Federal agents arrested three public officials in Broward Co., Fla., last week as the result of an FBI undercover operation that involved bribes and the county's school construction program. The Miami Herald and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel broke the story Sept. 24. Broward County school board member Beverly Gallagher and former Miramar city commissioner Fitzroy Salesman were arrested and charged with fraud, extortion and bribery, the Sun-Sentinel reported. County commissioner Josephus Eggelletion was charged with fraud and money laundering,
Essentially, the three officials were arrested for allegedly accepting bribes from FBI agents posing as contractors trying to buy their way into a school construction contract. (For telling details on each individual's alleged misdeeds, check the South Florida Sun-Sentinel report here.)
According to these reports, the bribes for all three officials amounted to about $40,000. The Miami Herald, in its Sept. 26 editorial, stated that the fact that these individuals were caught committing fraudulent acts, "apparently with such minuscule rewards that it makes you wonder: Is this just the tip of the iceberg for their alleged kickbacks and other illegal activity--or did they think so little of their public jobs that they sold them out for dirt-cheap prices?"
For instance, the Herald continued, "School Board member Beverly Gallagher allegedly agreed to secure a $71-million contract for a school construction project in exchange for a $12,500 payoff from the would-be bidder."
According to the same Herald story, none of the three officials arrested showed any hesitation or surprise at the prospect of receiving a little quid pro quo on the side. "Indeed, the three indicted individuals made it look like they were accustomed to doing business this way, expressing no hesitation or regrets. To the contrary, all three were caught on tape bragging about their abilities to get the job done--be it making dirty money look clean or having sway over underlings in bid selections."
Of course, as is often the case, federal officials remarked that this was not the end of their investigation. "Our work will continue in Broward County," acting U.S. Attorney Jeff Sloman stated at a press conference, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
In its Sept. 27 edition, the Miami Herald provided more detail about the charges relating to the $71-million project: "The federal complaint against Gallagher says she accepted bribes in exchange for the promise to influence committee members to recommend a particular construction company for a $71 million Hollywood Hills High School renovation project. The company was not named in the documents, but the school board eventually awarded the contract to James B. Pirtle Construction. The Hollywood Hills project, along with dozens of others, has since been scrapped because of budget cuts."
What do you think about this? For those aware of the Broward program, do the actions of these public officials surprise you? We invite you to share your thoughts here with other readers.
Stay tuned. Sounds like there's more to come.