and public.
The Dobbins payout case surfaces at a time when the Broward Inspector General’s Office continues to investigate past mismanagement at the city.
TOO GOOD OF A DEAL
Dobbins, a 30-year city employee, worked during a period in which the city offered a lucrative retirement plan to its top managers, a benefits package they withdrew after only six years, in 2007, because of its cost.
The city administration in 2008 told the city commission it would include Dobbins in the lucrative plan, but backed off after discovering the high cost, ranging from $727,000 to $955,000.
Three former city managers who now draw pensions under the management retirement plan offered no explanation for what happened. Randolph J. (RJ) Intindola said he had “no idea” why Dobbins was excluded; Good did not respond to a request for comment; and Mark Antonio said “I no longer work for the city; call the city.”
The Dobbins case illustrates high costs of the plan and what critics say is the city administration’s bungling by overlooking a long-time employee who worked his way up through the ranks.
“This shows how expensive the plan was,” said local activist Csaba Kulin. “It also shows how incompetent the city manager was…for not putting him in” the plan. “This is also indicative of the way the city handles matters, keeping everything quiet and muscling everyone,” Kulin said, referring to the settlement terms that required Dobbins to keep his mouth shut.
CONFIDENTIALITY ‘NOT APPROPRIATE’
Veteran labor attorney Ron Cohen of Miami Lakes questioned the city’s use of a confidentiality clause in the settlement.
“While it’s not illegal, confidentiality is not appropriate when public funds are involved,” Cohen said.
Dobbins was in a management position when the plan was created, but nonetheless remained a participant in the city’s General Employees Retirement Plan.
The city admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, which suggests the error was inadvertent.
Dobbin’s exclusions meant he did not receive the enhanced retirement benefits under the management plan, including being eligible for full retirement benefits this January at age 52, after 25 years of service.
For example, a city pension calculation in 2008 showed that Dobbins would receive a monthly pension of $6,350 if he were placed in the management plan.
The same analysis stated Dobbins would collect about $3,800 under the General Employees Plan, which provides full benefits at age 60 with 30 years of service.
The settlement, approved by the city commission in a 4-1 vote in August 2009, was labeled as “severance” pay by the city. The dissenting vote came from then city commissioner Keith London.
Under the deal, Dobbins retired from the city effective January 1, 2010 under the general employees plan. Specifically, it called for Dobbins to receive $300,000 in a lump sum, another receive approximately $126,000 in salary for the final quarter of 2009 to be used for pension calculations and $24,000 for unused vacation and sick time. Dobbins will start drawing his city pension in 2021.
City personnel officials would not say how much he would be entitled to. However, the additional salary he received under the settlement will likely raise his monthly pension considerably.
LONG TIME CITY WORKER
Dobbins, who today lives in another state, began his career with the city in June, 1979, in an entry position at the Public Works Department at the age of 18. By Aug. 2001 he worked his way into a management position in the city’s utilities division.
Two months later, the city began the management retirement plan. But Dobbins’s name wasn’t on the list of eligible employees.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Dobbins was sent a letter by the city asking him if he wanted to transfer into the retirement plan. For reasons that are unclear, it didn’t happen.
In June 2008, then city manager Good informed the city commission that Dobbins would be switched from the General Employees Pension Plan to the management plan, retroactive to the time he should have been included in the plan. Good changed his mind a year later, however, telling commissioners that “due to an oversight” Dobbins wasn’t in the plan.
At the same time, he announced the settlement, saying it was in the best interest of the city.
By Eric Barton, BrowardBulldog.org
Next month, a federal prosecutor and a defense attorney will stand before a judge in Miami and do something extraordinary. Both sides will present evidence and call witnesses to try to convince the judge to set a man free.
Elroy Phillips has served nearly half of his 24-year sentence on drug charges. But federal prosecutors have agreed to release him after the cop who helped convict Phillips resigned amid accusations that he was dirty.
U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard is reluctant to release Phillips. She wants the hearing at which both sides will work together to talk her into signing off on the deal.
Asking prosecutors and a defense attorney to work together in support of a man’s freedom is exceedingly rare, legal experts say, and just how they will pull off this hearing is still unknown.
“It is rare that a case like this is even considered on its merits,” said Bruce E. Reinhart, a former federal prosecutor who approved the indictment against Phillips. “To get to the point where the government concedes on an issue, that’s very rare on its own. But to get to the point where both sides are trying to convince the judge to let a man go, that’s a needle in a haystack.”
Initially, Phillips’ arrest seemed simple.
West Palm Beach Police Department Officer Michael Ghent claimed to have bought a $50 crack rock from Phillips on April 6, 2001, as part of a federal operation to break up a drug ring. Ghent’s testimony was key in convincing a jury to convict Phillips on the drug buy and on related possession charges for drugs and guns found by police when he was arrested.
Lenard sentenced Phillips to 30 years, but after an appeals court sent the case back, she lowered it to 24 years
In 2007, after Phillips had spent five years in federal prison, West Palm police arrested the former star witness, Ghent, on charges that he had taken $12,500 in bribes and sexual favors from a massage parlor. An internal affairs investigation determined he may have sold drugs while working as an undercover officer. Ghent cut a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to do 60 hours of community service and give up his police certification in exchange for the charges being dropped.
From prison, Phillips pored over the evidence from his trial and conducted his own research. He found new pieces of evidence that seemed to support his innocence.
Phillips learned that Ghent was taking a community college course the night of the drug buy and had never clocked in at work that day. Phillips also hired a private investigator who tracked down a confidential informant who supposedly witnessed the transaction; she said she wasn’t there that night.
After Ghent’s resignation from the police department, Phillips asked Judge Lenard in 2009 to reconsider his sentence, in what’s commonly called a 2255 filing. The motion dragged on until earlier this year, when Phillips’ attorney, prosecutors, and an FBI agent interviewed Ghent in Arizona. Prosecutors would later identify at least 11 lies Ghent told in his deposition, including denying that he sold drugs while a cop.
Not wanting to put Ghent on the stand to fight the 2255 filing, prosecutors in May agreed to drop most of the charges against Phillips except for one related to cocaine found in his pocket when he was arrested. That charge carries a two-year sentence, so he would be set free if the judge accepts the deal.
U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard
But at a hearing May 16, Lenard declined to act on the prosecutions’ request and said she wanted a detailed filing on why she should release Phillips.
Prosecutors and Phillips’ attorney, Michael Zelman, worked jointly on a 60-page memorandum filed with the court May 31, but Lenard, without explanation, declined to act.
At a status hearing Oct. 5, Lenard also declined to accept the deal and release Phillips. Instead, she ordered both sides to return to her courtroom for in December to help her make up her mind.
Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst for CNN, has read the court filings in the Phillips case at the request of BrowardBulldog.org. She said the joint hearing is unique.
“The entire situation is uncommon. It’s certainly uncommon for federal prosecutors to move to set aside a conviction, and it’s certainly very uncommon for them to work together with the defense.”
Still, Hostin said, the judge’s reluctance is understandable. Judges don’t like to reverse sentences, especially when they were the ones who presided at trial.
“It does make sense to pause and be sure she’s doing the right thing,” Hostin said. “But I would bet she’s going to make this right.”
Reinhart, a supervisor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time Phillips was convicted, says part of the problem in reaching a decision is that the federal law regarding a 2255 filing is “esoteric and confusing.”
Even if the judge determines Ghent was a dirty cop and can’t be trusted, it may not be enough to release Phillips if nobody knew Ghent was dirty at the time of the trial.
“If courts go down that road, inmates would be bombarding them with new pieces of evidence years after convictions,” Reinhart said.
Likewise, Nova Southeastern Law School Professor Bob Jarvis says every witness has flaws, even cops who later are forced to resign. “Just because the cop was dirty and was lying about other things doesn’t mean he was lying this time,” said Jarvis, who has read the recent filings in the Phillips case.
Alex Acosta, a former Miami U.S. Attorney who is now dean of the Florida International University law school, declined to comment on Phillips’ case specifically. He said, however, that whenever prosecutors ask a judge to release an inmate there are special circumstances that don’t necessarily mean the inmate is innocent – only that prosecutors simply don’t want to continue with the case.
“It’s unfortunate that mistakes occur,” Acosta said. “When they do on occasion, we can’t correct them, but we can move to prevent future harm.”
Prosecutors and Phillips’ attorney declined to comment for this article. Speaking by phone from federal prison in Miami, Phillips says he keeps focusing on the day he still believes is coming: the day he walks free. “I just keep my head up,” he says. “We’re still in this fight. Now we have the prosecutors on our side, so now I’m not alone.”
Eric Barton is editor of Fort Lauderdale Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.