Miami Herald: New details of Broward corruption probe emerge
Oct 1, 2009
The Miami Herald published this article on October 1, 2009
BY AMY SHERMAN, PATRICIA MAZZEI AND JAY WEAVER
A week after a trio of Broward political figures were arrested in a federal corruption investigation, a Sunrise city commissioner confirmed that she assisted the FBI in the probe.
Also, a school board member identified herself as the politician who appears — but is not named — in a criminal complaint.
Other details have also emerged in the ongoing investigation — including that over the summer Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher wore a wire and cooperated with federal officials, but County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion refused to cooperate. Both were arrested last week and suspended from their posts.
A federal grand jury will convene in Fort Lauderdale Thursday to review evidence related to Broward’s school building program and the county’s paratransit business. School district construction chief Michael Garretson and Broward County Transportation Director Chris Walton are expected to testify.
Sheila Alu, a Sunrise city commissioner who is also an assistant state attorney, confirmed Wednesday that she assisted the FBI in its investigation.
“I have been working side by side with the FBI for four years,” said Alu.
“I can’t comment to specifics due to the ongoing investigation. . . . I think one of the biggest problems that plague this community is public corruption is rampant.”
Alu wouldn’t elaborate if she specifically assisted with the investigations involving Gallagher, Eggelletion or former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman, all Democrats.
The three were charged last week and Gov. Charlie Crist suspended Gallagher and Eggelletion from office.
Gallagher took kickbacks, Eggelletion laundered money and Salesman took a bribe, according to the federal charges.
Alu said her boss, Broward State Attorney Michael Satz, knew about her involvement with the FBI when he hired her last year.
Alu revealed her involvement after Phyllis Hope said in an interview that she was the Broward School Board member not named in the complaint who was invited to a Christmas party by Gallagher last year. Hope said that Alu and Salesman were also at the party, leading to Alu’s disclosure to make it clear she was assisting the FBI — not one of the subjects of the investigation.
No allegations of wrongdoing have been brought against Hope. The complaint says an undercover federal agent asked Gallagher to invite influential people who could help a construction company client get work.
“The only thing I can say is, it was a party and I wasn’t the only elected official there,” Hope said. “A lot of people were there. What is wrong with me going to a Christmas party?”
In June, Gallagher was approached by federal authorities in South Florida to start cooperating with them in their undercover investigation. Gallagher agreed — even wearing a wire on a few occasions — but she proved ineffective, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Gallagher even considered pleading to corruption charges before she was arrested last week, but that didn’t work out either, the sources said.
Steve Rossi, Gallagher’s attorney, said he could not comment on whether his client cooperated with federal agents or wore a wire.
Still, Gallagher inadvertently helped the FBI last year when she recommended to undercover agents posing as “asset managers” for a construction company that they should contact a contractor. His name was Celestine Skippy Aniekwu. Gallagher said Aniekwu could help them in the same way she was trying to help them land a contract on the school board, federal officials familiar with the investigation said.
Undercover agents met with Aniekwu, project manager for Gulf Building Corp., in April 2008 to see if a contractor could obtain a municipal building project in the city of Miramar. Aniekwu agreed with the undercover agents to generate $150,000 in phony invoices to be run through a company called Luke’s Landscaping, federal officials familiar with the investigation said.
The company issued a series of checks to the undercover agents’ company, Le Bec Asset Management, and a fictitious company called Dania Consulting, federal officials familiar with the investigation said. In turn, the agents cashed three checks for $50,000 and gave the money to Aniekwu to give to a Miramar official to get a foot in the door in the city’s building program. Aniekwu was recorded on tape saying he gave the cash to an unnamed official in November.
FBI agents are trying to determine whether Aniekwu actually gave the money to the Miramar official or kept it for himself. Aniekwu, charged with fraud last week, is being sought by the FBI.
Meanwhile, federal authorities approached Eggelletion about cooperating with undercover agents in June, but he refused.
A friend of Eggelletion’s who has been charged in the money-laundering case, Ronald Owens, is cooperating with the FBI in the investigation, federal officials familiar with the investigation said.
Gov. Crist is expected to appoint replacements to the county commission and school board within the next several weeks. All three applicants Wednesday were Republicans:
William J. Delgado, president of the Latin American Business Association, and Eric Garner, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, both applied for the school board seat.
Torey Alston, an African-American who works for the state as executive director of the office of supplier diversity, applied for Eggelletion’s seat in a black-majority Democratic district. He lives in Tallahassee, but grew up in Broward.
Miami Herald staff writers Diana Moskovitz and Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.