Fred Grimm: Disgraced BSO cop got off too easy

07/26/2014 6:11 PM

09/12/2014 7:41 PM

Pathos fairly inundated the courtroom: The disgraced policeman’s teary remorse. His 21-year-old daughter’s sobbing plea that the judge spare her family the trauma of a father gone to prison.

A childhood friend telling of their days growing up in Hialeah; how Jeff Poole’s wise counsel got him off the streets and into a career in law enforcement. An accident victim’s story about Poole pushing through the gawking crowd and administering first aid as she lay bleeding, her legs mangled in a railroad accident.

A preacher’s characterization of Poole as a man of deep faith, devoted to his church and good works. The Rev. Thomas Hunter, as other congregants nodded in ascent, described Poole as not an “evil man who was exposed,” but as “a good man used by evil.”

That was the theme advanced by supporters of the fired Broward Sheriff’s detective at Thursday’s sentencing, beseeching U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas to go easy on this good man, whose downfall, as a friend suggested, was that he “followed orders to a fault.”

They painted a sweet portrait of the defendant that hardly resembled the scoundrel described by FBI investigators — a thug cop who provided muscle for Scott Rothstein’s criminal enterprise.

Poole was another in the startling array of supposedly upstanding Broward County police officers and lawyers and politicians and investment managers and businessmen and religious leaders and charity honchos who happily abetted Rothstein’s billion-dollar scam. They surely knew, at least their subconscious selves knew, that they were descending into a sump of fraud and snake oil. But it was as if the whole damn county, driven mad by the sight of Rothstein tossing around his heaps of purloined money, had decided to just pretend he was legit.

But Rothstein was more than some white-collar criminal running a Ponzi scheme out of a fancy law firm on Las Olas Boulevard. He was an audacious poser, a cigar-chomping, self-styled, gun-toting, wannabe tough guy who hung a portrait of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in Godfather III in his gaudy office in case someone might have missed the other self-references.

As it turned out, this particular tough guy’s targets happened to be a couple of powerless, vulnerable women, but Jeff Allen Poole seemed quite happy to make himself the instrument of the poser’s retribution.

In 2009, Jeff Alan Poole, 47, was a detective in BSO’s Strategic Investigations Division and a longtime friend of David Benjamin, who had served as both Sheriff Al Lamberti’s chief of staff and head of BSO internal affairs. Benjamin lent his considerable police powers to the various whims of Scott Rothstein. The feds calculated that it cost Rothstein about $183,000 to co-opt Benjamin.

Apparently, Rothstein told Benjamin that a couple of local women had become nuisances to his buddies. Benjamin dispatched his buddy Poole to take care of the problem.

Poole pleaded guilty to contriving the groundless arrest of Marcy Romeo, the ex-wife of Rothstein co-conspirator Douglas Bates, a Plantation lawyer later busted for luring unwary investors into the Ponzi scheme. (And now serving a 60-month sentence in federal prison.) Rothstein wanted to give Bates ammunition in a nasty child custody dispute.

Poole did just that. But as Romeo pointed out in court Thursday, he spent several days stalking her and planning the bogus bust. It didn’t sound much like an underling simply following orders. The onetime BSO officer of the year had plenty of time to consider the moral and legal ramifications of his criminal endeavor.

On June 29, 2009, he arrested Romeo outside her son’s school on trumped-up prescription drug charges, then hauled her off to jail, where she was strip-searched and held for 18 hours. She said deputies pushed her against the jail cell wall and yelled, “We have the guns, we have the power.” And “Don’t tell anyone what happened because we know who your children are and where they can be found.”

Her description of the ordeal orchestrated by Poole made for a jarring contrast to the God-fearing, dedicated hero cop described by his supporters. When she returned to her seat in the courtroom, a few of those supporters taunted her.

In September 2009, Poole got rid of another troublesome woman, an escort whose boyfriend had threatened to expose her ongoing sexual relationship with Rothstein’s law partner Stuart Rosenfeldt (who pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in June). Our cop-of-the-year, along with two other deputies, burst into the escort’s home, handcuffed the boyfriend, searched the house and, according to court records, “deleted any evidence of her relationship” with Rosenfeldt. The woman was escorted to the airport and warned that she must leave Florida or face arrest. She left.

This second bit of thuggery, three months after the Romeo arrest, makes it even tougher to accept the notion that Poole was a good policeman gone temporarily naive. By the fall of 2009, Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme was unraveling. So was he. Newspaper reporters were raising questions. Rumors were swirling. The FBI was closing in. Amid all that, who really believes that these high-ranking, experienced cops didn’t know that they had reduced themselves to a couple of capos for the would-be godfather of Las Olas Boulevard?

Perhaps the courtroom pathos affected Judge Dimitrouleas. He sentenced Poole to just a year and a day in prison, which, under the peculiar math of the federal sentencing guidelines, amounts to less jail time than a sentence of a year or less. With good behavior, he can knock 55 days off his prison time.

Benjamin, perhaps because the feds could itemize how much he made servicing Rothstein, didn’t do as well. Earlier in the week, U.S. District Judge James Cohn sentenced him to five years in prison. “Mr. Benjamin, while wearing the cloak of BSO authority, engineered the arrest and incarceration of an innocent citizen,” the judge said. He said, “This conduct is deplorable — it is unconscionable.”

Judge Cohn’s words pretty well summarize the groveling reception so many other leading citizens lent to Rothstein. The ostentatious fraud, this wannabe wise guy, seduced some of the county’s most respectable citizens, like Jeff Poole — church leader, hero cop, devoted dad — and helped them discover their deplorable, unconscionable, shameless inner selves.

About Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm

@grimm_fred

Fred Grimm joined the Herald in 1976. Since 1991 he has written a column about crime, politics and life in Broward.

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