Salesmanís trial reveals ugly details

of Broward pay-to-play politics

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel


Published April 5, 2010


Most politicians cut plea deals when confronted with the unpleasant news that they've been caught on tape taking money from undercover federal agents.

Not Fitzroy Salesman.

We should be grateful for the former Miramar commissioner's defiant spirit.

By fighting federal bribery and extortion charges, Salesman has allowed us to get the full flavor of South Florida's "pay-to-play" (as he put it) political culture. Hours of taped conversations with undercover agents have been played at his ongoing trial, providing a civics lesson we never learn in school.

Salesman told one agent "it's not a kickback" if a contractor gets a job from a city and a commissioner makes money on the deal as a consultant, so long as the job is done well and the payment is made after the project is finished.

"Then it's not a kickback," Salesman told FBI agent John Osa at a Hooters restaurant in Pembroke Pines in May 2007. "Then it's the company dividing the profits the way they want."

He even sounded genuinely concerned about not squandering taxpayers' money, saying "I have a reputation to uphold."

He also was hesitant about getting cash up front, saying: "I'm not going to jail for no bull----."

I had to stifle laughter when I heard that in court last week.

We'll see what the jury makes of this.

Salesman's lawyers say Salesman was paid $7,840 for legitimate consulting work done while he was suspended from office on a DUI charge.

Federal prosecutors say Salesman took money, including $3,340 when he was an active commissioner, to improperly steer work to a local contractor.

The portrait painted on the 2006 and 2007 tapes, with undercover agents posing as businessmen and contractors seeking government work, isn't flattering. And it's not just Salesman who comes off badly.

With hidden microphones and cameras rolling at restaurants, a boat outing and a local political banquet, we have been treated to a Lauderdale Lakes commissioner who is now a state representative (Hazelle Rogers) talking about skirting capital gains taxes on a home sale and a Miramar Commission candidate (George Pedlar) ignoring campaign finance rules by taking a $5,000 contribution, 10 times the legal maximum.

Even former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, who has pleaded guilty to money laundering and bribery charges, hasn't been spared more embarrassment. In court last week, Osa testified about trying to get sidewalk construction work from the county and how Eggelletion told him "how he'd take a large contract and break it up" to get under the county's $250,000, no-bid threshold and avoid a commission vote.

Eggelletion and former Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher, arrested the same day as Salesman in September, avoided trials with quick pleas. Eggelletion will begin serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence in May. Gallagher will be sentenced in June for her bribery offense, with prosecutors and her lawyers recommending a 37-month sentence.

Salesman is going down swinging. He's no stranger to courtrooms, with two previous arrests leading to political suspensions. He was acquitted in the 2005 DUI charge, but was found guilty of a misdemeanor gun offense for a Thanksgiving 2007 incident at a supermarket. Voters didn't return him to office and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

This time, he faces up to 100 years in prison if convicted of all six counts of bribery, extortion and honest-services fraud.

At the May 2007 Hooters meeting, Salesman instructed the undercover FBI agent on the finer points of winning Miramar contracts that needed Commission approval, those exceeding $50,000. Salesman already had helped Osa's associates land a $34,000 park gazebo job.

Salesman spoke about another company that he "went to bat for" getting $22 million in city contracts in two years.

"There's no law that says the lowest bid has to win," Salesman said over wings (sauce on the side) and french fries. "There are other things that come into play. Ö I want somebody who builds a relationship, gives back to the community."

At the same meeting, Salesman said: "Let me tell you how it goes, because I'm acting in my capacity as a lobbyist. A lot of politicians won't take the chance of taking money under the table, but we all have our pet projects. Ö Let's say I have a charity event and I'll ask if you can sponsor a table for $1,000. That makes me look good."

With Broward's "pay-to-play" culture finally coming home to roost, nobody looks so good now.

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