Mayor of Tamarac, Florida indicted on bribery charges

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The mayor of Tamarac, Florida has become the latest Broward County public official to be charged with corruption.

Prosecutors say 57-year-old Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco accepted $21,000 in campaign contributions from developers in exchange for support for their housing projects. She is charged with bribery, official misconduct, conspiracy and unlawful compensation.

Flansbaum-Talabisco surrendered Wednesday at the Broward County jail and will be released on $9,000 bail. Court records did not indicate if she had a lawyer.

The two developers involved previously pleaded guilty to unlawful compensation charges. Their dealings have also resulted in corruption charges against two other Tamarac officials and two Broward County officials.

Tamarac is a community of 60,000, just a few miles west of Ft. Lauderdale.

The Associated Press

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Florida politician arrested on corruption charges for aiding developer

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The former vice mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Cindi Hutchinson, 53, was arrested on Friday and charged with corruption in trading political favors for over $14,000 of gifts from a real estate developer seeking zoning changes.

Broward County prosecutors charged Hutchinson with three counts of unlawful compensation, four counts of official misconduct, and one count each of grand theft, petty theft, conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation, and perjury.

The charges center on Hutchinson’s involvement in the rezoning of land owned by controversial developer Glenn Wright, in 2003 and 2004. At the time, Wright was seeking a zoning change on land that would enable him to build large luxury-style homes in an area that was near much smaller homes.

While Hutchinson was serving on the city commission that was responsible for granting the approvals, prosecutors say that Wright’s business partner, Steve Goldstrom, ordered subcontractors to make improvements at the Edgewood home shared by Hutchinson and her mother.

Goldstrom, 54, a former manager of exotic car business, The Toy Store, was also arrested on Friday and charged with one count of perjury.

Authorities say that subcontractors installed a new toilet, a surround sound system, special pool lighting, fencing, pavers and performed air conditioning repair work.  The improvements were done after Hutchinson voted to grant Wright the zoning changes on his La Preserve and Georgian Oaks developments.

Prosecutors said that when investigators asked about the work done at her home, she lied about it and denied knowing any of Wright’s business associates.

Bruce Udolf, Hutchinson’s lawyer, said she will fight the charges. “Any work that was done was a personal favor between friends and there was absolutely no quid pro quo. Any favors that were done for her by her friends were not given in exchange for an official act.”

Hutchinson, a registered Democrat, was on the city commission for nine years until she termed out in March 2009. While on the commission, critics said that she used her elected position to solicit monies for charity from people that had business with the city. Because of her actions, the city passed a law in 2007 prohibiting elected officials from the practice.

more at The Miami Herald

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North Miami mayor admits to handing out official police-like badges to “city volunteers”

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At a city council meeting Tuesday evening, North Miami Andre Pierre apologized to the audience for ordering 43 police-like badges, inscribed “Mayor’s Staff”, which cost taxpayers $4,151.

Last week, The Miami Herald first reported the story, in which Pierre claimed that he couldn’t remember how many he ordered, and how many he handed out. The trouble with the badges, is that the mayor’s staff consists of three person, all of whom he shares with city council members.

After the council meeting, Pierre said that he provided a badge to each of the staff members, and an undisclosed number to “city volunteers,” although he refused to mention any names. He also refused to answer questions why he ordered them in the first place.

Pierre bypassed the city manager when purchasing the badges, instead asking Police Chief, Stephen Johnson, to order them. The badges are similar to a law enforcement shield and feature the Florida state seal.

At the council meeting, Pierre repeated an earlier contention that the request should have not been mistaken as an order to purchase the badges. “I never gave him a command,” said Pierre.

Critics blasted Pierre for spending taxpayer monies on the badges, which might easily be mistaken for law enforcement shields. They say the badges could be used to obtain favors or intimidate citizens.

City Manager Russell Benford was not aware of the badges until contacted by the media last week. He said he’s asked Pierre to retrieve the badges.

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Florida immigration statute to protect jobs never enforced, new legislation pondered

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Even though a Florida law was passed 10 years ago to punish employers who hired illegal workers, state law enforcement officials admit that they’ve never enforced the law. The law prohibits anyone from knowingly hiring a worker “who is not duly authorized to work by immigration laws or the Attorney General of the United States.”

Michael Rampage, general counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said, “From what I can find, from our statistics, the statute has never been enforced.” He said that there is a possibility that some employers have been charged – but no records exist to support such charges.

Rampage said that “There’s probably little time and little resources for law enforcement to proactively go and scope out employers and see if they are in violation of the law.”

The revelation, reported in Tuesday’s Miami Herald, was disclosed in a fact-finding session during a special Senate committee meeting to address changes to the existing law and potentially enact new legislation. The committee was form to examine all the issues needed to be considered before proposing new legislation that would deal with immigration issues.

While campaigning, newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott said that he would bring an Arizona-type immigration bill to Florida, although most members of the legislature now said theirs will be different, concerned about angering the Hispanic population, the state’s fastest growing electoral group.

Business interests differed widely in their stance on illegal immigration, but all seemed to agree that Arizona-type legislation was not appropriate for Florida, and would be preempted by federal law.

Jack Oliver, the legislative director for Floridians for Immigration Reform, said that the issue is all about jobs and the economy. “When someone comes here illegally, they’re stealing the American job from someone who wants to come here legally.”

Another group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says that illegal immigration costs Florida taxpayers $5.2 million annually due to its impact on schools, social services and the law enforcement system.

A spokesperson for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Maria del Rosario Rodriguez, said “We suspect and we fear that this is motivated by political fear and racism. It’s not about jobs. It’s not about security. It’s not about the economy.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce released a report this week saying that current immigration, both legal and illegal is within historic norms.

It said that illegal immigrants do not inflict a proportionally higher burden on law enforcement, and that they produce more economic value than they consume. A spokesperson for the Chamber said that while pursuing reform, “Florida must use caution with any immigration restrictions to help ensure that we don’t provoke an economic boycott or restrict economic growth.”

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Miami police chief asks FBI to investigate mayor

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The latest turn in the battle between Miami’s Police Chief Miguel Exposito and Mayor Tomás Regalado was reported today in The Miami Herald. In a press conference held Friday, Exposito told reporters that he has asked the FBI to investigate the mayor’s office for what he says, is meddling in police business.

Exposito claims Regalado was interfering with police operations when he allegedly tried to interfere with raids on businesses offering illegal gambling, using a popular type of video gaming machine which is often rigged for payout, violating state gambling laws.

Following though on accusations contained in a letter sent to the mayor’s office last week, accusing him of interfering with police operations and being in the pocket of gaming interests, Exposito said that he turned over evidence to the FBI supporting his allegations.

Last week, another top ranking police official said that he received a call from Regalado after the raids started on Oct. 25, suggesting they be halted. The former city manager, Carlos Migoya, told sources that Regalado suggest he call Exposito, and see if the raids could be delayed.

A new ordinance sponsored by Regalado, had just gone into effect 11 days before the police raids. The ordinance was intended to regulate the machine and raise money for the city, although police contended that it would simply flood the city with more of the machines.

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Clash escalates between Miami’s mayor and police chief over slot machines

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A war over gaming machines is breaking out in Miami, and it’s between Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Miquel Exposito, who was appointed by the mayor only 13 months ago.

The Miami Herald reported Wednesday on the escalating fracture between Regalado and Exposito, which is looking more like a power struggle every day.

Sources say that Exposito might be fired in the next few days by incoming City Manager Tony Crapp Jr. over the gaming machine flap, and other performance issues in the police department, including several controversial police shootings last summer and a number of mishandled corruption investigations in the early part of 2010.

The machines, long popular in cafeterias and bodegas, have been a thorn in the side of police and city officials, because some have been rigged in a fashion that makes them illegal gaming devices.

To be legal, the video gaming machines, which are designed to look like Las Vegas style slot machines, cannot be games of chance or provide any type of payback, even a credit for another play. As the machines began proliferating around Miami, some operators rigged them for cash payout or free drinks.

Last year, in attempt to regulate the machines and earn revenues for the city, Regalado sponsored a new city ordinance that would require a $500 annual tax for each machine after the operator registered it with the city. The new regulation is expected to raise about $750,000 annually for the city.

The new law makes the machines legal, as long as they are used just for amusement, and not gambling. The prior city law considered all machines to be illegal.

Police officials including Chief Exposito were vocally opposed to the ordinance, saying that it would only help proliferate illegal gaming throughout the city.

On October 25, 11 days after the ordinance took effect, the police department conducted a raid dubbed “Lucky 7” and seized 400 illegal machines and arrested 28 people, mostly store clerks. Neither city hall or the district attorney’s office were told about the raids in advance.

Sources at the police department, including Maj. Alfredo Alverez, told the Miami Herald that when Regalado heard of the raids, he demanded they be stopped, saying they would reflect badly on the administration in the upcoming November elections.

Regalado subsequently denied telling the police department to stop the raids.

In late December, Exposito sent a letter to Regalado saying “Through the Mayor’s office there was a concerted effort to interfere with the gambling enforcement operation. You, as the Mayor have gone beyond the legal bounds of your office.” The letter did not specify exactly what Regalado did to interfere with the police department.

Exposito’s letter also suggested that Regalado was beholden to gaming interests because donors connected to the group contributed $9,000 to his reelection campaign. Regalado raised a total of over $800,000 for his 2009 campaign.

On Wednesday, Miami Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, said he will ask for Exposito’s resignation at the city’s Jan. 13 meeting. “If he doesn’t, I will lay out a whole litany of things. He’s trying to use intimidation [to save his job], that’s what the whole letter is about,” Dunn said. “I believe for the best interest of the city we need a mature, experienced veteran leader at that position.”

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Details surface on ex-Florida GOP chairman’s corruption charges

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The former executive director of the Florida Republican Party, Delmar Johnson, was president, secretary and treasurer of a phony company called Victory Strategies that was used to skim hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations, and funnel them to himself and former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, according to newly-released documents.

The Miami Herald reported Saturday that Victory Strategies collected nearly $240,000 in nine months during 2009, before GOP finance officials began questioning Greer about the company in December 2009. During the same period, the company paid eleven checks to Greer totaling $164,101 and paid Johnson $65,093. At Jan. 31, 2010, the company’s bank account had a balance of about $10,000.

Greer, 47, was arrested in June for running a scam to steal money from the Florida GOP. He was charged with six counts of organized scheme to defraud, four counts of felony grand theft and one count of money laundering.

Greer owned 60 percent of Victory and Johnson owned the other 40 percent of the company. Authorities said that the company had no other business than to take a commission from political contributions to the Florida GOP and pay the amounts to Greer and Johnson.

Donors and major party activists had been critical of Greer after reports surfaced of lavish spending on parties, expensive dinners, luxury hotels and private jets.

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