A developer with a controversial plan to build houses on two golf courses in Tamarac is being investigated for allegedly hand-delivering thousands of dollars in cash to buy a golf club membership for now-suspended Broward Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.
State and federal authorities are probing a claim that Shawn Chait, an employee of Prestige Homes of South Florida, Inc. and the son of the company's president, personally handed the cash to the Parkland Golf & Country Club, the sources said.
As a federal investigation into corruption in Broward County continues, Prestige Homes has also come into the spotlight because of revelations involving School Board member Stephanie Kraft. Public records show Kraft played a behind-the-scenes role in getting a request for a $500,000 break on school fees for Prestige Homes speedily placed on the board's agenda.
Though Kraft did not vote on the proposal, she never publicly disclosed that Prestige had hired her husband, attorney Mitch Kraft, to work on the project.
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In another incident, former Tamarac Mayor Joe Schreiber has claimed that Prestige Homes President Bruce Chait offered to pay $200,000 to the couple if Schreiber's wife, Mae, would drop out of the city mayoral election in 2006. Schreiber said he turned down the offer and did not report it to authorities at the time.
These developments have trained a spotlight on Prestige Homes, a developer that was relatively unknown until it proposed building a controversial housing development on neglected golf courses in Tamarac three years ago.
"No comment," Shawn Chait said before hanging up on a reporter who called the company's Coral Springs office and detailed the allegations on Tuesday.
Efforts to contact Bruce Chait were unsuccessful despite several messages left at his office over the past two weeks.
"I can't talk about it," said Dave Bogenschutz, attorney for the Chaits and Prestige Homes.
Prestige Homes began building houses and townhomes in Coral Springs and Parkland in 1987, according to its website. For the first 12 years, it built an average of 15 to 20 custom homes per year before switching to developing communities of 50 to 100 homes in Coral Springs, Parkland, Tamarac, Coconut Creek and Royal Palm Beach.
The company generated headlines in 2006 when its plan to build 728 homes on two sites near Commercial Boulevard and Florida's Turnpike was opposed by nearby residents. If built, the Sabal Palm/Monterey project would be the first new single-family home community in Tamarac in 30 years.
The recession has delayed the project but city officials said they expect it will still be built. So far, Prestige has put in about $5 million worth of infrastructure, including water lines, storm and sewer drains, streets and lighting, according to city staff.
The project met with strong resistance from residents of neighboring developments who opposed changing the land use from recreational to residential, fearing pollution, clogged roads and strain on schools and utilities. Supporters say the development will boost tax coffers and revitalize the poorly maintained courses.
In June, Prestige asked for permission to drop a requirement to include affordable housing in the project. The city refused to waive the obligation. Prestige then went to the County Commission, which also declined.
Suspended County Commissioner Eggelletion, who federal authorities have charged with money laundering in an unrelated matter, has been under investigation by the Broward State Attorney's Office for several months because of the allegation that Shawn Chait paid Eggelletion's club membership about the time he was voting on the plan, the two sources said.
Federal authorities are also investigating that allegation, the sources said.
When the County Commission approved the Sabal Palm/Monterey project in December 2006, Eggelletion voted for it with a majority of his colleagues. On June 9, he sided with the developer when Prestige asked the county to drop the affordable housing portion. A majority of the commissioners rejected Prestige's request.
In an interview this week, Schreiber alleged that Bruce Chait in 2006 tried to get Schreiber's wife, whose opponent supported the Sabal Palm/Monterey project, to drop out of that year's mayoral race.
Schreiber said Shawn Chait asked him to meet with Bruce Chait at a Denny's restaurant on University Drive and Commercial Boulevard.
"[Bruce] Chait said he'd like to make an offer. He said he was offering $200,000 if Mae would leave the race," said Schreiber, 86.
Schreiber said he talked it over with his wife and she rejected the offer. "I agreed with her because it wasn't the right thing to do," Schreiber said.
The former mayor said he did not report the meeting to authorities. "I didn't think it was anybody's business," he said.
Schreiber would not say if federal or state authorities have since questioned him. "I'm not at liberty to say," he said.
Government ethics experts have also criticized School Board member Kraft's actions in pushing to get the developer's request for a $500,000 break in school mitigation fees for the Sabal Palm/Monterey project rushed onto the board's agenda in July 2007.
Prestige won the break in fees after hiring Kraft's husband, who is a lawyer, internal district records show.
Kraft left the room during the School Board's vote but never publicly disclosed her husband's legal work for the company.
It is illegal for a public official or "his or her spouse" to accept compensation or payment when the public official knows or "should know that it was given to influence a vote or other action," according to Florida's code of ethics.
Kraft, her attorney Ken Padowitz and Mitch Kraft's attorney Kevin Kulik have declined to comment on the allegation. Padowitz said Stephanie Kraft has cooperated with federal authorities and is not a target of the investigation.