In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Lesson in Chaits bribery case? Only chumps do time

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

Josephus Eggelletion must be wondering what for.

Poor Joe’s cavorting with Bruce and Shawn Chait helped get him two years and two months in a federal lockup.

The former Broward County commissioner was supposed to be only the first of Chaits’ political chumps to go down for influence peddling. Eggelletion pleaded guilty back in 2010, admitting that the developers had greased him with a $8,400 golf club membership and $25,000 in cash.

After a jury took just an hour and 15 minutes on Tuesday to acquit suspended Tamarac City Commissioner Patte Atkins-Grad, despite the BMW she had wheeled out of the Chaits, Golfin’ Joe must want a mulligan.

The Atkins-Grad lightning acquittal comes nine months after a Broward Circuit Court judge dismissed corruption charges against Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco. The Chaits had surreptitiously funneled $21,000 into the mayor’s 2006 campaign, but Judge Cynthia Imperato decided there wasn’t enough evidence to connect the money to the mayor’s support for their controversial project.

Tamarac City Commissioner Marc Sultanof, accused of pocketing $30,000 for his vote, died last year. (He was 90. If Atkins-Grad, at 66, could convince a jury that she was too doddering to grasp what the Chaits were about, surely Sultanof could have fashioned an even more convincing defense.)

Lawyers for former Broward School Board member Stephanie Kraft and her husband, Mitch Kraft, a former Tamarac city attorney, must be bursting with anticipation after the prosecution’s Atkins-Grad debacle. The Krafts are accused of pocketing $10,000 from the Chaits to make a half-million in school district fees disappear.

The Chaits had needed all the political support they could buy back in 2006. They had spent $9 million on two adjacent golf courses in Tamarac. The father-and-son developers, owners of the misnamed Prestige Homes of South Florida, figured to make $40 million or more if they could wangle city and county approval for 728 new homes.

The project was loathed. About 300 howling angry residents showed up at City Hall in 2006 to protest the deal. Yet the Chaits prevailed.

Father and son admitted to prosecutors that they had bribed their way to approval They pleaded guilty to paying off Eggelletion and agreed to testify against their various other lackeys. In return, Broward County’s most infamous corruptors got off with four years of probation. Perhaps it was a deal too sweet for the jurors to stomach.

Atkins-Grad offered up a peculiar defense: that she never quite understood that the Chaits were bribing her, despite the $2,300 they put toward her lease for a new BMW 525i and $4,000 in other gratuities.

According to the Sun Sentinel, her lawyer told jurors she was “over her head,” but not corrupt. They heard other prosecution witnesses, but apparently the Chaits were so unpalatable it hardly mattered. (The over-her-head commissioner indicated Tuesday she still wants her seat back.)

Poor Joe, the only chump to do time. What must he be thinking?

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