In Tamarac, corruption lives in backyard

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Fred Grimm

Published October 18, 2010

Political corruption, for most of us, is hardly more than an abstraction, a vague notion of sleazy deals, bribes, paid-off elected officials subverting the public interest.

For Joyce Pickover, such corruption is painfully palpable. She can see it, real and ugly, behind her Tamarac home, beyond the unsightly chain-link fence workers erected behind her house in 2006. "Rent-a-fence,'' she calls it.

For Pickover, corruption, or at least the consequence of corruption, is as tangible as the weed-choked canal, "covered in scum,'' that two criminal developers dug four years ago after debasing the approval process.

REAL SCUM

That's actual scum she's describing, a thick layer of algae floating on the canal surface, not a metaphorical reference to the Tamarac and Broward County politicians who Shawn and Bruce Chait claim they bribed.

Pickover, a retired school teacher, bought her home in 2000 at the edge of Sabal Palms Golf Course. "The golf course was almost an extension of my back yard.''

"It was beautiful,'' says Barbara Cole, who has lived for 17 years in the subdivision of 225 modest homes at the confluence of Commercial Boulevard and Florida's Turnpike. ``We all loved it here,'' Cole says. "You never saw a for-sale sign.''

But in 2006, father and son developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, despite community opposition, wrangled approval from the city and county to demolish the Sabal Palms Golf Course and the nearby Monterey Golf Course and cram 728 new homes on the combined 153 acres. They later admitted to investigators that they used bribery to grease the necessary political support.

STAR WITNESSES

The Chaits, who pleaded guilty to unlawful compensation charges in August, have become the key prosecution witnesses behind Broward's biggest corruption scandal. A Chaits bribery scheme brought former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion a 2 -year prison sentence. Tamarac Commissioner Patricia Atkins-Grad was arrested in June on charges of accepting a BMW and other favors from the Chaits. On Oct. 4, Broward County School Board member Stephanie Kraft and her husband Mitch were charged with unlawful compensation and bribery in connection with the Tamarac project. More arrests are expected.

The Chaits not only corrupted the political process, they corrupted life along the demolished golf courses. They bulldozed the landscape, then dug a canal to separate the older homes from their planned new townhouses. "Now I have snakes and frogs,'' Cole says. ``It's disgusting.''

Erstwhile golf course homes now border an unkempt scrubland with white plastic sewer connections jutting out of the weeds. ``Now we have half a construction site and half a swamp,'' says Chris (who didn't want his last name published), Cole's neighbor. "We used to spend all our time outside. Now we never go out. It drives us crazy.''

Barbara Cole figures her house, once worth nearly $300,000, might bring $78,000. Another neighbor offers a similar lament. "This has ruined my retirement,'' he says.

An investment company bought the Chaits property last week. But most of the homeowners along the remnants of the golf courses know they've got months, maybe years more with an unobstructed view of corruption.

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