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Stephanie Kraft doesn't shy from spotlight after arrest

Stephanie Kraft's booking mug shot.
Stephanie Kraft's booking mug shot. BROWARD SHERIFF'S OFFICE

Stephanie Kraft left the Broward School Board ingloriously in early October, suspended after her arrest on bribery and other corruption charges six weeks before she planned to step down.

"It irritates the crap out of me," said Kraft, an attorney who spent 12 years on the board. "I have nothing to hide. I have nothing to be ashamed of Oh do I look forward to my day in court."

Most public figures stay quiet and keep low profiles while awaiting felony charges.

Not Kraft, who along with husband Mitch is accused of secretly accepting $10,000 in exchange for helping developers Bruce and Shawn Chait get a $500,000 break on school impact fees in 2007. The Krafts have pleaded not guilty.

In the past month, Stephanie Kraft openly backed Dave Thomas in the runoff for her northwest district seat (he won), posted a Twitter jab at the Broward Teachers Union (calling it "BTUseless") and has continued her efforts to get rid of longtime School Board general counsel Ed Marko (whom she described to me as "a sucky attorney.")

"I'm not allowed to talk about my case," Kraft said in a 90-minute interview. "But that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to have opinions about everything else My lawyer [Ken Padowitz] says as long as I know my parameters, just keep doing what I'm doing. I don't understand the concept of hiding in bed with the covers pulled up over your head."

Actually, Kraft has spent some time in bed, hospitalized briefly last week after a bout with pneumonia that gave her a 104.5 degree fever. That scuttled a planned Thanksgiving trip to New York to visit her daughter, a student at Fordham University.

Instead, Kraft will spend the upcoming week working on some unfinished business — trying to oust Marko, 76, from the job he's held for 42 years.

She's also trying to derail a plan to give Marko a $266,000 contract and the title of general counsel emeritus, a newly created job that has been promised to him for 2011.

The nine-person School Board, including four new members seated this month, will discuss the situation at a workshop next Monday.

"I know I might tick off people by jumping into the fray," said Kraft. "But they need to cut Ed loose. As an attorney, he offends me."

I called Marko for his response but didn't hear back.

Kraft said Marko was hard to work with, often ignoring or delaying responses to her queries when she was on the board. She also faulted Marko for not having continuous ethics and legal training for School Board members. She said she stayed up-to-date through annual seminars through the local Bar.

"I'm probably the only one that had regular training," she said. "That might sound incredibly ironic to your readers."

It sounded incredibly ironic to me, considering she's accused of improperly influencing events in summer 2007 to help the Chaits get a break for their ill-fated Tamarac housing developments. Kraft didn't vote on the fee reduction, and she didn't declare a conflict.

Prosecutors say Mitch Kraft, an attorney, was working for the Chaits at the time, receiving a $10,000 payment in October 2007. It is unclear what evidence prosecutors have that Stephanie Kraft knew about the arrangement.

Kraft became the second School Board member charged with a crime in the past two years. Beverly Gallagher is serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to bribery in a federal sting.

Besides working on her legal defense, Kraft has remained involved in the unfolding School Board saga involving Marko and his successor, who was supposed to be in place by January. Kraft said she has been sending background information and her thoughts to new board members.

Earlier this month, the scheduled transition blew up when the preferred candidate, Palm Bay city attorney James Stokes, backed out.

Stokes had concerns about Marko's role and proposed contract terms, saying it would make it hard for him to "take ownership" of the job.

Kraft and Marko served on the five-member Legal Services Committee that handled the transition process. She questioned how Marko could draft his new job description and propose contract terms without it being considered a conflict.

Kraft said she went along with the "emeritus" job as a way to move things along, but she envisioned Marko having part-time consultant duties and pay. She said the School Board should hire an outside attorney who doesn't have ties to the school district as an adviser "to get us out of this mess."

Kraft got in touch with me after I wrote critical pieces about Marko and the process.

"I'm going to be Ed Marko's worst nightmare," she said. "I'm not going away."

At least not yet. And not quietly.