Broward County

Developers testify about alleged Broward corruption

Just days before developers Bruce and Shawn Chait are scheduled to plead guilty to criminal charges that they bribed local politicians, new details emerged Monday about related public corruption investigations that are still under way.

In sworn testimony, released Monday in response to a public records request from the Sun Sentinel, the Chaits revealed how they say they bought influence and access among city and county officials who voted on their plan to build more than 700 homes near Florida's Turnpike in Tamarac.

So far, former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion is serving 2 1/2 years in prison on state corruption charges related to the father-and-son team of developers. He admitted taking bribes of $25,000 and a $3,200 golf club membership from them.

Former Tamarac City Commissioner Patricia "Patte" Atkins-Grad has pleaded not guilty to charges that she took $6,300 from the Chaits to lease a BMW and pay for an election victory party. She was removed from office pending the outcome of her case.

The Chaits told prosecutors they paid a local political consultant more than $100,000 — in cash — in 2006 to perform public relations work and lobby for their project. Bruce Chait said he didn't think he needed the consultant, Beverly Stracher, but hired her at the strong suggestion of County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, who lives in Tamarac.

"When Commissioner Lieberman tells you to do something, you do it," Bruce Chait told state prosecutors in June. There is no suggestion that Lieberman's recommendation was illegal, but it raises questions about why she reportedly pressed so hard for the hire.

City and county officials under scrutiny because of alleged interactions with the Chaits include Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco, former city Vice Mayor Marc Sultanof, county Commissioners Lieberman and Stacy Ritter and School Board member Stephanie Kraft, according to several sources with knowledge of the investigations. Those officials, with the exception of Kraft, all voted on the Chaits' planned project, which is on hold because of the economic downturn.

Stracher was Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco's campaign manager for the March 2006 election, and now works as a county aide to Lieberman. Stracher was a Sun Sentinel reporter until the late 1980s.

Bruce Chait told investigators that Stracher, who called Lieberman "the redhead", would tell him " 'the redhead's not happy today and this is what she wants. And the redhead's not happy today and this is what she wants. And this is what she wants.' And it just never ends."

When investigators asked how much he paid Stracher, Bruce Chait said "I don't think there were many Fridays that ever went by that she didn't pick up $5,000 checks." He quickly corrected himself, "I'm sorry, cash, never checks."

Stracher's attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, said his client did nothing wrong and would have no comment.

"Ms. Stracher didn't commit any crimes, she didn't help anyone else commit any crimes and she is not going to be charged with committing any crimes," Schwartzreich said. He said Stracher is cooperating with prosecutors.

Lieberman would respond only by e-mail to some of the Sun Sentinel's questions connected to the Chaits' allegations. She said she had no knowledge of any compensation Stracher received from the Chaits, but did not answer questions about whether she had recommended Stracher. Lieberman said she would have to see the Chaits' full statements in context before answering other questions about what happened in 2006.

The Chaits testified they received assurances from Flansbaum-Talabisco and Atkins-Grad that both would support their housing proposal, despite strong opposition from many residents who lived nearby.

When Flansbaum-Talabisco appeared to be wavering during a heated commission meeting attended by hundreds of residents shortly after she was elected, the Chaits said they took swift action to turn her around.

"She [Flansbaum-Talabisco] got a little squirrelly up on the podium … and I grabbed Beverly Stracher and I said Beverly you better… For all the [expletive] money I paid you, you better get your fat ass back there when they took a [expletive] break and you make sure she [expletive] votes yes," Bruce Chait testified.

Shawn Chait, the son, said he also used strong words with Stracher at the commission meeting, telling her: "You better [expletive] go tell that bitch [the mayor] that I just spent $35,000 and she better do the right thing."

When one prosecutor asked how Stracher responded to what he called those "colorful marching orders," Bruce Chait said the commission took a break and Stracher talked with Flansbaum-Talabisco in the ladies room or her office. Talabisco then voted in favor of their development, the Chaits said.

Flansbaum-Talabisco also knew the Chaits had set up a fundraising committee to secretly funnel additional money from them to her and was present at a meeting when Stracher explained to Shawn Chait how to do it, Shawn Chait testified.

Flansbaum-Talabisco's attorney, Larry S. Davis, said he and his client had no any comment on any of the allegations Monday.

Shawn Chait said he first learned Flansbaum-Talabisco was going to support the project when he paid for a 527, or election fundraising committee, to attack her opponents in the 2006 election. Shawn Chait testified in June of this year that he still didn't understand what the committee is, "just how to pay for it."

He said Flanbaum-Talabisco sat with them, drinking coffee, while her campaign manager told him what to do. He said Stracher told him it would cost between $30,000 and $40,000 and he was to get two separate checks, which records show were obtained from contractors who worked with the Chaits, and get them to a lawyer, lobbyist and political fundraiser active on a national level.

Stracher then put together ads used to attack Flansbaum-Talabisco's opponents, Shawn Chait said.

Dave Bogenschutz, who represents both Chaits, said Monday they plan to plead guilty Thursday in Broward Circuit Court but would not specify the charges or the sentence they will face. Under the terms of their plea agreement, both men are cooperating with prosecutors in ongoing investigations, Bogenschutz said.

Paula McMahon can be reached at pmcmahon@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4533.

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