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
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 Brian Kindle, Special to BrowardBulldog.org
Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler publicity photo
TD Bank lost a $67 million jury verdict in January in a case related to the notorious Fort Lauderdale lawyer and swindler Scott Rothstein. Now, the Canadian-owned bank is accused of withholding evidence during the 70-day trial.
Coquina Investments, one of hundreds of reported victims of Rothstein’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, has filed court papers in the case it won accusing TD Bank of “altering” its internal assessment that Rothstein’s law firm was a “high risk” for money laundering. Keeping that secret could have shielded the bank from further liability.
Coquina, based in Corpus Christi, Texas, has asked the court to sanction the bank.
Coquina’s successful lawsuit argued the bank aided and abetted the enormous fraud. Rothstein testified in a December deposition that bankers were key to his scheme, and that he paid off TD Bank’s regional vice president, Frank Spinosa, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Rothstein, who once lived a flashy lifestyle and hobnobbed with politicians, is currently serving 50 years in prison.
The alleged evidence of TD Bank’s duplicity at trial are 2009 “Customer Due Diligence” forms for Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler. Such forms are used to evaluate the risk involved in dealings with customers and assessments.
Lawyers for Coquina assert the bank removed the warning “HIGH RISK” from the form and changed its coloring from red to black when presenting the evidence in court. At trial, the bank produced a money-laundering expert who stated that Rothstein’s firm was not a high risk, according to post-verdict court filings made late last month.
Coquina’s lawyers call that a “fraud on the court and jury” by TD Bank.
TD Bank acknowledged a mistake in its own court filings last week, but said it was a “copying error” by clerical staff that did not hurt the plaintiff’s case. It has apologized. The bank also said Coquina’s lawyers knew of the gaffe and referred to it in their closing arguments to the jury.
TD Bank declined requests for comment by ACFCS.org, citing its policy of not commenting on “pending litigation.”
FRAUD OR MISTAKE?
Coquina’s Miami lawyer David Mandel, a former federal prosecutor, filed court papers this week asserting the “the trial would have proceeded much differently had the defendant produced the true document.” Coquina’s $67 million verdict included $35 million in punitive damages. Mandel had asked the jury to award $140 million in punitive damages.
The jury may have awarded higher damages, Mandel argued, adding that the altered document affected cross-examinations.
TD Bank’s response did not address the testimony of their witness, money-laundering expert Ivan Garces.
Garces testified that the bank did not consider Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler high risk.
“It’s your opinion, sir, that TD Bank did not consider RRA [Rothstein's law firm] to be a high-risk customer of the bank; is that right?” a Coquina lawyer asked Garces on the stand.
“Yes, ma’am. That’s correct” Garces replied.
Mandel has asked US District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke to sanction TD Bank, and refer the matter to the US Department of Justice for possible criminal investigation. Federal law makes it a crime to intentionally alter a document for use in a trial.
Brian Kindle is editorial director for ACFCS.ORG, the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists, an independent research and information organization based in Miami whose members are financial crime experts in the public and private sector.
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
Broward Correctional Institution
If political contributions and Tallahassee lobbyists are any measure, Boca Raton’s The GEO Group is the odds-on favorite to win a super-sized contract put out to bid this week in Tallahassee to privatize state prisons across South Florida.
GEO is among a trio of corporate titans expected to be in the hunt for the hundreds of millions of dollars the state will pay the lone successful bidder over the next five years to manage and operate those 29 prison facilities.
State records, however, show that since Oct. 1 GEO and its political action committee donated $685,500 to the dominant Republican Party of Florida, while paying seven lobbying firms as much as $360,000 to influence state decision makers. That spending is more than 10 times greater than that of its closest competitor, Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
The prisons targeted for privatization house about 20 percent of the state’s nearly 102,000 inmates. They include two Broward facilities – the 753-bed, all female Broward Correctional Institution on Sheridan Street off U.S. 27 in Pembroke Pines and the Hollywood Work Release Center at 8501 W. Cypress Drive.
Also on the list are seven Miami-Dade prison facilities, including the Dade, Everglades and Homestead Correctional Institutions, and five more in Palm Beach County. Other effected counties are Monroe, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, Okeechobee, Hardee, Desoto, Hendry, Lee and Charlotte.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Edwin Buss, who oversees the nation’s third largest inmate population, calls what’s happening “the most aggressive privatization effort in the country.”
WORRIES OVER LOST JOBS
State prison guards fear the loss of jobs and benefits. The department has sought to assuage those fears with assurances that officers in existing state facilities will be given the opportunity to relocate to another state-run prison elsewhere in Florida. But earlier this month, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents state correctional officers, sued the state in Leon County in an attempt to block the deal.
The Legislature included the outsourcing plan in the 2011-2012 budget this spring in hopes of reaping “substantial” annual savings for the state. That’s defined by statute as at least seven percent lower than current prison costs. Gov. Rick Scott signed off in May. By law, no contract can be issued if those savings aren’t achieved.
Florida has 144 prison facilities. Six are run by private operators that include Geo, CCA and a third expected bidder, Utah-based Management and Training Corp.
The average annual cost to house an inmate in Florida in 2009-2010 was $19,469, or $53.34 per day, according to the department’s annual report.
The state’s 27-page request for proposals issued Monday identifies 11 correctional institutions and 18 satellite facilities in southern Florida that are set to be turned over to private enterprise for five years beginning January 1. There is a five-year renewal option.
The job does not include providing prison health care services. That large cost is expected to be bid out separately next month.
Bidders must meet the same requirements as a state-run prison. The corrections department, which will manage and monitor the contract, has said it is seeking a single vendor to allow for continuity of services and economies of scale.
Buss’s office said he will make the final decision on who gets the contract after receiving bid scores determined by an evaluation committee whose members have yet to be named. The contract won’t be awarded until the Legislative Budget Commission signs off.
Proposals are due September 23. A decision will be announced November 15.
The department says the contract will be awarded to the “lowest responsive and responsible bidder.” But the prison companies, particularly GEO, nevertheless have spread money around in Tallahassee.
BIG DONORS, INSIDERS AND ROADBLOCKS
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, tried to block the privatization plan as chair of the Senate budget committee with prison oversight. He did not respond to a request for comment. But in May, he told Reuters his efforts failed because of lobbying by GEO and other private prison operators.
“It all comes down to politics and the big donors. GEO and the other private companies that run prisons are very big donors to the party here in Florida and to the elected officials, both past and present,” Fasano said.
GEO did not respond to a request for comment.
Since 2004, GEO has doled out $1.8 million to Florida candidates, parties and various political committees. Contributions by company executives and their wives, including chairman and chief executive George Zoley, and GEO’s PAC push that number even higher.
GEO chairman and CEO George Zoley
GEO spent most of that money on Republicans. Republicans currently control the governor’s office and have majorities in the Florida House and Senate.
GEO’s money to Republicans doesn’t include an additional $25,000 the company donated to Gov. Rick Scott’s inaugural celebration in January, the St. Petersburg Times reported in May. The list of inaugural donors made public earlier this year by the governor’s supporters is no longer online.
The paper also reported that Gov. Scott’s transition budget adviser, Donna Arduin, is a former trustee of a GEO real estate company, Correctional Properties Trust.
Since 2001, CCA has contributed more than $370,000 to Florida politicians and parties – again, mostly to Republicans. Management and Training’s lone contribution in Florida was a $5,000 check written to the Republican Party of Florida in December.
The spending pattern for lobbyists is similar.
Senate records show GEO paid them between $220,000 and $360,000 to influence legislators and the executive branch since Oct. 1. Some of those lobbyists are familiar names in Broward Florida: Ron Book, Bill Rubin, Dave Ericks and Brian Ballard, who in addition to running his own lobbying firm is of counsel at the prominent Fort Lauderdale law firm Panza Maurer & Maynard.
In contrast, CCA’s filed compensation reports show that it spent between $20,000 and $50,000 on lobbyists in the same period — most with Smith Bryan & Myers. Management and Training paid GMA Inc. between $10,000 and $30,000.
GEO’s advantage in Tallahassee appears formidable. But because it is based in Florida it has yet another edge.
“If there is a tie, preference would be given to a Florida company,” a corrections department spokeswoman.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A new book whose authors claim to have unearthed startling evidence about the 1981 murder of Adam Walsh is causing controversy even before it goes on sale.
A plaintiff in a public records lawsuit is using the book to challenge sworn testimony by Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner regarding his December 2008 decision to close the case and blame Adam’s murder on homicidal drifter Ottis Toole. Toole died in 1996.
The suit seeks the release of an investigative report about Toole that was submitted to police and prosecutors by the book’s co-author, former Miami Beach Police Detective Sgt. Joe Matthews, before Wagner’s 2008 announcement.
John Walsh, Adam’s father and the host of the popular America’s Most Wanted television show, has publicly credited Matthews with cracking the case. Chief Wagner and Broward prosecutors argue in court filings that Matthews’ report was no help to their investigation and is not a public record.
Matthews and Florida International University creative writing director Les Standiford have now written Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America. It cites ghastly evidence Matthews found amid 98 old photo negatives dredged from the files of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Toole, a serial killer, was arrested in April 1983 in Jacksonville for arson. Months later, he made the first of several confessions – and recantations – to Adam’s murder.
The photos were taken by state agents shortly after Toole’s initial confession as they searched his 1971 Cadillac using Luminol, a spray-on chemical that detects traces of blood. The book says the agents never ordered prints from the negatives and the evidence was apparently never viewed by Hollywood detectives.
Decades later, Matthews, who’d learned of the negatives in an old report, ordered prints.
Luminol emits a blue glow as it reacts with iron found in hemoglobin. The book says several old photographs contain overlooked evidence in blue. Yet one chilling picture stood out: a “glowing blue image pressed into the carpet – the outline of Adam’s face, etched in his own blood.”
The image of Adam’s face that the book compares to the Shroud of Turin is not in the “uncorrected proof” obtained by Broward Bulldog. However, an eight-page photo insert is planned by Ecco Press for the 304-page hardcover edition that goes on sale March 1, according to HarperCollins Catalogs.
The book says that a month before Wagner’s close-out announcement the chief called a meeting at the Broward State Attorney’s Office to go over the report and the FDLE crime scene photos that Matthews first showed Wagner months before. Nine people were said to be present, including Wagner, Matthews, Chief Assistant Broward State Attorney Chuck Morton, John and Revé Walsh and Hollywood Police legal advisor Joel Cantor.
The meeting led to unanimous agreement that the investigation would be “exceptionally cleared,” the book says.
But Cantor said in an interview on Monday that he attended no such meeting and had seen no crime scene photos with Adam’s image.
“I’ve never heard that, but wow,” said Cantor, who represents Wagner in the public records case. “If that’s part of Joe’s story so be it.”
Standiford, Matthews’ co-author, said the ongoing litigation prohibited him from discussing details about the book, including the photo with Adam’s image.
“I certainly think it is dramatic,” he said. “But you don’t make a decision based on one photograph, you look at the tapestry. People are going to have to read the book for themselves and decide for themselves.”
Police and prosecutors justified the use of the administrative device of “exceptional clearance” to close the high-profile murder case by saying sufficient evidence existed to arrest Toole for Adam’s murder if he was alive. The evidence supporting Wagner’s decision, however, was not disclosed.
The public records suit that seeks the release of Matthews’ report was brought by retired Miami Herald press operator Willis Morgan. Morgan, who lives in Hallandale Beach, claims to have encountered another notorious serial killer at the Hollywood Mall on the day Adam was abducted, Jeffrey Dahmer. The defendants are Wagner, Broward State Attorney Michael Satz and Matthews.
The suit, filed June 1, argued the Matthews report is a public record because police and prosecutors received and reviewed it before closing the case. Wagner and Satz have countered that the public has no right to see the report because it was “worthless” to their investigation, according to court papers and Cantor. They also said that they had not kept a copy of the report. Matthews’ lawyer, Fort Lauderdale’s Tom Panza, said his client refused to produce a copy.
In a sworn statement, Wagner said he made the decision to close the case long before receiving the Matthews’ report. He said he passed it to Assistant Chief Mark Smith to read, and that Smith reported back that it was “nothing more than a regurgitation of the facts and investigative findings by members of the Hollywood Police Department.”
Broward Circuit Judge Mily Rodriguez-Powell agreed and dismissed the suit in August.
Morgan’s Miami lawyer, Thomas Julin, is now asking the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach to reverse the judge’s order. [Julin is pro bono counsel to Broward Bulldog.]
Julin argued in a Dec. 20 court filing that the book – in which he says Matthews claims credit for finding the “evidence that finally and conclusively” identified Toole as Adam’s killer, and “persuaded” Wagner to close the case – undercuts both Wagner and the judge’s ruling.
“It begs the question of who is telling the truth,” said Julin who has asked the appeal court judges to review portions of Bringing Adam Home that he has filed under seal.