Holness: Margate isn’t the only city that’s mishandled CRA funds

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness

Broward Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness

In the wake of a critical inspector general’s report that accused Margate of mishandling millions of dollars in community redevelopment funds, Broward Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness says he expects similar findings of wrongdoing about other cities as the county’s investigation continues.

“Unfortunately, this is not the only CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) handling it this way; others are doing it,” said Holness. “Funds should be utilized…to rid areas of slum and blight, reduce unemployment and help businessmen. CRAs are going for big projects that don’t help neighborhoods and small businessmen.”

The inspector general referred the matter to the Broward Commission “for any action they deem appropriate,” stating the county may reclaim as much as $2.7 million from Margate’s Community Redevelopment Agency (MCRA). The commission has yet to debate the matter.

But Holness, the only member of the nine-member commission to respond to requests for comment, said he’s more interested in the Margate CRA using the funds “the way though should be used, but are not” rather than focusing on reclaiming any mishandled funds.

Attorney Frank Schnidman, a CRA expert and senior fellow at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, also expects county overseers to find that other CRAs mishandled funds similar to Margate. CRAs have “not paid attention as to how to account for funds left over” at the end of the year, treating their funds “as another [city] account and not as a trust fund” to be maintained separately, Schnidman said.

The county’s findings gives it “leverage to bring Margate to the table to get them to comply” with state requirements through an agreement that would tighten accountability, Schnidman said. If no agreement is reached, the county “has the legal right to the return” of the $2.7 million in county property tax funds that the IG identified in its report.

Should the county take no action, commissioners would be left to explain “to the taxpayers not going after the money,” Schnidman said.

The inspector generals’ July 22 report found that the Margate CRA had “engaged in misconduct in connection with the handling of tax increment financing (TIF) funds it received from Broward County and other taxing authorities.” TIF funds come from taxes levied on the increased value of property in the designated redevelopment area.

“We found that the MCRA has a pattern of intentionally retaining excess funds for the later use of whatever unspecified matter it desired,” the report state. “The MCRA’s failure to appropriate the money in accordance with any legally prescribed alternatives has resulted in a debt to Broward County of approximately $2.7 million for the TIF monies contributed in fiscal years 2008-2012.”

Under state law, the report said, the agency must allocate excess funds to projects to be completed within three years, to reduce existing debt, or to place money in accounts to pay down future anticipated debt. Otherwise, end of the year funds have to be paid back to the county, the city, or the North Broward Hospital District – the entities contributing funds to the Margate CRA.

The report cited one Margate CRA official who informed his board two years ago that the agency “had roughly $10 million in cash that was not committed to any project.”

The county’s report said Margate CRA officials claimed that the funds were allocated to the long-awaited City Center project. However, the report concluded, “…evidence plainly shows that the MCRA has never appropriated a single dollars of annual excess TIF monies for that project.”

In its response to the inspector general, the Margate CRA asserted that it was in “compliance with the spirit if not the letter” of state law, asserting said it “did not hoard public monies for improper purposes.” It nevertheless offered to “appropriate money it ‘hoarded’ to a more specific mandated option,” according to the response prepared by Rachel Bach, a Margate CRA official.

The county’s report on Margate stemmed from an investigation started last September of 10 Broward cities and appeared to center on their handling of end-of-year funds. Other cities included Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes, Davie, Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, Plantation and Coral Springs.

The probe followed a yearlong investigation of the Hallandale Beach CRA in which county investigators found the agency made $2.2 million in questionable expenditures. The Hallandale investigation and report, issued in March 2013, followed a string of stories in BrowardBulldog.org about questionable city loans to local businesses and controversial land purchase through the CRA.

The inspector general’s office also previously determined that Lauderdale Lakes misspent over $2.5 million in CRA funds.

Margate, like Hallandale before it, challenged the authority of the inspector general to investigate the city’s CRA.

“No report should be issued in this investigation, and if it is, it should be issued to the MCRA or the City of Margate, and not Broward County,” the Margate CRA stated in its response.

The Inspector General has dismissed that jurisdictional claim, stating it has the authority to investigate and asserting that it will continue to probe expenditures of CRA funds.

Hallandale finds allies amid aggressive response to county’s request for CRA documents

By William Gjebre, Broward Bulldog.org hbcralogo

A group of Broward cities have reached an agreement with the county Inspector General’s Office to turn over financial documents from their redevelopment agencies, temporarily heading off a possible court battle over the county’s claim that it has jurisdiction to investigate those agencies.

The Inspector General’s Office requested those Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) documents earlier this month citing its authority under the county charter, but after encountering resistance agreed instead to request them using Florida’s public records law.

Hallandale Beach city commissioners, criticized this year by the Inspector General for mishandling millions of dollars in CRA funds, sounded the battle cry at a meeting on Monday with a vote to explore teaming up with other CRA cities to obtain a legal ruling about the county’s authority over CRAs.

Commissioners approved several aggressive measures aimed squarely at the Inspector General’s Office, including a requirement that the county pay the city copying and other fees for any CRA financial documents it receives under the Public Records Act.

Commissioners authorized the city to file its own public records request for the Inspector General’s file on its completed yearlong probe of Hallandale Beach, including information about the sources of the allegations that helped start the investigation. Likewise, the commission also approved asking the Inspector General to specify the authority it believes it has under county law, or any legal ruling, to investigate CRAs.

MILLIONS AT STAKE

The Inspector General’s request for CRA records from city halls’ across the county signaled the opening of a broad inquiry into the potential misuse of funds and a possible attempt to recover from those cities millions of unspent taxpayer dollars.

Hallandale Beach maintains the Inspector General does not have the authority to investigate CRAs, and that CRAs are under the jurisdiction of the state.

“The jurisdiction question has to be resolved,” the Hallandale Beach CRA’s attorney Steven Zelkowitz told the CRA’s board of directors Monday. In Hallandale, as in many other cities, the city commission also sits as the CRA’s board.

Zelkowitz is expected to seek support for any legal action from eight other cities that challenged the IG’s request under the county charter for the financial documents. Those cities are: Lauderdale Lakes, Dania Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Pompano, and Davie.

“I feel comfortable that we have support,” Zelkowitz told Hallandale commissioners. The cost of any legal action would be spread among the participating cities, he said.

Plantation, the tenth city to receive a letter from the Inspector General, is not part of the challenge. Mayor Diane Bendekovic said her city had already provided the requested documents under the original request.

Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, who leads the pushback effort against the county, blamed county officials for “a witch hunt” against cities whose CRAs receive property tax funds from the county.

“I’m tired of the Inspector General wasting taxpayers’ money,” Cooper said. “We welcome an investigation by the proper authority,” Cooper said, adding that the Inspector General is not that agency.

OTHER CRA CITIES CONCERNED

Hostilities between Hallandale and the county flared again following the Inspector General’s letter to Hallandale Beach and nine other Broward cities seeking a variety of CRA financial documents. This time, Hallandale’s concerns were shared by others.

Attorneys and officials representing eight CRA cities challenged the Inspector General’s assertion of jurisdiction under the county charter. They met last week with Jennifer Merino, general counsel for the Inspector General.

Zelkowitz said an agreement was reached in which the Inspector General’s Office would rescind its letter citing charter authority and re-issue a letter seeking the information under Chapter 119 of Florida’s statutes, the public records act.

The county also agreed to push back the date when the documents were due to be produced by about two weeks. The records had been due on Friday.

Merino told Browardbulldog.org her agency agreed only to “clarify” its request letter, saying the agency always wanted the documents under the public records law even though the original letter cited the county charter. She also said her agency is only conducting an “inquiry” for information and not an investigation.

According to Zelkowitz, the Inspector General’s office refused a request by the cities to jointly seek a ruling in Broward Circuit Court on whether does or does not have investigatory authority over CRAs. He also said the Inspector General failed to cite specific provisions giving it investigatory authority over CRAs.

Merino, maintaining that the Inspector General’s Office has the authority, said her office felt it “was not the right time” to seek such a court ruling.

“We are not trying to throttle any investigation,” Zelkowitz told Hallandale commissioners. “We want the right investigative agency to do the investigation.”

In June, Broward County commissioners, expressed frustration when told by county staff that their authority to audit Hallandale Beach’s CRA was limited by both state and county law. They vowed to change state law to gain control. The commissioners created the Inspector General’s Office several years ago.

In Hallandale, several of Mayor Cooper’s colleagues expressed a different kind of frustration as the tug-of-war continues with the Inspector General’s Office.

“We spent enough taxpayers’ money on this,” said Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy.

But Commissioner Michele Lazarow, the lone dissenting vote in Monday’s commission action, has called for state officials to seek an Attorney General’s opinion on the city’s use of CRA funds, and for an outside audit of the CRA to determine if funds have been misused in the past.

William Gjebre can be reached at wgjebre@browardbulldog.org

Broward opens broad inquiry into misuse of property tax dollars by CRAs; millions at stake

By William Gjebre and Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org iglogo

The Broward Inspector General’s Office has opened a broad inquiry into the potential misuse of public funds across the county with written requests sent to at least nine cities with a Community Redevelopment Agency to hand over a variety of financial records for inspection.

One official with knowledge of the inquiry told BrowardBulldog.org the Inspector General’s review is “the beginning of a long term process.”

Frank Schnidman, an attorney and senior fellow at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, said the Inspector General’s request for records is all about millions in tax dollars and who should control them.

“It’s about time that somebody was trying to hold CRAs accountable. The Inspector General’s Office might not be the right mechanism to do that, but it’s about time,” Schnidman said.

CRA’s administer programs within districts designated by local governments under state law as community redevelopment areas.  Boards made up of local government officials or persons appointed by the local government run them.

Tax increment financing is used to fund CRAs, which receive tax revenue generated by increases in real property value in their area over a baseline number determined when the CRA is created. By law, those revenues – the “increment,”— are put into a CRA Trust Fund that’s dedicated to the redevelopment of the area.

KEEPING TABS ON CRAS

In sending letters to the CRAs the Inspector General’s Office is carrying out a vow made earlier this year amid its investigation of Hallandale Beach’s CRA to keep close tabs on municipal redevelopment groups that receive half their funds from property taxes collected by the county.

Identical records requests were sent to at least eight of the 10 Broward cities with CRAs that receive county funding – Hallandale Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes, Davie, Pompano Beach, Margate, Deerfield Beach and Plantation. An official in Coral Springs, the 10th city, said that city has not received a letter but expects one soon.

While some CRA officials express uneasiness, others welcomed the Inspector General’s action.

“I think they are looking for general information, but they may want to see if there is anything that’s improper,” said Will Allen, administrator at the Davie CRA. “They won’t find anything wrong here.”

In Hallandale, City Commissioner Michele Lazarow said, “I don’t think it is an accident that the letter was sent” shortly after the Inspector General issued a critical report against the Hallandale Beach CRA.

Earlier this year, the Inspector General charged that Hallandale Beach city officials had “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars in CRA funds. The office said it found at least $2.2 million in questionable expenditures between 2007 and 2012.

Mayor Joy Cooper challenged many of the county’s allegations. Asked to comment about the Inspector General’s new request for documents, she said the city “will respond accordingly.”

The Inspector General’s office asked the cities to produce:  

*A copy of the ordinance that established the CRA Community Redevelopment Trust Fund. Hallandale Beach, for instance, did not have a separate fund for the first 16 years of the agency’s existence.

*Bank statements for the redevelopment trust fund accounts for the months of September and October for the years 2009-2012.

*The CRA’s general ledger account ending balances from 2009-2012

*Any and all CRA capital improvement plans for 2009-2012.

*Documentation for the disposition of all money remaining in the redevelopment trust fund at the end of fiscal year ending September 20, 2012 that was later used to reduce indebtedness for pledged funds.

*Records regarding all money deposited into escrow accounts from 2009-2012 for repayment of CRA debts.

Schnidman said the records that were sought indicate that the county’s agents are attempting to determine if the CRAs have complied with the requirements of state statute – 163.387(7) – regarding how tax increment trust fund balance amounts are to be treated at the end of the fiscal year.

Under the law, Schnidman said, those balances are supposed to be proportionally returned each year to each taxing authority, such as the county, that paid into the CRA.

“What the Inspector General is doing is he’s trying to figure out which of the county’s CRAs are in violation of the law and need to return all this money they’ve husbanded away,” said Schnidman. “It’s millions of dollars.”

WILL OTHER COUNTIES FOLLOW BROWARD’S LEAD?

At a time of tight municipal budgets, the Inspector General’s gambit could reverberate it city halls across the state.

“I wonder if other counties will follow this effort by the Broward IG’s Office in the continuing revenue discussions between some counties and their CRAs,” said Schnidman. “The threshold question is by what authority is the Broward IG seeking this information from Broward County Dependent District CRAs that it arguably does not have jurisdiction over?”

City officials in Hallandale briefly challenged the Inspector General’s authority over its CRA, but later backed off that position.

In Margate, where the CRA has focused on “streetscape” improvements along Atlantic Boulevard and State Road 7, City Attorney Eugene Steinfeld took a wait-and-see approach to the county’s inquiry.

“It sounds like they are just gathering information,” Steinfeld said.

Lauderdale Lakes CRA executive director J. Gary Rogers welcomed any new oversight.

“They are doing their job,” said Rogers.

In 2012, following up on a story the year before by BrowardBulldog.org about missing redevelopment funds, the Inspector General found that Lauderdale Lakes had misspent $2.5 million in CRA funds. The city is repaying the money to the CRA.

“We were investigated and employees were terminated,” Rogers said. “We came close to a big financial disaster” under a previous administration, added Rogers who was not with the city at the time.

“I got no problem with them looking at us,” Rogers said. “They want to make sure we are spending money appropriately.”

William Gjebre can be reached at wgjebre@browardbulldog.org

FDLE and Broward College disagree on who is responsible for controversial police training

This is Part II of a two-part series about teaching counter-terrorism at Broward College. To read Part I, click here.

By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org

Broward College's Institute of Public Safety PHOTO: Karla Bowsher/Broward Bulldog

Teaching local police officers how best to do their duty is an important job. But no one seems to know who is responsible for vetting instructors or setting course work standards at Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety.

The dean of the Institute says the state is responsible. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, however, says that Dean Linda Wood is wrong.

“The onus is on the training center to ‘vet’ the instructor and the course materials that he is using,” said Glen Hopkins, an FDLE bureau chief.

The issue arose as controversy has surrounded counterterrorism instructor Sam Kharoba, who holds state certification clinics for Broward’s law enforcement officers and others at the Institute formerly known as the Broward Police Academy.

As Broward Bulldog reported last week, critics say his teachings equate to ethnic and religious profiling. Civil libertarians and the U.S. Department of Justice have rejected such techniques as unconstitutional and discriminatory, and South Florida’s Muslims says they encourage police officers to violate Muslims’ civil rights.

“The content of this training has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with counterterrorism and it has everything to do with the myths and stereotypical Google engine scholar propaganda against Muslims,” said Nezar Hamze, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. “Obviously, the Muslim community takes issue with that.”

Terrorism and issue in Broward

The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon brought the issue of terrorism home to Broward.

South Florida was a base for Egyptian-born lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, who authorities said lived for 14 months in Coral Springs and Hollywood. He and other 9/11 hijackers lived in South Florida and trained at flight schools in the state. In April 2001, a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy issued Atta a traffic ticket in Tamarac for driving without a license.

But Broward’s connections to terrorism are broader. In 2010, alleged al-Qaeda member Adnan El Shukrijumah, who studied at Broward College before climbing the ranks of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorism organization, was charged with plotting attacks on the New York subway system. The U.S. State Department has a reward of up to $5 million for his capture.

In May, federal agents arrested Izhar Khan, the imam at a Margate mosque, according to news reports. He and others were charged with financially supporting the Taliban in Pakistan.

There have been additional Broward and South Florida connections to Islamic terrorism since 9/11. And in the past decade, Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety has focused on training law enforcement in counterterrorism.

Extremism expert Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama said Kharoba uses Americans’ heightened concern about terrorism.

“He’s ginning up this fear of Muslims based on a fear of terrorism,” said Beirich, the center’s director of research. “It seems to me the real problem is the agencies that are hiring him.”

Hiring a counterterrorism teacher

Florida Statutes require law enforcement officers to take 40 hours of training every four years as a condition of their employment. Each year, Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety serves about 2,500 officers by offering 150-300 courses.

The Institute learned of Kharoba’s courses from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to Broward College spokesperson Aileen Izquierdo. Even the curriculum was provided by FDLE, Dean Wood said.

But the FDLE says the Institute, one of 41 certified training centers in the state, has the final say. “They’ve got the decision as to what training they ultimately put on,” said FDLE’s Hopkins, bureau chief of standards for the agency’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.

Kharoba’s course is considered specialized, one of three FDLE course classifications, so the training centers that offer it receive leeway to tailor the curriculum, according to Hopkins. “There’s a lot of latitude that’s given to them in creating these things,” he said of specialized courses.

The cover of Sam Kharoba's self-published book. PHOTO: Karla Bowsher/Broward Bulldog

Hopkins, who said he had never heard of Kharoba, also said that instructors must take a 64-hour training course but that some may be exempted from the requirement. He did not know whether Kharoba was exempt and told Broward Bulldog to ask the Institute of Public Safety. Wood said she hires contract vendors like Kharoba based on their experience.

Broward College has hired Kharoba at least nine times since 2006, paying him $6,000 or more for each two- or three-day course, according to his contract with the college.

Generally, FDLE funds training offered by state-certified centers with public dollars. But public records show that since 2007, the Institute of Public Safety has paid Kharoba with grant money obtained from the U.S. Department of Education: Broward College received $287,000 in 2009 and $357,000 in 2010.

Hopkins says this means the college is fully responsible for Kharoba’s courses because FDLE only oversees the courses that it funds.

Still, despite criticism that includes a recent article in a national magazine about Kharoba’s teaching methods, Wood and Izquierdo both said that Broward College has never received any negative reviews of Kharoba’s courses.

Derek Newton, communications director for the ALCU of Florida, said he was unaware of any complaints or civil lawsuits regarding Kharoba.

A sensitive subject

Kharoba defends his methodology and blames the media for misrepresenting counterterrorism efforts.

In March, Washington Monthly magazine questioned the validity of his curriculum in an article about civil liberties and counterterrorism instruction. Kharoba issued a statement that accused the magazine of “slander.”

“This report is a testament to the sad state of affairs of leftist media who will use any means to attack their opponents on the right,” his rebuttal says.

A Broward Bulldog reporter asked to attend one of Kharoba’s classes. Kharoba agreed, but on the condition that the reporter sign a confidentiality agreement because his coursework is “law enforcement sensitive.” Broward Bulldog would not agree to that condition and did not attend.

“You don’t want the bad guys to know what you know about them,” Kharoba said of his sensitive materials.

Kharoba would not let a reporter review his book, which he uses in some of the courses he teaches. He declined to provide a photo of himself for this article because he believes his profession puts his life at risk.

Top law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Al Lamberti, declined to be interviewed about Broward College’s counterterrorism training program, or discuss accusations that police officers are being trained to discriminate.

“Counterterrorism instruction would fall under the category of sensitive security information and it’s not something (Lamberti) would discuss,” said BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal.

Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley said he was unaware of Kharoba and had heard no complaints about the Institute.

Hollywood Chief Chadwick Wagner did not respond to an interview request. The Broward County Police Benevolent Association also did not comment.

Sunrise Chief John Brooks

Sunrise Police Chief John Brooks, head of the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association, also did not respond to requests for comment. The association helps to review and direct projects funded by the Institute of Public Safety’s 2010 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, according to the grant abstract. The grant currently funds Kharoba’s courses.

Likewise, the International Counter Terrorism Officers Association — a nonprofit that Kharoba says has thousands of members, including him — did not respond to interview requests.

Kharoba is an instructor at the Institute even though he has no training in counterterrorism and little formal education about Islam.

The Jordanian-American says he earned a certificate in Arabic studies from the University of London while enrolled in Jordan’s British education system. Middle East expert Dustin Berna of Nova Southeastern University doubts the significance of the certificate. “I have never heard of such a thing,” he said by email.

Still, Kharoba insists that his independent study of Islam and his upbringing in Jordan qualify him to educate law enforcement officers about counterterrorism.

“I don’t have a degree in it, but I’m extremely literate in Islamic theology,” he said. “When you live in a culture, you acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge about it as opposed to studying it.”

Kharoba’s background

Kharoba, 45, was born to Christian parents in Amman, Jordan, where his father worked for the British government. Kharoba says he grew up exposed to both Western and Arabic religion and culture.

He immigrated to the United States after high school and said he earned a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University in computer and electrical engineering with a minor in math in 1987. A university official confirmed only the degree in electrical engineering.

Until 2001, Kharoba worked in software development.

After 9/11, he noticed that the media did not use the real names of many of the terrorists who made headlines. Instead, nicknames or aliases were often used because the differences between Arabic and Western naming conventions led to mistranslations.

Seizing the opportunity, Kharoba started to teach the law enforcement community about the nuances of Arabic names, whose flexibility allows ill-willed foreign nationals to adopt multiple U.S. identities.

“That’s how I got into law enforcement and counterterrorism training,” Kharoba said. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about law enforcement, how they work, or anything like that.”

From there, Kharoba branched into other subjects. “As I started working within the law enforcement community, I found that not only is it the names that they’re challenged with,” he said. “They didn’t know anything about the culture or the religion.”

To help raise his profile as a counterterrorism instructor, Kharoba founded Counter Terrorism Operations Center, LLC, in 2006. He receives payment from Broward College under the company’s name.

Kharoba, a former Coral Springs resident who moved to Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2008, would not say how much money he makes in the counterterrorism business. But he says his desire to prevent another 9/11, not money, is what motivates him.

“When I became a naturalized citizen, I took an oath of allegiance, and I was fulfilling my oath. I saw that there’s a chronic problem, I saw that there’s a way that I could contribute to make things better for my country, and that’s what prompted me to do it,” he said of his transition from software to counterterrorism.

 

Critics say Broward College teaches police to profile, discriminate against Muslims

This is Part I of a two-part series about counterterrorism instruction at Broward College.

By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org

A billboard at I-95 and Stirling Road in May PHOTO: Alan Cherry, Broward Bulldog

Broward College’s counterterrorism courses are supposed to teach Broward police officers how to protect citizens from terrorists. But critics say the college teaches discrimination instead.

Civil rights advocates and others have raised doubts about a program that encourages officers to target certain Muslims based on appearance, behavior and beliefs — a profiling technique that the federal government says discriminates against minorities.

Criticism stems from the teaching of instructor Sam Kharoba at the college’s Institute of Public Safety. The Christian Jordanian-American bills himself as a counterterrorism expert despite no formal education on the subject. He says radicalized Muslims pose an inherent threat to the United States and that he can teach law enforcement officers how to spot radicals.

“You have extremists that believe that they should be doing these violent acts to serve Allah,” he said. “What I simply do in my class is I identify what is the theology of these radicals and how do we identify them.”

But scholars and civil rights advocates say otherwise.

Dustin Berna, a terrorism expert at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, said it’s not possible to identify a radical Muslim based on looks and religion because they have been trained to blend in with American society.

“The Muslim who’s going to attack us is one who’s going to assimilate so they can hide to attack us,” said Berna, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Islamic fundamentalism. “So to profile Muslims because they’re Muslims does not work.”

For law enforcement officers to single out suspects based on religion violates their constitutional rights, according to ACLU of Florida spokesperson Derek Newton. “The use of stereotypes and racial profiling is not a legitimate law enforcement technique, it doesn’t work, and it’s a clear violation of civil rights,” he said.

Despite criticism from a national magazine article published in March, the dean of Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety, Linda Wood, says she has never attended or observed Kharoba’s classes and wouldn’t comment on his profiling technique.

“I’m not sure I have a good definition of what profiling would mean,” said Wood, who worked in law enforcement and corrections training for more than 20 years.

A profile of discrimination

Kharoba defines a “radical Muslim” as someone who treats women as possessions, hates the United States and believes Islam should be the only religion in the world. He claims radicals can also be identified by 10 to 12 physical markers, such as a headband, types of facial hair, or a prayer bump on the forehead from frequent contact with a prayer mat.

Most importantly, radicals are ideologically inclined toward violence. It’s only a matter of time before they attack, Kharoba says.

“Once you identify that you have a radical Muslim population, you deal with it in a manner that is no different than dealing with areas with gangs and narcotics,” he said. “These are not desired elements. You want to get rid of them.”

Gang members and drug dealers, however, often have arrest records that law enforcement officers can base a suspicion of wrongdoing on. But because radical Muslims don’t necessarily have a police record, Kharoba instructs officers to base their suspicion on characteristics that include religion.

He also tells officers to use “legal harassment,” that is, to enforce “every statute on the books” when dealing with an “undesired element” like radical Muslims.

Civil libertarians and authorities say such techniques do more harm than good and should be avoided. The American Civil Liberties Union says that targeting a suspect based on religion, race, ethnicity or nationality is racial profiling, which is an unconstitutional form of discrimination.

“Giving the appearance that racial profiling is a legitimate law enforcement tool is deeply troubling,” said the ACLU’s Newton.

The U.S. Department of Justice agrees. The agency released a racial profiling fact sheet in 2003, when the George W. Bush administration banned the use of racial profiling in federal law enforcement.

“Routine patrol duties must be carried out without consideration of race,” says the six-page document. “Use of race or ethnicity is permitted only when the federal officer is pursuing a specific lead concerning the identifying characteristics of persons involved in an identified criminal activity.”

Shafayat Mohamed, a sheikh who runs the Darul Uloom Institute and Islamic Training Center in Pembroke Pines, says appearance is an invalid way to screen for radicals. He says officers should identify radicals based on who they associate with, what they say, their practices and their education.

“You can’t just look at a man and know he’s a radical,” said Mohamed, who said he has lectured at the college’s Institute of Public Safety. “The culture is so diverse.”

Kharoba acknowledges profiling techniques do not always work.

He said he shows students more than 50 photos of Jihadists wearing headbands, suggesting that wearing a headband every day is a sign of being a martyr and authorities should use that observation to target suspects.

“So it is safe to say that it is a credible threat,” he said. “Now, can I say it’s the case 100 percent of the time? No. There’s nothing that’s going to be 100 percent.”

Teachings that work against themselves

Profiling to identify radical Muslims, say experts, works against the interests of law enforcement.

Such tactics alienate American Muslims and therefore jeopardize their assistance to the War on Terror, according to the New York University School of Law’s “Rethinking Radicalization” report, issued in March.

“American Muslims often believe they are treated as a suspect class,” the report says. “Although American Muslims have thus far been instrumental in assisting law enforcement agencies in thwarting terrorist plots…broad surveillance and intrusion into religious spaces could create barriers to this cooperation.”

About 20,000 Muslims live in Broward, according to the Sun-Sentinel. And as many as 7 million live in the U.S., according to the national office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which advocates for Muslims and educates non-Muslims about Islam.

Kharoba agrees that moderate Muslims can help law enforcement officers identify radicals. He denies doing harm, and says his teaching promotes understanding.

“Is counterterrorism training alienating Muslim societies? Absolutely not,” he said. “On the contrary, we are helping these officers understand the culture, understand the religion, and how to better establish communication with those populations.”

Kharoba added, “If you do not know their culture, you could actually offend them or insult them unintentionally.”

PHOTO: Karla Bowsher, Broward Bulldog

But a CAIR Florida executive said Muslims here are sometimes more than insulted during encounters with police.

CAIR-FL receives an average of three complaints a month from South Florida Muslims, according to Executive Director Nezar Hamze, whose nonprofit organization seeks to resolve legitimate complaints.

“The cases I have, I can’t get into details, but the discrimination and civil rights violations we’re dealing with are pretty bad,” Hamze said of CAIR-FL’s open cases. Typically, he says, cases involve abuse of power by officers who profile or discriminate against Muslim citizens who have not broken the law or been arrested.

Hamze said he could not discuss closed cases because the parties often require confidentiality. He did, however, offer what he said were a few facts about a recent allegation without naming the police department, or the individuals, who were involved.

According to Hamze, while in the home of a black Muslim, an officer noticed Quranic artwork and a prayer rug. The officer, who did not have a warrant and was allowed into the house by the man, allegedly then made a series of racial, political and religious slurs — asking if he was part of al-Qaeda and if his children’s names were all “Ali Baba.” The officer allegedly called the man the N-word and arrested him for resisting arrest without violence.

The arrest was made even though the officer found no evidence to support the allegation that brought him to the man’s home in the first place, Hamze said. He said the case was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney General.

Hamze believes that profiling-based instruction like Kharoba’s has caused an increase in civil rights violations by law enforcement officers, but he could not provide supporting figures.

CAIR has been criticized in the past for allegedly supporting terrorist organizations and Kharoba still believes they are co-conspirators of terrorism. No credible proof has surfaced, however, and CAIR is widely believed by authorities to be a legitimate advocacy group.

No concerns at the college

Nationwide, Kharoba estimates that since 2002 he’s lectured to 20,000 law enforcement officers at training centers like Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety.

Despite the criticism and national attention, Broward College officials voiced no concern to Broward Bulldog about the accusation that the school has tolerated discrimination in one of its classrooms.

Broward College President J. David Armstrong declined a request for comment.

Dean Wood said she had no knowledge of the controversy surrounding Kharoba’s teaching methods, adding that the institute was not responsible for vetting or overseeing him.

If there is a problem, she said, it lies elsewhere.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  In Part II, Broward Bulldog looks at who vetted and approved Kharoba’s controversial lesson plans in counterterrorism.

 

Welcome to Broward Bulldog

Broward Bulldog Archives