Former Deerfield Beach commissioner sentenced to a year in jail

Article Courtesy of 

By Paula McMahon

Published August 1, 2011

 

Former Deerfield Beach Commissioner Steve Gonot was sentenced to a year in jail Friday for grand theft, official misconduct and falsifying records.

In May, a jury found Gonot, 54, guilty of stealing $5,135 from his election campaign account.

Gonot was jailed until he posts $20,000 bond likely later Friday or early Saturday and then will be freed while he appeals.

 

"Criminal activity by public officials cannot be tolerated and must be punished. Mr. Gonot's illegal use of campaign funds donated by citizens is an absolute disgrace," prosecutor David Schulson said, recommending a prison term of four years.

The defense wanted Gonot to be placed on probation, noting his community service.

Broward Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy told Gonot that she believes that jail and prison terms are for people who pose a danger to the community, with one exception public officials who violate the public trust.

She sentenced Gonot, who did not speak in court, to a year in jail followed by five years of probation. She also ordered him to complete 500 hours of community service and specified that he should work as a guardian ad litem, or advocate, for children and parents who have cases in family court.

Former Deerfield Beach Commissioner Steve Gonot


   

"It will show Mr. Gonot how valuable trust is," McCarthy told the commissioner.
 
Gonot was immediately handcuffed and fingerprinted in the courtroom. He showed no evident reaction to the sentence but spoke amicably with a courtroom deputy and quietly thanked his brother and a friend who came to testify as character witnesses.
 
He served on the commission from 2001 until he was removed from elected office in December 2008.
 
The jury found that Gonot stole from his mayoral campaign account in October 2007 while he was going through a contentious divorce. Prosecutors said he wrote a questionable campaign check for $5,135 weeks after his estranged wife emptied their joint banking account without his knowledge. The prosecution also argued that he participated in a "series of cover-ups" to try to hide what he did.
  
Schulson, the prosecutor, said he was satisfied with the sentence.

   
"Under the totality of the circumstances, I thought Judge McCarthy imposed a fair and balanced sentence and sent a warning that if you're an elected official and you violate the public trust, you will be punished," Schulson said.

Gonot's lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, said he will file an appeal of the criminal convictions and the punishment. "Obviously, we're disappointed he received any jail time," Harris said.

The two felony charges carried a maximum penalty of five years each though Gonot's lack of a prior criminal record meant he was unlikely to receive such a harsh penalty.

Gonot's state retirement benefits have been frozen while the state's Department of Management Services decides if he is still entitled to receive the benefit. By law, officials convicted of violating the public trust forfeit their pensions. Gonot, a former state Department of Transportation employee, was eligible for a $2,152 monthly benefit upon retirement, according to the most recent calculation.

Deerfield Beach's legal woes are not over. Former Mayor Al Capellini is expected to go to trial later this year on a 2008 felony charge of unlawful compensation and suspended Commissioner Sylvia Poitier was charged earlier this year with five misdemeanor counts of falsifying public records.


NEWS PAGE HOME CORRUPTION