Broward County

This is what happens when a politician doesn’t know he’s being recorded

Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Bill Julian
Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Bill Julian

A politician caught unaware on tape, apparently admitting to taking bribes. A TV reporter who confronts him on camera. Prosecutors who say, yep, they’re going to investigate.

That’s the story that has captivated the city of Hallandale Beach over the past few days.

It started when Vice Mayor Bill Julian made some provocative comments during a phone call and didn’t realize he was being taped. Julian had voted back in March to approve a $450 million condo and hotel project at the Diplomat Golf and Tennis club. And he had voted against requiring the developer to provide extra money for some city amenities, including a park.

The move prompted a robocall against Julian to go out, and he called it to see what it said. When the robocall message ended, the vice mayor was recorded talking to an unnamed woman about it.

“How many f---ing parks does this city need?” asks the unidentified woman.

“We got like 13,” Julian said.

“Four-square f---ing miles,” the woman said.

“And we’re putting $15 million into them,” Julian said.

He then talks about favors he got from the developer: “What they don’t know is they’re buying the food bank a frigging van that I couldn’t tell anybody.”

And he mentions a conversation he said he had with Debbie Orshefsky, a Holland & Knight attorney for the developer.

“Orshefsky tells me, don’t worry, before this, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll have 300 people out in the street for you when you run for office,’” the vice mayor said.

The tape got into the hands of WPLG Channel 10 reporter Bob Norman, who confronted Julian at his City Hall office. Julian apparently didn’t know the recording existed.

“I did not accept anything,” he told Norman at first.

Norman then let him listen to the recording, and a visibly chagrined Julian admitted to an arrangement with the developers. Julian said that he brought up the van, but it was Orshefsky who mentioned she would supply the campaign volunteers.

“Made me feel good I got volunteers coming in, ” said Julian, who is up for reelection Nov. 8. “My opinion was I’m going to need them, thanks. I’m going to need them, but that’s not going to happen.”

Norman then asked, “You’re taking these secret gifts for the food bank and your campaign before the vote?”

Julian: “What do you think the other commissioners are doing? They are all asking for their wish list.”

When Norman asked if what Julian did was illegal, Julian replied: “I don’t know if it’s illegal.”

Broward prosecutors are asking similar questions. “I know there are some complaints and allegations that have been referred to us and we will review those,” Tim Donnelly, public corruption chief for Broward State Attorney Mike Satz, told the Miami Herald on Friday. “It’s going to be investigated.”

Orshefsky defended her actions in an email to the Miami Herald.

“I am able to state, without qualification, that every action of my client and myself in this matter fully complied with all rules, regulations and laws,” she said.

Alvin Entin, a criminal defense lawyer who has represented clients accused of public corruption, said that it is clear from the Julian recording that things of value were on the table in exchange for his vote.

“The part of it which is highly questionable from a legal standard is that it was a private promise not shared openly with the balance of the council, and not part of the debate,” Entin told the Herald.

If Orshefsky did promise 300 election workers in exchange for the vote, that would be a quid pro quo, he said.

“That would be prosecutable, but weak, as there is no confirmation from the Holland & Knight lawyer, who could always claim Julian misconstrued a prediction made by her which would then make it a ‘He said, she said,’” Entin said.

Todd Templin, a spokesman for the developers, Diplomat Golf Course Venture LLC, said that the developers did nothing wrong.

“Everything we did to secure our approvals with the City of Hallandale Beach was 100 percent above board and by the book.”