By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel Photo: NBCMiami.com
Two of the biggest contracts that Broward Sheriff Scott Israel will ever get to hand out – worth about $500 million over five years to the winning bidders – are scheduled for award this summer.
The big-money deals now moving through BSO’s procurement pipeline will provide comprehensive healthcare services to the county’s approximately 5,000 jail inmates, and group health insurance for BSO’s 5,800 employees.
The way things are unfolding offers a troublesome look at how the new sheriff’s administration does business.
Two months after Israel’s January swearing-in, BSO suddenly called off its initial solicitation for inmate healthcare services. The plug was pulled even though proposals had been received, opened and bidders shortlisted.
Purchasing bureau director Neesa B. Warlen explained the cancellation in correspondence to bidders by saying that BSO would be making changes to its request for letters of interest.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause,” Warlen said in a March 13 letter. A BSO spokeswoman said last week that those changes included the addition of a cost containment goal and language changes and clarifications.
BID PACKAGES BECOME PUBLIC
A major side effect of the cancellation was to make public highly detailed corporate pitches containing specific price proposals for the job of inmate healthcare provider. Competitors now had access to what had been sealed, confidential information about how much each other had bid.
For example, incumbent Broward jail provider Armor Correctional Health Services learned that it was not the lowest bidder on cost-conscious BSO’s shortlist.
Dr. Jose Armas of Armor Correctional Health Services
Armor, owned by Miami physician Dr. Jose Armas, had offered to provide comprehensive medical, mental health and dental services to inmates for $145.6 million over five years. Nashville-based Correct Care Solutions said it would do the same job for $137.1 million. Naphcare, of Birmingham, Al., came in at $165.2 million.
Today, Armor, Correct Care, Naphcare are among seven bidders seeking the inmate healthcare contract. The others are Correctional Healthcare Company, Wexford Health Sources, Corizon Health and Diamond Drugs, which does business as Diamond Pharmacy Services.
The bidding is for a three year contract with two one year renewal periods. Bids were opened June 5, but by law the proposals are secret for 30 days or until BSO announces an intended decision. BSO has told those companies the selection committee will likely make a recommendation to the sheriff by the end of July.
Sheriff Israel added more intrigue to the mix with his February decision to hire Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William Rubin to represent the sheriff’s office at the county.
BSO pays The Rubin Group $7,000 a month. But Rubin is also being paid to represent two of BSO’s biggest vendors – Armor Correctional and Coventry Health Care, which provides group health insurance for BSO employees.
Like Armor, Coventry is expected to bid to keep its lucrative contract arrangement with BSO. The group insurance solicitation is for three years, with two one year extensions. It was issued June 7 and the due date for proposals is July 8.
The current annual cost for Coventry’s contract with BSO is $72 million, according to BSO. The contract expires at the end of the year.
Dr. Nabil El Sanadi
Sheriff’s general counsel Ron Gunzburger, told BrowardBulldog.org that it was made “very clear” to Rubin that neither he nor his firm can “play any role in lobbying BSO” on behalf of Rubin’s other clients.
But BSO’s contract with Rubin is less clear. It does not prohibit Rubin from lobbying the sheriff on behalf of others, yet does require him to disclose when a client “has or may potentially have an interest adverse to the interest of the sheriff.”
Under Democrat Israel, BSO’s procurement process for inmate health care has an interesting political cast. One of the three persons named to the selection committee that will review the proposals and recommend a company to the sheriff is Dr. Nabil El Sanadi.
El Sanadi is BSO’s chief medical director and chief of emergency medicine for Broward Health. He’s also a big political contributor with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed him to the Florida Board of Medicine in 2011, and Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca.
Records show that El Sanadi has given more than $80,000 to Republican candidates and causes since 2000. More than half of that money went to the Republican Party of Florida.
El Sanadi also appears to have a conflict of interest in his service on BSO’s selection committee because his other employer, Broward Health, wants Armor to get the contract.
Armor pays Broward Health to provide hospital and physician services to inmates – a relationship Armor wants to continue, according to its initial bid proposal that was made public after BSO canceled its first solicitation.
Ex-Sheriff Ken Jenne
El Sanadi did not respond to a request for comment.
IS JENNE INVOLVED BEHIND THE SCENES?
Armor’s bid package included a letter of support from Broward Health Senior Vice President Robert K. Martin who called Armor “a good working partner.”
“Armor’s staff works well with all levels of our organization and claims payment is timely, something we do not take for granted,” Martin wrote in is Sept. 10 letter.
Armor’s contract was up in December. Today, BSO is extending it on a month-to-month basis.
Armor has provided healthcare to Broward’s jail inmates since 2004. Sheriff Ken Jenne, who went to prison in 2007 on corruption charges, awarded the company its first five-year contract, worth $127 million.
The deal was controversial because BSO changed bid requirements in ways that helped Armor win and because Armor’s owner, Dr. Armas, had been a major contributor to Jenne’s re-election campaign. Controversy continued when it came out later that Jenne had lobbied other sheriffs around the state on Armor’s behalf, including Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
While Jenne now operates a consulting company, De Groene Poort, several sources who know him said he’s recently worked behind the scenes with longtime pal William Rubin to help Armor prevail again at BSO.
Jenne, who was given a public welcome at BSO headquarters this year by Israel, did not respond to requests for comment.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Convicted killer Robert Burkell Photo: Broward Sheriff’s Office
Ten years ago, killer Robert Burkell bludgeoned to death his 81-year-old tenant Charles Bertheas, cracking open his aged skull like an eggshell, according to police. The motive: money.
Today, Burkell is in prison for life. But his wife Susan, a Lauderhill resident who authorities say did not participate in the slaying but knew what was happening, is set to inherit more than $214,000 of the victim’s money.
Bertheas’s eight elderly brothers and sisters, who live in France, won’t see a dime. Charles Bertheas designated the Burkells as co-beneficiaries on his accounts at the Bank of America.
Florida law blocks convicted killers like Robert Burkell from receiving property or other benefits because of their victim’s death. The law, however, does not extend to their spouses or consider the murderous circumstances of their crime.
“This is a travesty,” said Broward Assistant State Attorney Peter Holden. “She’s benefiting from her husband’s criminal offense…It stinks.”
“We couldn’t prove she was involved in the murder,” said BSO Detective Tim Duggan. “The only thing we could say was there was no way that she could not have known it was going on. She left moments before it happened.
Mary Susan Burkell, 63, says prosecutors and police have it completely wrong. Her husband was mistakenly convicted of Bertheas’s murder, she said, and now Holden and Duggan are falsely slandering her.
“They said I knew what was happening? What a pair. What a pair,” she said. “No. That’s not correct. They have fantasized over this for so long. I don’t know how they sleep at night.”
Charles Bertheas, whose skull was crushed
The Florida Department of Financial Services, which has been holding Bertheas’s money, awarded it to Susan Burkell in a final order dated March 21. With the help of a Tampa private investigation agency, SRS International, she filed a claim for the property last August after the department rejected a claim by the dead man’s brother. SRS stands to collect a 20 percent commission.
Marc Bertheas, who is 80 and lives in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis, opposed the award and sought an extension of the state’s 30-day time limit to file an appeal. In a letter to the department postmarked April 19, he stated he needed time to find a U.S. lawyer, explaining that he was not fluent in English and had special medical conditions that limit his ability to communicate with legal counsel.
The Financial Services department rejected Bertheas’s request. The reason: It did not receive his letter until April 23 – the day after the deadline.
“Unfortunately, the referenced time period has expired and the department has taken steps to disburse the underlying unclaimed property funds in accordance with the final order,” Financial Services attorney Kate Pingolt Cotner informed Marc Bertheas in an April 25 letter.
Widower Charles Bertheas died Nov. 23, 2003 on the floor of the converted family room he rented from the Burkells in their four-bedroom home at 9107 NW 72 Court, Tamarac.
9107 NW 72 Court, Tamarac, the scene of the crime
Robert Burkell, now 64, summoned police that afternoon after reportedly finding the body. Bertheas had been dead for at least several hours.
Burkell told police he’d last seen Bertheas the night before when they had dinner together at a bar in Sawgrass Mills. He said he thought Bertheas might have hit his head in a drunken fall.
But “a large pool of blood” around the body, and a detective’s observation of “considerable trauma to the victim’s face and head” raised suspicion, court records say. The medical examiner’s office later classified the death as a homicide and attributed it to blunt trauma. The weapon used by the killer to crush Bertheas’s head was never identified.
A motive soon became apparent when it was found that Burkell had “forged a $10,000 check in Mr. Bertheas’s name” the night before the murder, according to Duggan. It wasn’t until later that police learned Bertheas had designated Robert and Susan Burkell as the beneficiaries of accounts containing $280,000 in savings at the time of his death, records say. That included proceeds from the sale of the condo he once shared with his late wife.
No signs of forced entry or a struggle were found at the home, and no valuables were missing. The victim’s DNA was discovered in bloodstains on a bath mat and counter top in the master bath – a location Susan Burkell later testified only she and her husband used. Likewise, two bare sole footprints found in dried blood adjacent to the body were matched to Robert Burkell, the records say.
Burkell was arrested two days before Christmas. It wasn’t his first arrest for murder.
Detective Duggan said that in 1986 Burkell confessed to bludgeoning William Yalden, a Geneva, N.Y. businessman whose body was later found in an Ohio cornfield, “in the exact same manner as he killed Bertheas.” Burkell’s confession was thrown out prior to trial, however, because of a Miranada rights warning issue, Duggan said.
“He definitely got away with that one,” said Duggan.
Things turned out differently for Burkell 20 years later in Florida. While Burkell did not confess to killing Bertheas, he was nevertheless convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal in 2008.
The money in Bertheas’s bank accounts was turned over to the state as unclaimed property in 2005. In 2011, Marc Bertheas tried to claim it, but his claim was denied because he was not a beneficiary.
Burkell’s murder conviction meant he had no longer had a legal claim to Bertheas’ money. Florida law treats killers who stand to inherit from their victims as if they died first.
“Consequently, Susan Burkell is the only beneficiary who is legally permitted to receive the unclaimed property funds at issue,” the Department of Financial Services decided.
Robert Burkell, who has three children by his wife of 40 years, is currently being held at the Broward County Jail while awaiting a ruling on his lawyer’s motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The motion is pending before Broward Circuit Judge Raag Singhal.
On the day she was interviewed, Susan Burkell had not received any payout from the state. How much she will ultimately get is unclear.
For reasons that are not made clear in state records, the $280,000 that was in Bertheas’s accounts at the time of his death had dwindled to $214,221.86 by 2008. Detective Duggan said he’s heard that amount has dwindled further – eaten away by attorney fees.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward Bugle owner Andrew Miller, right, with Roger Stone Photo: Dan Christensen
The registered owner of an online Broward “news” operation contributed over $120,000 to a political group that made payments to a firm owned by Sheriff Scott Israel’s campaign manager, Amy Rose, and to her husband.
Andrew James Miller, 29, gave the money to Taxpayers for Integrity in Government last August, amid Israel’s successful bid to unseat then-Sheriff Al Lamberti, election records show.
Miller is a protégé of flamboyant South Florida-based political consultant and prospective gubernatorial candidate, Roger Stone. Miller describes himself on his Twitter page as a “political pirate, provocateur, street fighter.”
Internet domain registration records obtained by BrowardBulldog.org identify Miller as the owner of record of the Broward Bugle, which calls itself “your new source for political and governmental news.” The records list Miller’s address as Stone’s former offices at 401 E. Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale.
A SECRETIVE NEWS SITE
The secretive Bugle does not identify its publisher or staffers by their real names. Its Hollywood attorney, Holiday Hunt Russell, would not answer questions about his client. Stone, an Israel supporter with a reputation as a political dirty trickster, has been rumored for months to be behind it because of stories with headlines like last month’s “Lamberti has Chutzpah.”
“I’m nervous talking about this. I don’t want to say something wrong,” said Miller when asked about the Bugle. “I’m not the one running it. I know who is, but I’m not at liberty to give any names. It’s above my pay grade.”
Said Stone, “I’m not going to talk about the Bugle, I’m really not.
Taxpayers for Integrity in Government is a Florida electioneering communications organization (ECO) which raised more than $1.2 million last year. Its chair is Todd Wilder, a Tallahassee political consultant and former top aide to disgraced ex-Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne.
Miller, who said he is a friend of Wilder, lives in a three-story walk-up in an older building on Manhattan’s upper east side. He said he makes a living as a political operative, but that Stone doesn’t pay him. However, with Stone, he worked last year for Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and Libertarian Party nominee for president.
Andrew Miller with Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson in a photo he tweeted last year
This year, Miller is helping another Stone client, Kristin Davis, a former madam running for mayor of New York City as a Libertarian. Miller’s stepmother, Dianne Thorne, is Stone’s longtime assistant and chairs the Libertarians’ Miami-Dade chapter.
Stone called Miller a “trust fund baby” from a wealthy Missouri family who’s “like a son to me.”
Miller, however, told a reporter he’s not wealthy. He also said he had no specific candidate or issue in mind when he decided in advance of last summer’s primary election to give $120,200 to Taxpayers for Integrity – his lone statewide political contribution last year, according to state records.
So why did Miller contribute such a large sum to an obscure group that, unlike candidates, can accept unlimited contributions to influence political campaigns?
“DOING MY CIVIC DUTY”
“I was just doing my civic duty. Making the world a better place,” said Miller. Asked where the money from, he said “my bank account.”
Two weeks before last November’s general election, Taxpayers for Integrity, paid $10,000 to Amy Rose’s firm, Win on the Ground Consulting, and another $5,000 to her husband, Wally Eccleston.
Those payments were unrelated to the sheriff’s race, according to Rose and Wilder. Rose said the payments were for various data and fundraising lists.
Taxpayers for Integrity, however, was on Israel’s side in the sheriff’s race. The Sun-Sentinel reported in August that Wilder’s group used email, mail and phone calls to tout Israel and attack his opponent during the primary.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel
The Bugle, too, has been on Israel’s side since it began publishing last year, with most of its coverage either positive about Israel or negative about Lamberti. The Bugle also has attacked Barbra Stern, the new Florida elections commissioner, whose mother, lobbyist and consultant Judy Stern, ran Israel’s losing campaign for sheriff in 2008.
Rose said she and Eccleston will soon join BSO. Rose starts at the end of the month as Israel’s assistant chief of staff. Eccleston is to work under Finance Director Angelo Castillo, though no start date has been set.
Stone, 60, who enjoys his reputation for political hardball, is a longtime Republican operative who cut his professional teeth working for Richard Nixon’s notorious CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Nixon’s face is tattooed on his back.
He says he became disillusioned with the Republican Party last year and switched his allegiance to the tiny Libertarian Party. He announced his interest in a 2014 run for governor in February.
STONE’S $1.6 MILLION IN TAX LIENS
But some Libertarian party leaders don’t believe Stone. Bill Still, a candidate for the party’s presidential nomination last year, said Stone and sidekick Miller appeared to him to be Republican moles looking to take over or destroy the Libertarian Party.
“That was my feeling, yes,” said Still.
Stone, who lives in Miami Beach, is a former business partner of imprisoned Fort Lauderdale Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.
The South Florida Business Journal reported last month that he agreed to pay $18,000 to settle a lawsuit stemming from the bankruptcy of Rothstein’s law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. A bankruptcy court trustee had sued alleging Stone and his companies were paid $400,000 in professional fees that provided no benefit to the law firm.
Stone, however, has not resolved more serious financial claims by the Internal Revenue Service.
Five tax liens filed in Miami-Dade say Stone and his wife, Nydia, owe more than $1.6 million in unpaid back taxes. The assessments are for the years 2006-2011.
Stone said his attorneys are in talks with the IRS to resolve the matter.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel
New Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has shuffled his office’s outside lobbying team, signing $7,000-a-month contracts with a pair of well-connected lobbyists with clients whose interests sometimes conflict with BSO.
The contracts with Fort Lauderdale’s William Rubin and Tallahassee’s Brian Ballard, both of whom are known for their close ties to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, were signed by Democrat Israel three weeks ago.
Out the door: Tallahassee lobbyists David Ericks, an ex-Plantation cop, and his daughter, Candice.
“Ballard Partners and The Rubin Group are BSO’s only external lobbyists,” said BSO general counsel Ron Gunzburger. They will represent the sheriff “before the state legislature and other governmental entities,” Gunzburger said.
Rubin recently registered to lobby for the sheriff at Broward County, along with his associate Heather Turnbull. It is apparently the first time a Broward sheriff has paid someone to lobby county staff and the elected commissioners who fund his office.
“I think it’s a waste of money. My door is wide open to the sheriff and his staff on any issues he has,” Commissioner Lois Wexler said Wednesday.
Mayor Kristin Jacobs and Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief did not respond to requests for comment.
“Wow,” said former Broward Mayor John Rodstrom. “I wonder how effective it will be. If it comes down to a budgetary issue I think commissioners will come down on their own behalf and not the sheriff’s behalf.”
Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William Rubin
Rubin represents two of BSO’s biggest vendors. Coventry Health Care provides medical and other insurance coverage to BSO’s 5,800 employees. Miami’s Armor Correctional Health Services provides care to approximately 4,600 inmates in the county’s five jails.
Rubin’s clients also include American Traffic Solutions – the red-light camera company that uses BSO personnel to review violation notices in the sheriff’s jurisdictions – and Deerfield Beach, which contracts with BSO for local police services.
Will Rubin’s connections to the sheriff give his clients an inside track in resolving disputes or negotiating future contracts? Gunzburger, the sheriff’s general counsel, said no.
“It was made very clear that they (and their employees/partners) could not play any role in lobbying BSO on behalf of any of their other clients,” said Gunzburger. “They both understand this, and the conflict language confirming this is in the contracts.”
Rubin’s 15-page BSO contract contains an eight-paragraph “conflict of interest” section. It does not, however, prohibit Rubin from lobbying the sheriff on behalf of other clients, but does require him to disclose when a client “has or may potentially have an interest adverse to the interest of the sheriff.”
The conflict section in Ballard’s contract is a single paragraph. It says Ballard represented that his work for BSO had not created any conflicts, and he agreed to notify BSO should a conflict arise.
Ballard’s long client list does not appear to include any BSO vendors or BSO contract cities. He and Rubin, however, are both registered to represent Davie’s Nova Southeastern University, according to Florida Senate records.
BSO and Nova are partners in a number of educational initiatives including college degree programs, research and conferences in criminal justice. Another joint effort is the Executive Leadership Program, a 17-week study course for public safety professionals that costs $1,995.
Rubin and Ballard also represent GEO, the Boca Raton prison company.
GEO had a multi-million dollar contract with BSO to run a detention facility on Powerline Road in Pompano Beach until 2007, and it was said to be interested later when there was talk about privatizing the county’s jail system.
The idea never went anywhere, but BSO’s 1,500 detention deputies are always alert to signs of a change that could affect their jobs.
The Federation of Public Employees represents the guards. President Dan Reynolds said Wednesday that he’s spoken with Sheriff Israel and he’s not concerned.
“I believe the sheriff when he tells me he’s opposed to privatization,” Reynolds said.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Clarice Tukes' daughter was murdered; Calvin Sapp lost a sister
The arrest of Jerry Frank Townsend on Sept. 5, 1979 ended the hunt for a brutal serial killer and rapist who had terrorized a predominantly African-American neighborhood in northwest Fort Lauderdale.
But it began an enduring miscarriage of justice.
Townsend spent 22 years of his life in prison until he was exonerated by DNA tests that did not exist when he was arrested. Eddie Lee Mosley remained free to continue to rape and kill until his 1987 arrest and confinement in a state hospital for the criminally insane.
The deaths of 10 women and children who were murdered after Townsend’s wrongful arrest have been linked to Mosley by DNA testing or other evidence.
Now, relatives of three of those victims are calling on longtime Broward State Attorney Mike Satz – who is up for re-election – to finally investigate the actions of police detectives whose testimony convicted Townsend.
“It matters a hell of a lot,” said Clarice Tukes, 72, whose 20-year-old daughter, Arnette, was raped and strangled five months after Townsend’s arrest. “My daughter would still be alive if they hadn’t arrested the wrong man.”
“I want this reopened,” said Jacquelyn D. Miller, the daughter of Geraldine Barfield, whose body was found in a field adjacent to the Immanuel Church of God in Christ near Sunland Park on Dec. 19, 1983. She was 35.
“I’ve carried this with me 28 years. I want Michael Satz to tell me why he allowed this to happen, why a killer was allowed to remain on the streets,” she said.
Broward State Attorney Michael Satz
COMPARED TO JACK THE RIPPER
Satz was in his first term as Broward’s top prosecutor when Townsend was arrested.
The case captured the public’s imagination. A black serial killer police compared to Jack the Ripper. Townsend, they said, had admitted to wanting to “rid the world of prostitutes.”
The victims, however, were not prostitutes.
Townsend, a grown man with the mental capacity of a child, was led by detectives to confess to a string of rapes and murders he did not do. He was convicted of six murders and a rape in 1980 and sent to prison for life.
In 2009, eight years after DNA proved his innocence, the Broward Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay $2 million over five years to settle a civil rights lawsuit alleging that its detectives fabricated evidence, concealed exculpatory evidence, tampered with witnesses and coerced false confessions out of Townsend.
Miami, where city detectives were accused of similar wrongdoing against Townsend, paid $2.2 million to end another suit before trial in 2008. Taxpayers spent at least $1 million more to pay lawyers to defend the police.
Broward Bulldog reported in 2009that transcripts of Townsend’s Broward trial and hearings contain disturbing evidence of crimes like perjury and the falsification of police reports by BSO detectives and other officers. Several relatives recently saw the story.
Jerry Frank Townsend
For example, BSO detectives testified that Townsend led them to the scene of four Broward murders, and provided them with details only the killer would have known.
But Townsend wasn’t the killer. So the detectives’ damning testimony takes on new meaning.
There is no statute of limitations on perjury in an official proceeding that relates to the prosecution of a capital felony. Whether the law could be enforced regarding original police testimony against Townsend is unclear because today’s statute is somewhat different than what was on the books in the 1980s.
Nevertheless, neither Satz, Broward’s state attorney since 1976, nor the Broward Sheriff’s Office has investigated the actions of the BSO detectives whose testimony sent Townsend to prison, Mark Schlein and Anthony Fantigrassi.
The settled lawsuit contended those detectives framed Townsend to advance their careers. Schlein has declined to discuss the case. Fantigrassi has said he never lied to convict Townsend.
Fantigrassi retired as head of BSO’s Criminal Investigations Unit in 2005. Schlein retired in 1993 as a lieutenant colonel, later worked for the state and is today an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.
The lawsuit said Mosley is believed to be responsible for 41 rapes and 17 murders between 1973 and 1987, when he was declared incompetent to stand trial for the 1983 Christmas Eve rape-murder of Emma Cook, 54.
VICTIMS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Katrenna Bentley, a hedge fund accountant, was 11 years old the day her grandmother died. She still vividly recalls seeing her battered body on a slab at the Mizell Funeral Home.
“I remember her laying on the table and seeing skin under her nails and hair in her mouth. They said she fought back, bit him in the head,” Bentley said. DNA from that trace evidence was matched two decades later to Mosley.
Katrenna and her mother, Mary Bentley, Emma Cook’s daughter, both said they want the state to investigate the actions of the police who handled the Townsend case.
“Every Christmas I relive this and get a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach,” said Mary Bentley, 61. “If they had investigated it properly from the beginning they could have caught Mosley earlier and he wouldn’t have ended up killing my mom or the other people. They should pay.”
“I would love to see that happen,” said Calvin Sapp, 68, a semi-retired construction worker and older brother of victim Geraldine Barfield. “It seems like very seldom that people of color get the type of justice that they give everybody else.”
The victims’ relatives are not alone in wanting an investigation.
Broward’s elected public defender, Howard Finkelstein, said, “The fact that these officers were allowed to lie and cheat to frame an innocent man, and then were allowed to go on with their lives as though they did nothing wrong and nothing happened is not only illegal, it’s a sin.”
Finkelstein said Townsend’s case is “the best example” of a local criminal justice system where authorities have for decades often ignored the crimes of police officers that plant evidence or commit perjury to make cases against suspects.
“That they turned a blind eye to such a heinous crime is the exact reason that most minorities in Broward feel they don’t get a fair shake – and they’re right,” said Finkelstein said.
Satz, who rarely talks to reporters, referred a request for comment to a subordinate who said prosecutors reviewed the Townsend case before the DNA tests were done and found insufficient evidence of perjury.
“In regards to the officers involved in that case, we know what it takes to charge someone with perjury,” said Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann. “People on the outside don’t know about the elements of the crime. They just think that if it smells bad and looks bad it’s a crime. In a perfect world, that would work. But we have to follow the law and can’t just harass people.”
Broward prosecutors, however, have made little effort to actually make such a case. Asked if her office ever confronted Fantigrassi or Schlein about their graphic testimony at Townsend’s trial, McCann said, “ Not that I’m aware of.”
A study released in May by the National Registry of Exonerations showed that Broward accounted for nine of Florida’s 32 exonerations since 1989 – more than twice as many as any other county in the state. Most of those exonerated defendants were black.
Townsend, who lived in Hallandale Beach at the time of his arrest, is one of two Broward men cleared of murders now attributed to Mosley. Frank Lee Smith spent 14 years on Death Row for raping and killing 8-year-old Shandra Whitehead in her bed in 1985. He died of cancer on January 30, 2000, less than a year before DNA tests identified Mosley as the girl’s killer.
Three weeks before Townsend’s 1979 arrest, Fort Lauderdale Detective Doug Evans identified Mosley – known around his northwest area neighborhood as “The Rape Man” – as the prime suspect in the rape-murders in his jurisdiction. Evans based his case on eyewitness testimony and physical evidence, but the BSO detectives blew him off.
Evans later helped catch Mosley and free Townsend. Before his death in January 2011, Evans told Broward Bulldog that he was disappointed authorities had never investigated police misconduct that had caused Townsend’s wrongful arrest and conviction.
Evans’ friend and colleague, ex-Fort Lauderdale Detective Roy Brown, said, “Doug always pushed for an investigation, always wanted one, but it’s been a hard rock. They let it sleep, they let it lay and they moved on and there’s no justice and nobody is held accountable for it. You’ve got to want to pursue them.
“The public should have a right to know this stuff. A serial killer running around killing people and nobody cared,” said Brown.
Clarice Tukes, whose daughter Arnette was murdered not long after Townsend’s arrest, was Doug Evans’ cousin.
“They knew who it was that did it. They knew Townsend didn’t do it, Mosley did. Doug told the whole family he did it. He said he didn’t know why they won’t take his word. That hurts,” said Tukes.
Her grandson, Dominick Richardson, was three years old when his mother died. He’s grown now, with three children of his own. His daughter Arnette is named in his mother’s honor, Tukes said.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Ex-Miami Police Officer Michael Ragusa
There was little public discussion last fall when Miami commissioners voted unanimously to pay $550,000 to a working mom who had been kidnapped and raped by a city police officer in his patrol car.
But for 53 minutes before the vote, commissioners privately heard a disturbing earful from city lawyers who told them about aspects of the case that were not made public, and described a stunning breakdown of police hiring practices under former Chief John Timoney.
Broward Bulldog has obtained a copy of the 21-page transcript of the Oct. 13 closed-door meeting using Florida’s public records law.
The discussions concerned a lawsuit filed by Kenia Perez against the city about ex-Officer Michael Ragusa, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale and went on to become the Miami Police Department’s worst nightmare: a sexual predator with a badge.
Among other things, the federal complaint filed by prominent Fort Lauderdale civil rights attorney Barbara Heyer contended that, under Timoney, the city failed to weed out officers like Ragusa with “dangerous propensities” that made them unfit for duty.
Ragusa pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges of rape and attempted rape for attacks on three women in Miami Beach – including Perez. He’s halfway done serving a 10-year prison sentence.
The transcript reveals that police thought those attacks were actually the tip of Ragusa’s sexual crime spree in blue.
“Both our officers and the City of Miami Beach police officers believed that there were dozens of people that he did,” Assistant City Attorney Henry Hunnefeld told commissioners. “Dozens.”
The FBI’s public corruption unit is investigating Ragusa in connection with those alleged attacks, Broward Bulldog has learned. A bureau spokesman declined comment.
It was the city’s own failings when it hired Ragusa that were the focus of City Attorney Julie Bru and her liability-minded legal team.
“We’re cooked,” said Bru, as she presented a recommendation for settlement.
“A case with this set of facts is something that a jury could do very bad things with,” added Hunnefeld.
Some of the worst facts for the city involved Officer Willie F. Bell.
Bell was in charge of conducting the disastrous pre-hire background check on Ragusa in 2004. According to the city’s attorneys, he gave a green light to hire Ragusa despite Ragusa’s admissions on an employment application to numerous incidents of illegal sexual activity and dishonesty.
Miami Assistant City Attorney Henry Hunnefeld
Hunnefeld described Bell as uniquely unqualified for the important job of checking out recruits for a troubled police agency with a decades-old “reputation of having bad cops who do bad things.
“He is the most disciplined officer in the history of the city,” Hunnefeld said. “Twenty-six times he was disciplined by our department.”
Bell, 55, a 26-year officer who retired in 2006, acknowledged his lengthy discipline record in an interview with Broward Bulldog. He said drug dealers lodged most of those complaints in attempts to discredit him when he worked the streets in Liberty City and Overtown.
Bell also confirmed that he had approved Ragusa’s hiring. He said he did so because “there was nothing negative in his background.”
“I’m a scapegoat. I didn’t hire a rapist. The guy became what he did,” said Bell. “Things were kept hush-hush, and it was blame Willie Bell.”
Miami police spokesman Major Delrish Moss said he was unaware of the city attorney’s statements to commissioners that Ragusa is believed to have had dozens of other victims
“If there were dozens of cases, and I have never heard anyone allege this, the Miami Beach PD or the State Attorney’s Office would be investigating rather than us. We were only the hiring and later firing agency with regard to (Ragusa’s) employment,” he said.
A WAITRESS HEADS HOME
In the early morning hours of March 19, 2007, Kenia Perez, 31, stepped off a county bus in Miami Beach on her way home from a 10-hour shift at a South Beach restaurant where she waited tables six days a week to support herself and her five-year-old son.
Ragusa was there. He lived in Miami Beach, and was driving his take-home patrol car in uniform. He called Perez over, forced her inside, drove a few blocks away and raped her. He was arrested the next day.
The attack left lasting psychological scars on Perez, who no longer lives in the United States. She became afraid to be alone and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, the transcript says. Her name hasn’t come out before, but attorney Heyer said she wanted it known.
The transcript reveals the city also paid $62,500 to settle another damage suit filed by another of Ragusa’s rape victims. That woman got much less after the city “uncovered that she had been a prostitute and that she had actually done some other things that were difficult.
Hunnefeld traced “this tragedy” back to before Ragusa was hired – to the day in 2002 when former Police Chief Raul Martinez installed Bell as background investigator, apparently to get him off the streets.
Bell had a dismal internal record as a cop. He’d been disciplined for using excessive force, neglect of duty, improper discharge of a firearm and theft. He also was arrested for battery, falsifying public records and official misconduct, but those criminal charges were dropped after Bell agreed to attend an anger management program.
“I believe Chief Martinez’s heart was in the right place, but it just didn’t turn out well…from the time (Bell) was selected, bad things happened,” Hunnefeld said.
NEW CHIEF AND NEW HIRES
Former Miami Police Chief John Timoney
Timoney became chief a few months later. Bell remained at his post as the new chief led a push to recruit new officers. As Timoney wrote in his 2003 Blueprint for the Future report, the focus “is not on how to improve the quality of the men and women on the MPD, but the urgent need to increase their quantity.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, bad hires had led to scandal and embarrassment. Between 1990 and 2001, Miami paid nearly $18 million to resolve more than 110 federal and state lawsuits alleging brutality, misconduct or unnecessary death caused by city police officers.
Then, in 2001, more than a dozen officers were indicted for conspiring to cover up police shootings by planting evidence. Nine of those officers were later convicted.
Reforms were instituted, and Timoney pledged to restore the public’s trust.
Perez’s lawsuit, however, alleged that Timoney failed to institute any meaningful change.
Worse, under Timoney pressure was put on the department’s psychologist to qualify recruits like Ragusa who should not have been hired, according to the city attorneys.
Hunnefeld told commissioners how psychologist Dr. Mark Axelberd had described the city’s “unusual” psychological examination form as a way to classify recruits as not just acceptable or unacceptable, but also as “borderline” acceptable.
“The only reason (the form was used) was because he got so much pressure from police officials to hire what he didn’t think were qualified individuals that this was the only way, having borderline candidates,” Hunnefeld said. He added, “if Axelberd gets on the stand he will testify as to this.”
Timony, who resigned in 2009, is currently working as a police consultant in Bahrain. He did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Timoney was deposed in the case in March 2011. Attorney Heyer asked him if he was satisfied that the department’s hiring process, including background checks, was being done appropriately after he became chief. “Yes,” Timoney said.
Axelberd found Ragusa to have “a problem with impulse control” and classified him borderline. But Alexberd also warned Bell “this is not somebody you’d want to hire,” Hunnefeld said.
The city no longer evaluates recruits that way, Hunnefeld said. But that wasn’t the only red flag that escaped Bell, including ones hoisted by Ragusa himself.
“I’ve filled out many (job) applications before. I’m sure everyone has,” Hunnefeld told commissioners. “I have never put sexual assaults on my applications…However, Michael Ragusa did. How that slips through the fingers of the investigator I am not sure.”
Bell approved Ragusa even though he was rejected by numerous other police agencies including the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade, North Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Cooper City, Hunnefeld said.
Ragusa went on to do plenty of damage is a three-year career as a Miami police officer. In addition to the rapes, he was involved in numerous excessive force incidents.
“I have so far defended four lawsuits about Ragusa and his excessive force,” Hunnefeld said.
HOW MANY OUT THERE?
How many other borderline candidates were hired by the city was not discussed at the settlement meeting. But the Miami Police Department remains a focus of controversy.
The Miami Herald reported in November that the Justice Department is investigating possible civil rights violations in the deaths of seven black men shot by city officers between July 2010 and February 2011.
Meanwhile, City Legal Advisor George Wysong informed commissioners that police leaders had a takeaway from their experience with Ragusa.
“This case has impressed upon them the significance of – you know, you may think that the background unit is a place to put your problem child. Now they understand the consequences of a little decision like that,” Wysong said.
The lesson should come in handy.
One week after agreeing to pay $550,000 to settle with Perez, Miami City Manager Johnny Martinez lifted a two-year freeze on hiring new police officers.
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
During the first week of January 2011, Russell Walker answered his front door and was shot nine times, his body left lying face down in a pool of blood on the floor of his Pompano Beach home.
The killer got a long head start on a getaway. A week would pass before anyone even knew Walker was dead.
The execution-style slaying was cold. One year later, it appears, so is the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s hunt for the killer.
Walker’s family says they have few answers from police about what happened. They learned how he died when the slaying was aired on a local TV news report.
“My sister, brother-in-law and two nieces were in a hotel room, horrified by the report,” said brother John Genzale. “That was no way for a family to learn the details.”
Walker’s body was discovered inside by the front door by sheriff’s Detective Tim Duggan on the night of Jan. 14, 2011, after a family friend went to check on Walker and detected a foul odor. The single-family home is on a canal in the 700 block of Southeast Seventh Avenue.
Genzale and sister Diane Scott believe Walker died on Jan. 5, as neither they nor his girlfriend heard from him by phone, text or email after Jan. 5. Duggan believes Walker died on Jan. 7, which is when a neighbor thought he heard a bang, according to Genzale.
BSO IS MUM
Duggan declined to comment when reached on his cell phone, and sheriff’s office spokesperson Dani Moschella did not respond to subsequent requests for an interview with Duggan.
Robbery does not appear to have been the motive, and the family remains mystified by what happened, Genzale said.
Walker’s girlfriend, Tricia Meza, also knows of nothing in the 50-year-old American Airlines pilot’s background that could explain his murder.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” said Meza, a San Diego resident who had been dating Walker long-distance for about a year at the time of his death. “There’s just nothing about him that would trigger me to think that somebody would want to do this to him.”
Longtime friend and fellow American Airlines pilot Jay Weitzel has no explanation either. “No one knows anything,” the Plantation resident said. “It’s very disheartening.”
Walker’s ex-wife, Nancy Hill Walker, also knows of no one who would have had motive to murder Walker.
“I’ve not a clue,” said the American Airlines flight attendant. “It’s just a mystery.” The two divorced in 2008 after 10 years of marriage and 14 years together.
Police appear equally clueless. According to Genzale, Duggan assumed that the grizzly nature of his murder likely meant that Walker was secretly involved with nefarious activities, such as gambling.
Russell Walker, right, with brother John Genzale and sister Diane Scott
“The immediate reaction from the cops was rather offensive,” Genzale said. “And you know, we’ve never discovered anything.”
Genzale, a former newspaper editor in Miami, added that detectives later told him their investigation turned up nothing about his brother’s past to suggest why he was killed. Mistaken identity has not been ruled out.
Police have been tight-lipped about the case. Last year’s newspaper stories don’t even report that Walker was shot.
Fellow pilots held a service for Walker in South Florida before the funeral arranged by his family in San Diego. About 200 people attended the first service and at least 150 attended the second, according to Genzale, who traveled from his home in Como, Italy.
Walker, whose loved ones and friends called him Russ, is survived by his mother, brother and sister.
A “TOP GUN” NAVY PILOT
He grew up in San Diego and earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from San Diego State University. After college, Walker served in the Navy. “He was the real ‘Top Gun’ and flew the F-14 Tomcat,” said Scott, who lives in San Diego. As of the time of his death, Walker had worked for American Airlines for 19 years, flying out of Miami International Airport.
Family and friends describe Walker as an active, outgoing person who enjoyed traveling in his free time. He owned a boat and a Harley Davidson motorcycle and was an active member of the American Airlines Ski & Snowboard Club, a recreational team open to the airline’s employees.
Shortly before his death, Walker was preparing to compete with the ski team in Colorado. Some of his family and friends thought he was in Colorado when they didn’t hear from him after Jan. 5, but Walker had cancelled the trip because of a cold.
One year later, Genzale worries that solving his brother’s murder is no longer a priority for the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve kind of lost faith,” Genzale said. “We can’t live with the fact that we’re here a year down the road and we’re no closer to finding my brother’s killer.”
Karla Bowsher can be reached at KBowsher@BrowardBulldog.org.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward County Courthouse Photo by Georgia Guercio
An investigation involving a Broward Sheriff’s Office reality TV show has led to the release of a state attorney’s list of 137 current and former police officers and deputies whose testimony may be suspect because of their troubles with the law.
The list includes officers who have been arrested or convicted of crimes like sexual battery, attempted murder, fraud, drug trafficking and official misconduct. Others are on the list because they are under investigation regarding fatal shootings, the falsification of records, perjury, traffic fatalities, theft and other crimes.
Every police agency in the county, except for the three smallest departments, has at least one officer on the list. The county’s largest police agency, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, has the most with 57 deputies, followed by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department with 19 officers. Hollywood and Lauderhill each have eight officers on the list. Five men and women on the list could not be identified by department.
Since Oct. 1, prosecutors have added 23 officers and deputies to the list – a rate of nearly two names a week. The list, which you can see here, is through Dec. 22.
The so-called “Brady List” includes the names of all officers listed as “active” in the state’s computerized attorney notification system, whether their cases are “pending, open, closed, convicted or not,” said Broward State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ron Ishoy.
The list is named for a U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, which established a legal doctrine requiring prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence in the state’s possession to defendants and their lawyers. The officers on the list are those about whom the state has information that may be favorable to the defense.
“They remain on the list because they could be subject to impeachment as potential witnesses in other cases,” Ishoy said. “The list is complete as of the day you received it as far as we know.”
In addition to the names of the officers, the list includes brief comments indicating why they are on it and the name of the prosecutor who put them there. Prosecutors make those calls “on a case by case basis as to whether the evidence is relevant under discovery rules detailed in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure,” Ishoy said. Prosecutors won’t comment on the open cases.
Most of the officers on the list are there for matters since the beginning of 2009, but some date to 2004. The list is dynamic, with names added and removed as prosecutors believe is warranted.
THE LIST BECOMES KNOWN
The existence of the list became known recently when it was mentioned in an August letter from prosecutors to Gerald Wengert, a Broward Sheriff’s deputy and star of the reality television show “Unleashed: K-9 Broward County, informing him that he is under investigation for falsifying records.
Broward Bulldog obtained the list using Florida’s public records law.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said he was unaware such a list existed. After being told how many officers and deputies were on the list, he said he believes the state has undercounted.
“My office has a list that’s larger than that using our own information. The State Attorney’s Office always takes a restrictive rather than an expansive view of what constitutes Brady material. If they say it’s about 130 it’s my guess it’s probably more like 450,” Finkelstein said.
Ishoy said the Brady List is a printout of the latest data that his office has collected and made available to defense lawyers for several years. He said the state’s release of information goes “far beyond” what the law requires.
“It has evolved as our computer system has evolved,” he said. “We did it to enhance efficiency and consistency in disclosing this information.”
Still, the Brady List assembles in one place the names of problematic officers, including officers under investigation in police shootings and other matters that have not previously been made available to the public at large.
The list shows that prosecutor-led grand jury investigations of fatal police shootings often take years before they are concluded.
As of Dec. 22, 30 officers from around the county were under scrutiny by the grand jury in cases in which a person died as a result of police action. Eleven of those officers have been under investigation since 2009. One officer, Pembroke Pines Sgt. James Helms, is under scrutiny in two death cases opened in 2009 and 2011.
“NO PRIORTY” FOR POLICE SHOOTING PROBES
Veteran Fort Lauderdale civil rights attorney Barbara Heyer said that such delays are unfair and intolerable for cases that should be among the State Attorney’s top priorities.
“These police shooting cases are just tagging along, there is no priority” she said. “The families of these victims, and they are victims, have to have some type of closure. To constantly hear prosecutors say this is ‘under investigation’ provides no one with anything.”
In June, Public Defender Finkelstein sent a letter to the Justice Department complaining that Broward State Attorney Michael Satz had failed to adequately investigate and prosecute criminal conduct by police. He alleged that was, in part, a “misguided” attempt to “insulate the state from its obligations under Brady.”
Finkelstein said his office reviewed dozens of prosecutors’ memos closing out investigations of officers without the filing of charges, and asserted that a there is a “double standard of justice in Broward County – one for law enforcement and the connected, and one for everyone else.”
“The state declines any prosecution against law enforcement unless there is a ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction.’ For my clients and other citizens, corroboration is not necessary to file charges and a ‘reasonable likelihood of conviction’” is measured to a lower standard, Finkelstein said.
Satz has called Finkelstein’s assertions “false and irresponsible.”
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Deputy Jerry Wengert and Sheriff Al Lamberti
A Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy and reality television star is under criminal investigation for falsifying records, Broward Bulldog has learned.
Deputy Jerry Wengert, who starred in TLC/Discovery Channel’s “Unleashed: K-9 Broward County,” was notified of the probe in August by the prosecutor in charge of the State Attorney’s public corruption unit.
“This letter is to inform you that you are the subject of an investigation for falsifying records,” said Timothy Donnelly. “At the conclusion of the investigation you will be notified of the results.”
What prompted the investigation has not been made public, and Donnelly declined to discuss the matter on Monday.
“It’s still an open investigation so I can’t talk about it,” he said. Investigations of deputies and police officers typically begin at the agency where they work, he said.
Wengert, a deputy since 1997, remains on regular K-9 patrol duty. He declined comment through a police spokesman.
Wengert’s Internal Affairs file shows that he has been investigated at least five times since 2006. In each of those cases, he was either exonerated or it was determined that a complaint against him was unfounded. None involved the falsification of records.
If BSO has an open internal investigation, it is exempt from disclosure under Florida’s public records laws, a BSO spokesman said.
Sheriff Al Lamberti declined comment about Wengert through a spokesman.
“Unleashed” is a six-part series that aired nationally in April. The show “is a candid look into the dangerous, yet surprisingly funny world of a K-9 unit –from foot chases and guns to bathroom breaks and dog food runs,” according to its Facebook page.
The focus of the show is Wengert, his dog Bali, and partner Detective Geoff Brown – who is not under investigation.
“Whether they are chasing down armed carjackers, fleeing drug dealers or tracking down an elusive cat burglar, they are tireless in their efforts to bring suspects to justice while maintaining a sense of humor,” the show’s publicity says. TLC/Discovery has not said whether more shows will air.
Wengert and Brown also have made several public appearances with Lamberti around the county as he seeks re-election – including a Coconut Creek restaurant on Nov. 19. Joining them were Deputies Shelunda Cooper and Julianne “Julie” Bower, BSO TV stars from the cast of TLC/Discovery’s “Policewomen of Broward County.”
Lamberti formally filed to run again on Oct. 4.
In June, Broward Bulldog reported that “Policewomen” star Bower was chosen for her role despite her involvement in a departmental scandal while serving under Lamberti’s predecessor Sheriff Ken Jenne. The scandal centered on falsifying crime statistics in order to make the department and it deputies look good.
Specifically, BSO Internal Affairs records state that a May 2004 internal audit found that Bower had “exceptionally cleared” 10 car burglaries by reporting that an unidentified juvenile suspect had confessed to committing those crimes. The audit, however, found the youth was jailed when at least one burglary occurred “and therefore could not have committed this crime.” As a result, Bower was cited in 2007 for failing to meeting BSO standards and was docked a day’s pay.
Wengert was BSO’s employee of the month in May 2008 for his apprehension of burglary suspects with his dog, Oozi. Two months later, the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois was shot and killed while helping to catch another suspect
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz has assigned prosecutor Deborah Zimet to handle the criminal investigation of Wengert. Zimet is a longtime homicide prosecutor who joined the corruption unit a month ago.
Gerald Wengert was officially informed of the state’s investigation on Aug. 18.
“While the investigation is pending, your name will be added to the ‘Brady List’ maintained by the State Attorney’s Office. At the conclusion of the investigation you will be notified of the results,” Assistant State Attorney Donnelly wrote.
The term Brady List refers to a list of the names of police officers about whom the state has information that would be favorable to the defense and could be used to impeach an officer’s testimony and undermine his credibility. The state has a legal duty to disclose such information.
The Brady List is apparently a recent development at the State Attorney’s Office.
“I haven’t heard of it, but I’m glad there is one and I want a copy,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
Broward Bulldog has filed a public records request seeking a copy of the list.
By Wanda J. DeMarzo and Dan Christensen, Broward Bulldog.org
Detective Julie Bower
Altered police reports and a controversial off-duty employment policy for sheriff’s deputies chase the Police Women of Broward County.
For two seasons, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has thrown its support behind the gritty reality television show which features four deputies on the job while video cameras whir documentary-style to capture their work. With the cooperation of the agency, the women have become television stars working under privately paid media contracts while also carrying out their official duties.
One of those deputies, Detective Julianne “Julie” Bower, was chosen for the role despite her involvement in a departmental scandal in which crime statistics were falsified to make the department and its deputies look good during the administration of former Sheriff Ken Jenne.
Broward Bulldog has obtained BSO Internal Affairs records stating that in May 2004 an internal BSO audit found that two years before Bower had “exceptionally cleared” 10 car burglaries by reporting that an unidentified juvenile suspect had confessed to committing those crimes.
“The audit however revealed that [the youth] was incarcerated in the Broward County Juvenile Detention Center when one of these cases was reported to have occurred and therefore he could not have committed this crime,” the report said.
The internal investigation took nearly three years to resolve. Bower told investigators under oath she’d made a mistake. In 2007, the agency sustained a charge that Bower had failed to meet BSO standards but decided that another charge of untruthfulness was unfounded.
In excess of 10,000 BSO cases were “cleared by exception” between 2001 and 2003. More than 30 detectives were transferred to road patrol as a result of the scandal. Six deputies were prosecuted for falsifying reports or concocting confessions, but no one went to jail.
Bower, who declined comment for this article through an office spokesman, received a one-day loss of pay.
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said he believes that BSO’s internal affairs case against Bower was presented to the State Attorney’s Office before he became sheriff in October 2007 and that prosecutors “declined to do anything.”
COURTROOM TUSSLE OVER CONTRACTS
Lamberti and BSO have been at odds with the Public Defender’s Office throughout the summer about the “talent” contracts signed by Bower and fellow Police Women Andrea Penoyer, Erika Huerta and Shelunda Cooper with Relativity Real LLC, the California producer of Police Women of Broward County.
The defense lawyers say they need to see the contracts to determine whether there are any hidden conflicts of interest that could taint police testimony against clients arrested on the show. Lamberti says he can’t turn over the contracts because he doesn’t have them, hasn’t seen them and has no idea how much his deputies are being paid.
“We don’t ask them,” Lamberti said. “We just look at what their duties are going to be. What they make – that’s between them.”
A source familiar with the contracts said the deputies are paid $12,000 a year.
Assistant Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes Jr. has subpoenaed the contracts. Attorneys for the TLC channel’s parent, Discovery Communications, are seeking to quash the subpoena, contending they contain trade secrets. A judge is reviewing the contracts. A hearing is set for Thursday.
Plot lines for the 24 episodes of Police Women aired to date describe a show that is virtually all about busting crack dealers, pill-pushers, prostitutes, johns, drunk drivers and burglars. Scenes have also showed the deputies at home and lying on the beach.
The Police Women – Bower, Penoyer, Cooper and Huerta – each signed BSO forms declaring their “outside employment” on the show would be confined to off-duty hours. That’s the basis for Lamberti’s assertion that his deputies are paid strictly for their off-duty performances, not their on-duty work. He told Broward Bulldog he insisted on that arrangement to keep Broward taxpayers off the hook from having to pay overtime to deputies moonlighting for the show.
Producers and film crew are simply allowed to “tag along” during on-duty shoots, Lamberti said.
But that’s not the contractual relationship that a lawyer for the TLC channel’s parent network, Discovery Communications, described to a judge at a July 25 hearing, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
WHAT THE CONTRACT COVERS
“There is some notion that it only covers on-duty. The contract, to be clear, covers the appearance on the show. And that’s what it covers. It really doesn’t specify,” said a Fort Lauderdale attorney Dana McElroy.
“The show originally was conceived as an off-duty idea. But…it does include footage from when they are on duty. So I just don’t want the court to have a misunderstanding,” McElroy said.
The distinction is important. Police officers are not allowed to accept pay from a second employer for work performed while they are also being paid by their department.
Robert Breeden, Assistant-Special-Agent-In-Charge with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said he was not aware of the situation at BSO. He did, however, say that such payments are “considered theft, plain and simple.”
Nonetheless, the arrangement by which uniformed deputies in BSO patrol cars ferry their private paymasters to film at crime scenes and police traffic stops for profit has blurred the lines between police work and entertainment, between off-duty and on-duty.
“The sheriff is trying to draw this line that doesn’t exist,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, himself a longtime television presence on WSVN-Channel 7’s “Help Me Howard” legal advice segment. “But for the producers of the show being able to go along and video the arrests, would they even care about videoing the private lives of these deputies? It’s a silly distinction that doesn’t pass the giggle test.”
“Why is BSO allowing this show to be on TV? What good is it doing the agency or the residents of the county?’’ asked Nova Southeastern University Law Center Professor Robert M. Jarvis, co-author of Out of the Muck, a history of the Broward Sheriff’s Office published last year.
Lamberti says he supports Police Women, which debuted in August 2009, because it offers a unique take on police life – showing officers not just on the job, but as regular people at home and at leisure with their families.
HUMAN SIDE OF DEPUTIES
“The human side is what attracted me,” Lamberti said. “I didn’t want another COPS.”
Police Women, however, also offers a political benefit for a Republican sheriff facing a tough re-election fight next year in a Democratic stronghold.
Lamberti harnessed his deputies’ star power at recent public appearances before voters and shoppers in stores and supermarkets around the county. Here’s a link to a sheriff’s video about a “Coffee with the Sheriff” in June at the Super Target in Davie.
One of those deputies is Julie Bower, a veteran sex crimes detective who tells her TV fans she goes to church twice a week and loves boating and traveling.
BSO records show that in 2008 Bower was investigated by Internal Affairs for allegedly failing to show good judgment when she conducted a private inquiry into allegations of child-on-child sex involving relatives. The charge was not sustained and the matter closed last year.
Still, the records raise troubling questions about Bower’s conduct. They show she waited a day before calling the Boca Raton Police to report the incident. They document how she conducted her own taped “forensic interviews” with the two juveniles in Boca Raton, outside her jurisdiction in Broward County.