By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
Steven and Renee Kohn
Hollywood is under a federal fair housing investigation after a family of 10 Sephardic Orthodox Jews accused the city of discrimination and harassment.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified the city last week of the investigation that’s in response to a complaint that the city is illegally using code enforcement against Steven and Renee Kohn.
Among the assertions, the Kohns say they were forced to give away their chickens and dwarf goats this month as a result of discrimination. They argue that other residents in their neighborhood are allowed to have such animals.
The Kohns contend the disagreement over the animals fits into a larger pattern of discrimination against their religious beliefs and culture.
“All I want is to live in my house,” Renee Kohn said. “That’s all I want.”
The Kohns, who have lived in Hollywood’s Emerald Hills neighborhood since September 2008, were born in the United States but are of Middle Eastern descent. While they practice Judaism, their cultural customs are influenced by their Arabic heritage. They speak Arabic and the female family members wear clothing that covers their arms and knees in public, similar to Muslim attire.
The Fair Housing Act, which is jointly enforced by HUD and the Department of Justice, prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.
In response to the formal complaint, federal law requires HUD to conduct an investigation. HUD could charge the city or dismiss the complaint.
“We will obviously cooperate with the investigation, but we do not believe that we have done anything discriminatory against the Kohn family,” city spokesperson Raelin Storey said.
A CITY WITH A PAST
The Kohns are not the first to accuse the city of religious discrimination.
In 2006, the city agreed to certain reforms to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the Justice Department alleging it had discriminated against the Hollywood Community Synagogue based on its religious denomination, the Chabad Lubavitch movement of Orthodox Judaism. The city had denied the synagogue a zoning permit to operate from single-family homes despite granting such permits to other houses of worship.
The city also agreed to pay the synagogue $2 million in damages and legal costs.
According to the Kohns’ discrimination complaint, “The neighbors undertook a campaign to harass the complainants by repeatedly reporting them to the City of Hollywood Police and Code Enforcement in regards to their pets: eight hens and two 17-inch Dwarf Nigerian goats.”
Next-door neighbor Sandra Einhorn denied the Kohns’ claims and told Broward Bulldog the Kohns are the ones who harass her and her husband. “Everything they accuse me and the city of they are actually doing,” she said. “They have no proof other than what they say.”
Sandra Einhorn has recorded the Kohns’ alleged harassment on video and uploaded it to a YouTube channel.
The Kohns say Sandra Einhorn does business with Hollywood and believes she has used her influence at city hall against them. Sandra Einhorn is the executive director of the nonprofit Rebuilding Together Broward County, which revitalizes low-income neighborhoods.
Public records show that last year the city gave Einhorn’s organization $55,000 in exchange for their services in Hollywood. The resolution was signed by Victoria Johnson, director of what was then Hollywood’s Department of Community Development and Code Compliance. (Code Enforcement has since been made part of the Police Department.)
Einhorn denied using her relationship with the city against the Kohns.
“The only alliance the city has with me is of me being a good citizen,” she said. “All we want is for the rules to be enforced fairly.”
Records show Code Enforcement has cited the Kohns twice because their animals violated city law. The ordinance prohibits “the keeping of poultry, dogs, cattle and other domestic or wild animals” but makes an exception for pets: “The keeping of dogs and other small domestic animals as household pets shall be permitted within the city, but said household pets shall not be kept for breeding purposes.”
In August 2010, the city imposed a retroactive lien on the Kohns’ home, fining them $250 a day for not complying. On July 13, 2011, the city sued Steve Kohn to collect more than $160,000 in fines. The case is pending.
“They assert that they are in compliance with the city’s ordinances, dispute the characterization of their pets as “livestock,” according to the complaint.
Code Enforcement Officer Irish Gardner, who cited the Kohns for keeping chickens, testified during a July 27 deposition “that other city residents with poultry have been treated differently by the City,” according to the HUD complaint. The Kohns claim that the residents who keep poultry but have never been cited for it are not Sephardic Orthodox Jews and were not cited because the city has a cultural bias.
On August 8, Judge Michele Towbin Singer ordered the Kohns to give the animals away as the result of the lawsuit the Einhorns filed against them last year in Broward Circuit Court. The Kohns have complied with the court’s order, but said they are appealing.
The Kohns have been cited a total of nine times since September 2008 and claim that police or code enforcement officers have visited their home 54 times in response to calls from neighbors.
“It started the day I moved in,” Renee Kohn said. “From the second our local government laid eyes on us, we weren’t welcomed here.”
The Kohns said police and Code Enforcement often visit them on their religious holidays, including four of the eight days of the past Hanukkah and six of the eight days of the past Passover.
“Meanwhile, our next holiday is coming up and everybody is wondering what is going to happen,” Steve Kohn said. The family is considering spending Rosh Hashanah at someone else’s home.
“You’re dreading the night before the holiday. You can’t sleep,” Renee Kohn said. “I’m just praying.”
Karla Bowsher can be reached at KBowsher@BrowardBulldog.org.
This is Part II of a two-part series about teaching counter-terrorism at Broward College. To read Part I, click here.
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward College's Institute of Public Safety PHOTO: Karla Bowsher/Broward Bulldog
Teaching local police officers how best to do their duty is an important job. But no one seems to know who is responsible for vetting instructors or setting course work standards at Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety.
The dean of the Institute says the state is responsible. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, however, says that Dean Linda Wood is wrong.
“The onus is on the training center to ‘vet’ the instructor and the course materials that he is using,” said Glen Hopkins, an FDLE bureau chief.
The issue arose as controversy has surrounded counterterrorism instructor Sam Kharoba, who holds state certification clinics for Broward’s law enforcement officers and others at the Institute formerly known as the Broward Police Academy.
As Broward Bulldog reported last week, critics say his teachings equate to ethnic and religious profiling. Civil libertarians and the U.S. Department of Justice have rejected such techniques as unconstitutional and discriminatory, and South Florida’s Muslims says they encourage police officers to violate Muslims’ civil rights.
“The content of this training has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with counterterrorism and it has everything to do with the myths and stereotypical Google engine scholar propaganda against Muslims,” said Nezar Hamze, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. “Obviously, the Muslim community takes issue with that.”
Terrorism and issue in Broward
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon brought the issue of terrorism home to Broward.
South Florida was a base for Egyptian-born lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, who authorities said lived for 14 months in Coral Springs and Hollywood. He and other 9/11 hijackers lived in South Florida and trained at flight schools in the state. In April 2001, a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy issued Atta a traffic ticket in Tamarac for driving without a license.
But Broward’s connections to terrorism are broader. In 2010, alleged al-Qaeda member Adnan El Shukrijumah, who studied at Broward College before climbing the ranks of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorism organization, was charged with plotting attacks on the New York subway system. The U.S. State Department has a reward of up to $5 million for his capture.
In May, federal agents arrested Izhar Khan, the imam at a Margate mosque, according to news reports. He and others were charged with financially supporting the Taliban in Pakistan.
There have been additional Broward and South Florida connections to Islamic terrorism since 9/11. And in the past decade, Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety has focused on training law enforcement in counterterrorism.
Extremism expert Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama said Kharoba uses Americans’ heightened concern about terrorism.
“He’s ginning up this fear of Muslims based on a fear of terrorism,” said Beirich, the center’s director of research. “It seems to me the real problem is the agencies that are hiring him.”
Hiring a counterterrorism teacher
Florida Statutes require law enforcement officers to take 40 hours of training every four years as a condition of their employment. Each year, Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety serves about 2,500 officers by offering 150-300 courses.
The Institute learned of Kharoba’s courses from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to Broward College spokesperson Aileen Izquierdo. Even the curriculum was provided by FDLE, Dean Wood said.
But the FDLE says the Institute, one of 41 certified training centers in the state, has the final say. “They’ve got the decision as to what training they ultimately put on,” said FDLE’s Hopkins, bureau chief of standards for the agency’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.
Kharoba’s course is considered specialized, one of three FDLE course classifications, so the training centers that offer it receive leeway to tailor the curriculum, according to Hopkins. “There’s a lot of latitude that’s given to them in creating these things,” he said of specialized courses.
The cover of Sam Kharoba's self-published book. PHOTO: Karla Bowsher/Broward Bulldog
Hopkins, who said he had never heard of Kharoba, also said that instructors must take a 64-hour training course but that some may be exempted from the requirement. He did not know whether Kharoba was exempt and told Broward Bulldog to ask the Institute of Public Safety. Wood said she hires contract vendors like Kharoba based on their experience.
Broward College has hired Kharoba at least nine times since 2006, paying him $6,000 or more for each two- or three-day course, according to his contract with the college.
Generally, FDLE funds training offered by state-certified centers with public dollars. But public records show that since 2007, the Institute of Public Safety has paid Kharoba with grant money obtained from the U.S. Department of Education: Broward College received $287,000 in 2009 and $357,000 in 2010.
Hopkins says this means the college is fully responsible for Kharoba’s courses because FDLE only oversees the courses that it funds.
Still, despite criticism that includes a recent article in a national magazine about Kharoba’s teaching methods, Wood and Izquierdo both said that Broward College has never received any negative reviews of Kharoba’s courses.
Derek Newton, communications director for the ALCU of Florida, said he was unaware of any complaints or civil lawsuits regarding Kharoba.
A sensitive subject
Kharoba defends his methodology and blames the media for misrepresenting counterterrorism efforts.
In March, Washington Monthly magazine questioned the validity of his curriculum in an article about civil liberties and counterterrorism instruction. Kharoba issued a statement that accused the magazine of “slander.”
“This report is a testament to the sad state of affairs of leftist media who will use any means to attack their opponents on the right,” his rebuttal says.
A Broward Bulldog reporter asked to attend one of Kharoba’s classes. Kharoba agreed, but on the condition that the reporter sign a confidentiality agreement because his coursework is “law enforcement sensitive.” Broward Bulldog would not agree to that condition and did not attend.
“You don’t want the bad guys to know what you know about them,” Kharoba said of his sensitive materials.
Kharoba would not let a reporter review his book, which he uses in some of the courses he teaches. He declined to provide a photo of himself for this article because he believes his profession puts his life at risk.
Top law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Al Lamberti, declined to be interviewed about Broward College’s counterterrorism training program, or discuss accusations that police officers are being trained to discriminate.
“Counterterrorism instruction would fall under the category of sensitive security information and it’s not something (Lamberti) would discuss,” said BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal.
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley said he was unaware of Kharoba and had heard no complaints about the Institute.
Hollywood Chief Chadwick Wagner did not respond to an interview request. The Broward County Police Benevolent Association also did not comment.
Sunrise Chief John Brooks
Sunrise Police Chief John Brooks, head of the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association, also did not respond to requests for comment. The association helps to review and direct projects funded by the Institute of Public Safety’s 2010 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, according to the grant abstract. The grant currently funds Kharoba’s courses.
Likewise, the International Counter Terrorism Officers Association — a nonprofit that Kharoba says has thousands of members, including him — did not respond to interview requests.
Kharoba is an instructor at the Institute even though he has no training in counterterrorism and little formal education about Islam.
The Jordanian-American says he earned a certificate in Arabic studies from the University of London while enrolled in Jordan’s British education system. Middle East expert Dustin Berna of Nova Southeastern University doubts the significance of the certificate. “I have never heard of such a thing,” he said by email.
Still, Kharoba insists that his independent study of Islam and his upbringing in Jordan qualify him to educate law enforcement officers about counterterrorism.
“I don’t have a degree in it, but I’m extremely literate in Islamic theology,” he said. “When you live in a culture, you acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge about it as opposed to studying it.”
Kharoba, 45, was born to Christian parents in Amman, Jordan, where his father worked for the British government. Kharoba says he grew up exposed to both Western and Arabic religion and culture.
He immigrated to the United States after high school and said he earned a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University in computer and electrical engineering with a minor in math in 1987. A university official confirmed only the degree in electrical engineering.
Until 2001, Kharoba worked in software development.
After 9/11, he noticed that the media did not use the real names of many of the terrorists who made headlines. Instead, nicknames or aliases were often used because the differences between Arabic and Western naming conventions led to mistranslations.
Seizing the opportunity, Kharoba started to teach the law enforcement community about the nuances of Arabic names, whose flexibility allows ill-willed foreign nationals to adopt multiple U.S. identities.
“That’s how I got into law enforcement and counterterrorism training,” Kharoba said. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about law enforcement, how they work, or anything like that.”
From there, Kharoba branched into other subjects. “As I started working within the law enforcement community, I found that not only is it the names that they’re challenged with,” he said. “They didn’t know anything about the culture or the religion.”
To help raise his profile as a counterterrorism instructor, Kharoba founded Counter Terrorism Operations Center, LLC, in 2006. He receives payment from Broward College under the company’s name.
Kharoba, a former Coral Springs resident who moved to Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2008, would not say how much money he makes in the counterterrorism business. But he says his desire to prevent another 9/11, not money, is what motivates him.
“When I became a naturalized citizen, I took an oath of allegiance, and I was fulfilling my oath. I saw that there’s a chronic problem, I saw that there’s a way that I could contribute to make things better for my country, and that’s what prompted me to do it,” he said of his transition from software to counterterrorism.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Accusing Broward’s courts of failing to protect the civil rights of the poor and homeless, Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein has asked Chief Judge Victor Tobin to “instruct the judiciary” to make sure that indigents arrested for violating municipal ordinances have lawyers.
In a Jan. 6 letter, Finkelstein accused the courts of allowing Broward’s cash-strapped cities to “systematically” ignore their legal obligation to pay for defense lawyers to represent poor people arrested for minor city crimes like panhandling or carrying an open can of beer.
“Both entities are responsible for the denial of due process and the prolonged incarceration” of those accused, said Finkelstein. He urged immediate action by the courts to prevent a potentially costly class-action lawsuit.
“If the cities do not fulfill their legal and moral obligation, the courts should dismiss every case presented,” he said. “If our cities wish to use the system, they need to pay. Otherwise, they need to stop arresting poor homeless people.”
Cities adopt and enforce such ordinances to promote the “quality of life” for residents in public places.
Finkelstein’s office has not represented indigent defendants arrested for municipal violations since the Legislature changed the way such services are paid for by the state several years ago. Instead, cities are responsible for appointing a municipal defender.
The Public Defender’s Office estimates that as many as 50 indigent defendants accused of municipal crimes come before Broward judges every week.
Court rules in Florida require the appointment to occur on or before a defendant’s first appearance in front of a judge. But Finkelstein says that’s not happening and that defendants often plead guilty to a deal that gets them out of jail based on time they’ve already served.
“There has never been an appearance by any city public defender on behalf of these defendants at magistrate court,” said Finkelstein, who is best known locally as “Help Me Howard” on Channel 7. “These defendants are accepting pleas without consulting an attorney even though the nature of the charges suggests many of them may suffer from mental illness.”
In an interview Monday, Judge Tobin said Finkelstein’s letter is the first he’s heard about a lack of representation for indigent representation in municipal cases.
“I was under the general impression that a great many cities had either stopped arresting for municipal ordinance violations or were using a similar state statute, or had pooled together or made some arrangement with John Fry,” Tobin said.
Fry said several cities, including Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, had paid him on a non-contract basis to handle such cases. He said there was no process by which cases were assigned and that judges would appoint him if an indigent defendant requested an attorney, or a concerned public defender tipped him to a defendant who needed help.
“It was case by case,” said Fry, who was sworn in Monday as a Broward County Court judge. His defense duties have been handed to Fort Lauderdale lawyer Steven Schaet.
But some defendants fell through the cracks.
Finkelstein’s letter cites the example of Benigno Fernandez who was arrested by Hollywood police on Nov. 30 on a charge of “soliciting a charitable donation without a permit.”
Fernandez didn’t show for his arraignment, and a judge issued a warrant with a $150 bond. He was picked up Dec. 29 and spent eight nights in jail until a judge released him – shortly after Finkelstein’s letter.
Before that Chief Assistant Public Defender Lynn DeSanti contacted an attorney for the city of Hollywood about Fernandez’s plight.
Finkelstein said the attorney “did not know who the city’s public defender was and seemed unconcerned about Mr. Fernandez’s incarceration. She advised Ms. DeSanti that, if she was so concerned, she could arrange to have him placed on the docket herself.”
He termed the city’s response “both outrageous and illegal.” City Attorney Jeffrey Sheffel did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2009, Fernandez spent 39 days in jail without the benefit of a lawyer on a Hollywood charge of carrying an open container of alcohol. He was later adjudicated guilty and sentenced to time served.
“The court did nothing to protect Mr. Fernandez or sanction the City of Hollywood. It simply looked the other way,” Finkelstein wrote.
The letter also informed Judge Tobin that Broward’s cities are not, as required by state law, paying the cost of housing nonviolent municipal offenders they feed into the jail system.
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said Finkelstein is correct, “They’re not paying.”
The sheriff said it now costs the county $113 a day to keep municipal offenders in jail. The tab for Fernandez’s recent eight days in jail was $904; in 2009, it was over $4,000.
Lamberti said the burden on the county is significantly less than a few years ago. He credited a push several years ago to lower the jail population that led to the release of hundreds of municipal defendants.
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.