Hollywood mayor asks FBI, state to probe complaints of graft, improper dealings

05/06/2011 10:28 AM

05/06/2011 10:31 AM

The mayor of Hollywood has asked the FBI and Broward State Attorney's Office to look into anonymous complaints of graft, misappropriation of city funds and improper dealings allegedly involving the city manager and two other municipal employees.

Meanwhile, the police department has launched its own internal investigation and has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to assist, according to a letter to the City Commission from Police Chief Chadwick E. Wagner.

Though the accusations came in unsigned letters, Mayor Peter Bober said they must be given serious scrutiny by outside authorities, given the public corruption scandals that rocked Hollywood in the not-so-distant past.

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In 2008, Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom went to jail for urging colleagues to award an $18 million contract to a sludge processing company without revealing a deal he struck on the side to do lobbying work for the firm. And four city police officers were convicted in 2007 of escorting stolen diamonds, artwork and heroin for undercover FBI agents posing as mobsters.

"We don't have the luxury — in light of the history of the city — of taking serious allegations and sticking them into a file cabinet," Bober said in an interview Thursday.

In letters sent the same day, he asked the FBI and Broward State Attorney Michael Satz to investigate, saying: "It would not be prudent or appropriate for the City to conduct its own investigation since the allegations are against City employees."

The current concerns came to the attention of the City Commission this week via the two unsigned letters.

In one, City Manager Cameron Benson is accused, in late 2005 following Hurricane Wilma, of directing the police to purchase five generators with city funds and deliver one of them to the Lauderhill home of his parents, Mattie and Hayward Benson, who were without electricity.

The generator was not returned to the city, according to the allegations.

Hayward Benson, now a Lauderhill commissioner, told the Sun Sentinel he vaguely recalled police delivering a generator to his home in the aftermath of the hurricane, perhaps as a courtesy. Benson showed a news reporter visiting his home a Coleman Powermate generator in a box in his garage, but said he paid for it personally.

He later produced a personal check for $1,415, signed by his wife, and made out to Officer Daniel Dunn for "generators."

Asked by the Sun Sentinel if he had bought a generator for Hayward Benson, Dunn initially said: "When was this?...I'm not really sure."

He referred subsequent questions to Police Benevolent Association lawyer Barbara Duffy, who said Dunn had done nothing inappropriate and that "there was absolutely nothing done with regards to city funds."

Cameron Benson, through a spokeswoman, declined comment Thursday. But in a prior conversation regarding the generator, he told the Sun Sentinel that in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma, when generators in South Florida were in great demand and short supply, a colleague had offered to assist his father in obtaining one.

"Someone took it over there for him he paid and that was the end of the story," Cameron Benson said.

The second unsigned letter delivered to the commission accuses two Public Works employees of accepting free meals from representatives of Waste Pro, a multi-state garbage hauler that was bidding on, and ultimately won, a 10-year contract with the city worth nearly $50 million.

In one meeting, Waste Pro allegedly gave gift cards for home furnishings and a money order to one of the city employees, who later supposedly used them to buy items for Cameron Benson's second home in Nova Scotia, Canada, according to the letter.

Waste Pro Regional Vice President Russell Mackie defended the company in an interview Thursday, saying the allegations were totally false and "did not happen."

"We have never acted inappropriately," he said. "We work through a competitive bid process, and we were the low bidder."

Mackie said he was worried that that the anonymous claims were part of a plot to prevent the company from securing pending contracts in three additional Broward County municipalities.

"We have 105 municipalities," he said. "We've won 60 or 70 of those in the past five years, and it's been because we give excellent service at a very good price. And that's why we win the contracts we win. For no other reason."

momatz@tribune.com or 954-356-4518

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