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.
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.
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 ½-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
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.