U.S. judge asked to okay deposition of FBI agent in Sarasota Saudi probe

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

The FBI should be ordered to publicly identify and make available for questioning under oath the special agent it says authored a “wholly unsubstantiated” 2002 report that connected a Sarasota Saudi family to 9/11 terrorists, newly filed court papers say.

The 9/11 Review Commission cited without explanation the FBI’s controversial assertion in a report last month that sought to discredit the 2002 document and damage the credibility of the unnamed agent. The commission members were paid by the FBI and chosen by FBI Director James Comey.

The document, parts of which were redacted citing national security, was released to FloridaBulldog.org in March 2013 amid the news organization’s ongoing Freedom of Information lawsuit against the FBI. The document said the FBI’s investigation of the Saudi family “revealed many connections” between the family “and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

On Wednesday, the Bulldog’s attorneys asked Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Court Judge William J. Zloch to allow them to depose the FBI agent and to inspect documents cited in the 9/11 Review Commission’s report concerning the FBI’s once-secret investigation of the Sarasota Saudis.

“In light of the central importance of this agent and the lack of any independent, direct examination of the agent about the findings,” wrote attorneys Thomas Julin and Paulo Lima, “a deposition of the author of the (2002 FBI report) and access to the relevant records of the 9/11 Review Commission will shed significant light.”

Judge Zloch was asked to intervene after Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee informed the attorneys that the government opposed their request to depose the agent. Lee likewise rejected a request for access to the Review Commission’s supporting documents.

The 9/11 Review Commission was authorized by Congress to conduct an “external review” of the FBI’s post-9/11 performance and to assess new evidence in the case. It held no public hearings and relied heavily on the FBI for information, staffing and administration.

One subchapter of the commission’s report addressed FloridaBulldog.org’s story about the Sarasota Saudis, who sources and documents say abruptly moved out of their home in the gated community of Prestancia about two weeks before 9/11, leaving behind their cars, furniture, a refrigerator full of food, clothes and other goods.

While ignoring a variety of new information reported by the Bulldog – like interview-based stories about how gatehouse security records showed the home was visited by vehicles used by hijackers and another about a 2004 law enforcement report tying the home’s occupant, Abdulaziz al-Hijji, to al Qaeda figure Adnan Shukrijumah – the commission’s report focused on the credibility of the 2002 report, saying the FBI called it “poorly written and wholly unsubstantiated.”

“When questioned later by others in the FBI, the special agent who wrote (it) was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did,” the report says.

AGENT INSTRUCTED NOT TO TALK?

According to attorneys Julin and Lima, however, the failure of the Review Commission’s report to identify either the agent or the FBI personnel who questioned him or to explain the FBI’s conclusion that the 2002 report is fatally flawed, is problematic.

“These omissions leave open the possibility that the author 0f (the report) had been instructed by the FBI or by other agencies not to explain why he wrote the document as he did, as well as the possibility the agent simply forgot why he wrote it as he did. The latter possibility seems implausible, however, in light of the startling substance of the document,” they told Judge Zloch.

A year ago, noting that previous records searches were inadequate, Zloch ordered the FBI to conduct a more thorough search for records responsive to FloridaBulldog.org’s FOIA request. Ultimately, the FBI turned over more than 80,000 pages housed in its Tampa field office. Zloch is reviewing those records in order to decide what may be publicly released.

The government provided the judge with three CD-ROMs containing scanned copies of all 80,000 pages. In response to the judge’s specific instructions, the FBI also compiled 27 boxes of paper documents and planned to provide them in sets of four boxes – the maximum capacity of a high-security safe the FBI had installed in the judge’s chambers.

According to prosecutor Lee, the government delivered the first four boxes on May 1, 2014. “I have not received further directions from the court to deliver additional boxes,” Lee wrote in an email.

Thus, it’s unclear how far along Judge Zloch is in evaluating the crush of documents, all of which have been labeled “classified” by the FBI.

Attorneys Julin and Lima requested a status conference with the judge and suggested Zloch consider appointing a special master, or them, to assist in completing the document review.

Rubio’s new campaign plagued by continuing election law violations

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential campaign logo

Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign logo

Two days before he officially announced his run for the presidency last week, Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign disclosed that it had refunded more than $23,000 in excessive contributions it previously had accepted.

Another $27,000 in over-the-limit contributions originally raised to boost Republican Rubio for a Senate primary election fight was either reclassified for use in the 2016 general election, or applied to the spouses of donors who gave more than the $2,600 maximum per election allowed by federal law, federal election records show.

That $50,000 in refunds, reclassifications and reassignments were in response to violation notices sent by the Federal Election Commission to the campaign after each of its quarterly financial report filings in 2014.

In four April 11 response letters, Rubio campaign assistant treasurer Lisa Lisker said that Rubio’s campaign committee – recently renamed Marco Rubio for President – and the separate Rubio Victory PAC had not tracked excessive contributions or duplicate entries.

“The committee now performs reviews of the data weekly to identify any excessive contributions that may have been missed during the initial processing,” Lisker wrote. “Once the excessive contributions are identified, the committee takes steps to either reattribute, re-designate or refund if necessary.”

Lisker did not explain why the campaign had neglected to track for excessive contributions before being questioned by the FEC.

Rubio’s campaign spokesman Alex Contant did not respond to two emailed requests for comment.

The FEC issued its first warning to Rubio campaign treasurer Keith Davis nearly a year ago, May 28, 2014. The notice said the campaign had received $10,000 in excessive donations from four donors during the prior three-month period. One of the contributors, Ned Lautenbach, gave $10,200, exceeding the limit by $7,600.

Lisker told the FEC Lautenbach, a trustee on the Board of Governors for Florida’s State University System, was refunded $2,600. The remaining $5,000 was split into two $2,500 donations, one for Lautenbach and one for his wife, for the 2016 general election.

MORE FEC LETTERS LAST MONTH

FEC analysts sent Davis two more letters last month that said Rubio’s campaign had reported excessive donations of $18,830 and $6,500 in quarterly reports for July and October 2014.

Indian Creek resident Robert Diener, co-founder of hotels.com, donated $5,100, which was $2,500 above the maximum allowable contribution.

Another donor was Texas pharmaceutical company owner Dian Graves Stai, who exceeded the cap by $7,800.

Lisker told the FEC that one of Diener’s donations was inputted twice by mistake by the campaign. She also said another $800 donation was refunded to Diener three weeks ago, noting that the changes will be reflected in Rubio for President reports due at the end of this month.

Stai’s $7,800 excessive contribution was refunded on Dec. 29 and was noted in the campaign’s year-end report, Lisker wrote.

On April 8, the FEC cited $15,000 in excessive donations during the three months ending in October 2014. One donor, Sandra Reus, vice president of Miami’s Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, gave Rubio’s campaign $9,600 last Dec. 19, exceeding the maximum by $7,000.

Lisker wrote back that $2,600 was applied to the general election under Reus’ name and another $4,400 was applied in the name of Reus’ husband and split into contributions for the primary and the general election.

In an unusual twist, Lisker also told the FEC that the campaign had not received any of the commission’s correspondence.

“It was recently discovered while reviewing the committee’s filings on the FEC website,” Lisker wrote. Apparently, no one at the campaign bothered to check election filings on the FEC’s online database until after FloridaBulldog.org and the Washington Post reported about the excessive donations.

In 2012, Davis and the campaign settled with the FEC after the commission found they had accepted $210,173 in excessive donations for the 2010 primary and general election, the year Rubio was elected to the Senate. The FEC also admonished the campaign for not refunding or redistributing the illegal contributions within a designated timeframe. The campaign paid a $8,000 civil penalty and agreed to enact safeguards to avoid similar errors in the future.

9/11 Review Commission under the FBI’s thumb

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

New York's World Trade Center. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith, Wikimedia Commons

New York’s World Trade Center. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith, Wikimedia Commons

A secretive blue-ribbon panel formed by Congress to conduct an “external review” of the FBI’s post-9/11 performance – and to assess new evidence – was largely under the sway of the very agency it was tasked to examine.

The FBI 9/11 Review Commission originally was envisioned as something very different: an independent national commission with subpoena power that would hold public hearings, take testimony, receive evidence and compel government agencies to turn over information from their files.

Proposed legislation called for a chairman and vice chairman to be appointed by the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader, respectively. Staff would be hired without outside interference. The General Services Administration would provide support services.

That’s not what happened.

The FBI 9/11 Review Commission, which issued its final report March 25, held no public hearings and had no subpoena power. It was largely spoon-fed information by the FBI, whose personnel was on the commission’s staff and helped edit the final report to improve its “accuracy and clarity,” the report says.

The commission’s interviews and proceedings, its “Memorandums for the Record” and other documents on which the report is based were not made public.

FBI CHIEF PICKS 9/11 REVIEW PANEL

FBI Director James Comey, not the Speaker or the Majority Leader, chose the 9/11 Review Commission’s three members. The report says Comey did so “in consultation with Congress.”

FBI Director James Comey, flanked by 9/11 panel members Ed Meese, left, and Tim Roemer with reporters at March 25 press conference

FBI Director James Comey, flanked by 9/11 panel members Ed Meese, left, and Tim Roemer with reporters at March 25 press conference

The FBI paid the trio – former Reagan Administration Attorney General Ed Meese, former congressman and ambassador Tim Roemer, and Georgetown University securities studies professor Bruce Hoffman –under personal services contracts that also were not made public.

The commissioners selected John C. Gannon as their executive director. Gannon is a former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence and ex-Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The commission and Gannon, “coordinating with the Bureau,” assembled a staff of 12. “All staff members reported administratively to the FBI,” the report says.

The commission’s 127-page report, The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century,” was largely supportive of the FBI, while repeatedly noting the Bureau needed to accelerate its implementation of reforms to make it a more effective anti-terrorist force.

The day the report was released, FBI Director James Comey told reporters at a Washington press conference that he was pleased with the commission’s work.

“I think this is a moment of pride for the F.B.I.,” Comey said, according to The New York Times. “An outside group of some of our nation’s most important leaders and thinkers has stared hard at us and said, ‘You have done a great job at transforming yourself.’ They’ve also said what I’ve said around the country: ‘It’s not good enough.’”

But those “outsiders” weren’t independent contractors. Rather, they were de facto FBI employees under the Bureau’s supervision and control, according to federal regulations governing the purchase of goods and services.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), section 37.104, says government personal services contracts create an “employer-employee relationship” in which contractors “are subject to the relatively continuous supervision and control of a government officer or employee.” Supervision can be direct or indirect, but is used to “adequately protect the government’s interest” or “retain control of the function involved,” the regulation says.

The FBI made no one available for an interview about the 9/11 Review Commission. When asked by email if the commission’s proceedings would be made accessible to the public, spokeswoman Kathryn D. Ballew said, “You will need to submit a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request.”

A FOIA request seeking that information was filed Wednesday.

9/11 PANELISTS NOT TALKING

9/11 Review Commission member Bruce Hoffman: "I'm not interested in talking to you."

9/11 Review Commission member Bruce Hoffman: “I’m not interested in talking to you.”

Despite repeated requests, none of the commissioners would be interviewed about their report or the commission. Spokespersons for Meese and Roemer said they were not available. Hoffman, reached at his Georgetown office, said, “I’m not interested in talking to you” and hung up.

The Georgetown Security Studies Review interviewed Hoffman on March 27. Hoffman called the FBI “immensely supportive” of the commission.

“They didn’t make one change at all to the findings and recommendations,” said Hoffman. “They really changed very little in the report and in fact only classified slightly more than a dozen pages in a nearly 130 page document.”

However, it is not apparent from reading the report that any pages were classified and omitted from publication.

Commission Executive Director Gannon did not respond to phone or email messages.

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chairman of Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has accused the FBI of a coverup that has protected Saudi Arabia. He called the idea of an FBI performance review “meritorious,” but said the lack of access to supporting documentation prohibits a public examination of the commission’s work.

“This secret process, the composition of staff and the lack of public hearings to secure a broad range of evaluation of the FBI’s post-9/11 performance raises questions as to whether this report achieved its objective of a thorough and balanced examination of America’s domestic intelligence agency,” Graham said.

Transparency was on the mind of Rep. Peter King, R-NY, when in July 2011 he sponsored the 9/11 Review Commission Act (HR 2623) which sought to create an independent body under Congress with the authority to hold open hearings, compel needed testimony and retain experts and consultants.

The bill went nowhere and died at the end of 2012. Three months later, a provision for a watered-down 9/11 Review Commission under the auspices of the FBI was inserted into a large appropriations bill that President Obama signed into law in March 2013.

All mention of public hearings, subpoena power and legislative control had been stripped out.

House appropriations subcommittee member Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a co-sponsor of King’s bill, inserted the language that established the Review Commission. Wolf, who retired in January, did not respond to requests for comment.

But Kevin Fogarty, an aide to Rep. King, explained that King and Wolf “determined it was more feasible and expedient to move the FBI-focused review” via the appropriations bill. Fogarty did not explain why the new measure gave the FBI funding for and authority over the commission.

“Rep. King has the option of reintroducing HR 2623 should he feel it necessary in the future,” Fogarty said via email.

Following delays caused by sequestration, the 9/11 Review Commission was established in January 2014. While still not fully staffed, commissioners appeared before Wolf’s subcommittee the following March to explain how they planned to operate under their $1 million budget.

COMMISSION RELIED HEAVILY ON FBI

The commission’s report shows it relied heavily on the FBI for information and sought little input from sources outside the U.S. Intelligence Community. In addition to CIA boss John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the approximately 30 interviewees included former FBI Director Robert Mueller and four other ex-FBI officials. The commission also met several times with Director Comey.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan testify before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in 2013

FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan testify before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in 2013

The commission ‘s work was also informed by travel to eight FBI field offices and six FBI legal attaché posts in Ottawa, Beijing, Manila, Singapore, London and Madrid, the report says.

At FBI headquarters, commissioners were given more than “60 extensive briefings” on topics ranging from the “Evolution of the National Security Branch” to PENTTBOM, the code-name for its 9/11 investigation, and the “Sarasota Family.”

The Sarasota family refers to Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, Saudis who became the focus of an FBI investigation shortly after 9/11 when it was learned they’d moved abruptly out of their home in an upscale, gated community south of Sarasota two weeks before the attacks, leaving behind their cars, clothes, furniture and other belongings.

FloridaBulldog.org, working with Irish author and journalist Anthony Summers, first reported about that investigation, and how the FBI had not disclosed it to either Congress’s Joint Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission, in September 2011.

The story cited a senior counterterrorism agent and a security administrator at the gated community, Larry Berberich, who said that sign-in logs and photos snapped of license tags of entering vehicles fit information on 9/11 hijack pilots Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah, both of whom had attended a flight school about 10 miles away at Venice Municipal Airport.

The counterterrorism agent also said an analysis of phone records for calls to and from the al-Hijji’s home dating back more than a year found ties to Atta, Jarrah and other terrorist suspects, including former Miramar resident and alleged al Qaeda operative Adnan El Shukrijumah.

The FBI acknowledged the probe and said it had found no ties to terrorism, but declined to explain or release additional information.

The FBI’s denial was later contradicted by its own documents that were made public two years ago amid ongoing Freedom of Information litigation brought by Broward Bulldog, Inc., FloridaBulldog.org corporate parent. One FBI report, dated April 16, 2002, said investigators determined that the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections to individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

FBI DISAVOWS OWN SARASOTA DOCUMENT

The 9/11 Review Commission, tasked to examine new evidence, obtained a copy of the Sarasota case file and was briefed by the FBI, which disavowed its April 2002 report saying it was “poorly written and wholly unsubstantiated.”

“When questioned later by others in the FBI, the special agent who wrote (it) was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did,” the report says.

The report does not name the agent, but its language suggests the commission accepted the FBI’s statements without challenge. The report does not address why the FBI kept its Sarasota investigation a secret from two federal inquiries into 9/11.

Philadelphia attorney Sean Carter represents plaintiffs pursuing claims against Saudi Arabia and others for allegedly providing material support to al Qaeda in the years before 9/11. He said the Review Commission failed to seek out new evidence compiled in that civil case, including jailed former al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui’s highly publicized statement in which he accused Saudi Arabia’s royal family of bankrolling the terrorist group.

“To the extent that they were interested in looking at new evidence you would have expected them to reach out to us, and they never did,” Carter said.

Sen. Graham suggested two ways to alleviate concerns about the integrity of the 9/11 Review Commission’s work.

The FBI should “release all material relating to the commission except those that represent a legitimate national security concern.” And Congress, when it receives the commission’s report, should “do so in an open hearing with the opportunity for testimony by other Americans and a full examination of the commission’s procedures, structure and conclusions, Graham said.

Change orders add millions in airport costs; Is this how Broward should do business?

By William Hladky, FloridaBulldog.org 

Rendering of east end of the expanded south runway with US 1 tunnels

Rendering of east end of the expanded south runway with US 1 tunnels

For the third time in three years, Broward Commissioners voted last week to pay more — $2.5 million this time – to the company that’s managing the ongoing $800 million runway expansion project at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The original 2011 contract with Parsons Transportation Group was worth $10.3 million. The commission’s unanimous vote last week to amend Parson’s contract a third time increased its value to $33.5 million.

While voting for the increase, Commissioner Lois Wexler worried aloud that the county’s practice of increasing the scope and cost of existing contracts borders on an “abuse” of the contracting process that she thinks may have become endemic in the Aviation Department’s culture.

“The original contract goes out, and it changes and changes,” Wexler said. “For me, it’s a procedural issue; it’s a concept of how we do business around here…It is a policy issue that this commission has to decide if it is okay to do business that way.”

No other commissioner seemed to agree, and none responded after Wexler – the commission’s longest serving member – said her piece except Mayor Tim Ryan, who brushed aside Wexler’s comments saying, “The first two amendments have been justified…in previous discussions before the commission.”

Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler

Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler

By amending an existing contract, county bureaucrats bypass the time consuming task of seeking bids on the work. And while acknowledging that it is sometimes to the county’s advantage to amend an existing contract, Wexler fretted that the practice appears to have become too frequent “and that bothers me,” she said.

The original contract in 2011 was for $10.3 million. In December 2012, the commission increased it to $29.4 million. It went to $30.9 million last June, and $33.5 last Tuesday.

Each contract amendment gave Parsons more work. The latest amendment provides Parsons with additional funds for basic services, and to continue to deploy inspection and surveying teams as required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The county’s original contract with Parsons stated that “an amendment…will be negotiated” to cover additional project management.

However, nowhere in Parsons’ contract or in the supporting documents provided to the commission in 2011 is there any indication how much the contract would increase.

Broward Aviation Director Kent George defended the Parsons contract to the board.

“In all fairness to the contractor, when they were first brought on, they were brought on to work with us to put the thing together,” George said.

Parsons Transportation is a subsidiary of Parsons Corporation, an engineering and construction company, headquartered in Pasadena, California.

ITEM ON CONSENT AGENDA

The contract increase for Parsons had been set to sail past the commission – and the public – as an item on the “consent agenda,” a place on the meeting’s full agenda where noncontroversial items not requiring discussion or independent action are placed for a swift vote of approval. Thirty items were listed on last week’s consent agenda.

But Wexler and county Mayor Tim Ryan “pulled” the item from the consent agenda for discussion.

The use of the consent agenda for contracts can be controversial. In 2011, the Statewide Grand Jury criticized the Broward School Board for placing contracts worth $1 million or less automatically on the consent agenda.

Contracts “wind up side by side with innocuous resolutions in support of ‘National Magnet Schools of America Month’ and the like,” the grand jury report stated.

Ryan pulled the contract amendment proposal to make sure its approval would not jeopardize possible legal action against another company that has allegedly missed deadlines. Michael Kerr, an assistant county attorney, reassured Ryan the amendment’s passage would have no effect on that.

Wexler said had another reason. “The abuse of the change order is what bothers me,” she said in an email after the meeting. “It is used very often…I would like to see the board give more direction as to its use.”

“The culture of an organization becomes the practice…usually (it) begins in a subtle way and progresses from there. The use of change orders is an example…If questions are not asked it knows no boundaries,” Wexler said

Federal regulators ask Marco Rubio’s campaign to explain illegal contributions, again

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

As U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio prepares for a possible 2016 presidential run, federal elections regulators want him to explain why he accepted illegal campaign contributions from 14 donors in his recent year-end campaign finance report.

In an April 8 letter to Rubio’s campaign treasurer Keith Davis, Federal Election Commission (FEC) analyst Jaime Amrhein said that each of the 14 contributors exceeded the maximum amount individuals can give a federal candidate per election.

Some donors to Rubio’s war chest, gave hundreds of dollars over the $2,600 limit, while others gave as much as $2,400 above the cap. One donor, Sandra Reus, who is vice president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors in Miami, gave the senator’s campaign $9,600 on Dec. 19, 2014, exceeding the maximum by $7,000.

In total, Rubio’s ostensible senate campaign collected $15,000 in excessive donations during the three months ending in October 2014, the letter said.

Reached by telephone, treasurer Davis declined comment. He referred questions to a campaign spokesperson who did not respond to two emails requesting comment. Brooke Sammon, Rubio’s senate spokeswoman, also did not respond.

Rubio is scheduled to hold a public gathering on April 13 at downtown Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower, where he is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

According to the FEC letter, Rubio’s senate campaign has not returned the money to the 14 donors. Failure to return excessive contributions is against federal law, but it is not a criminal offense. The FEC gives candidates 60 days from the date of a notice being mailed to give back the fund or amend a report if information was entered incorrectly.

The FEC typically handles report discrepancies administratively, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director for Washington D.C-based Center for Responsive Politics. She said the FEC merely provides a bureaucratic function in making sure campaigns are complying with the law.

“They have never aggressively pursued instances when donors have given excessive amounts,” Krumholz said. “What happens is these donations are not returned for at least a couple of years and it amounts to a nice little loan for a campaign.”

However, Krumholz said voters still have a right to know when campaigns cut corners, especially when a candidate has been previously admonished by the FEC. In Rubio’s case, its not the first time his campaign has run afoul of the rules.

2012 SETTLEMENT WITH FEC

In 2012, Rubio’s campaign and treasurer Davis settled an inquiry by the FEC into $210,173 in excessive contributions accepted for the 2010 primary and general election, the year Rubio was elected to the Senate.

The commission also accused the senator’s campaign of failing to refund or redistribute the illegal donations within a designated timeframe. Rubio’s campaign and Davis claimed only $61,958 was not returned in a timely basis.

As part of the settlement, the senator’s campaign agreed to enact safeguards to avoid similar errors in the future. Rubio had to send a campaign representative to an FEC conference on reporting requirements, develop a compliance manual for campaign staffers, and set up a process to properly respond to inquiries from the commission. The campaign also agreed to pay a $8,000 civil penalty.

However, Rubio’s senate campaign appears to be having trouble living up to its end of the bargain. On May 28, 2014, the FEC sent Davis a letter notifying him that the campaign had received $10,000 in excessive donations from four donors during the three month period ending in April of last year. One of the contributors, Ned Lautenbach, gave $10,200, exceeding the limit by $7,600. Davis did not respond to the letter, according to FEC online records.

Last month, on March 12, FEC analysts sent Davis two more letters stating the senate campaign reported $18,830 and $6,500 in excessive donations in its 2014 quarterly reports for July and October, respectively. Indian Creek resident Robert Diener, co-founder of hotels.com, donated $5,100, which was $2,500 above the maximum allowable contribution.

Another donor, Texas pharmaceutical company owner Dian Graves Stai, exceeded the cap by $7,800. Again, Davis did not reply to the letters, the FEC online records show.

Krumholz said voters should consider the fact that Rubio keeps getting flagged for excessive contributions when determining if he is fit to be president.

“He is asking for a promotion, but he has not shown he can effectively manage the most basic administrative problems with his own campaign,” Krumholz said. “That is always a valid consideration for voters to judge their candidates on.”

Rubio is the second congressional leader from Miami-Dade to face FEC scrutiny over campaign finances in the last six months. Last month, freshman U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo agreed to pay a $3,200 civil fine to settle an audit into $26,700 in political contributions omitted from his finance reports last year. He also replaced his treasurer with Paul Kilgore, who served the same role for Aaron Schock, the Illinois congressman who resigned in disgrace this February after media stories scrutinizing his congressional expenditure reports showed he spent more than $100,000 in government funds redecorating and renovating his office between Jan. 2009 and late 2014, among other questionable expenses.

Senate push to expand lobbyist registration to special districts like Broward Health

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Florida Senate Chamber

Florida Senate Chamber

A bill to broaden water management district lobbyist registration rules to apply to hospital districts, expressway and port authorities, children’s services districts and other special taxing districts with budgets in excess of $5 million is moving through the Florida Senate.

More than a half-dozen large, special-purpose taxing districts in South Florida would be impacted by the change. The biggest: the North Broward Hospital District, also known as Broward Health, which levied nearly $150 million in property taxes in 2012.

SB1372, sponsored by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, seeks to build on ethics reforms enacted last year while he was Senate president that for the first time applied state lobbying rules to special-purpose governments that raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

The proposed changes in this year’s omnibus government accountability bill would require lobbyists to publicly register, identify their clients and disclose any direct or indirect business or financial relationships with officials or employees of the entity being lobbied.

“Our bill has progressed well through both the House and the Senate,” said Gaetz, referring to a related measure, HB1063, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis. “I’m reasonably certain that the bill will get to the floor” for a vote.

The bill is a further legislative response to a January 2014 investigation by FloridaBulldog.org – formerly known as Broward Bulldog – that found nearly all of the state’s 1,000 independent special districts do not require lobbyists who appear before them to register or disclose any information about themselves or their clients. Collectively, those limited-purpose governments raise and spend billions in public dollars every year.

“Bulldog’s reporting has helped raise the profile of the issue,” Gaetz said of the investigation that was supported by a grant from the Washington-based Fund for Investigative Journalism.

‘A LOGICAL EXTENSION’

Frank Palen, a West Palm Beach attorney who specializes in government law and special districts, called the proposal “a logical extension of last year’s bill.”

“The goal should always be to encourage maximum transparency. I think this bill achieves that goal without imposing significant administrative burdens or costs by focusing on the types of districts that should most interest the public,” Palen said.

There are 134 active independent special districts in Florida with ad valorem taxing power, including those that provide libraries, utilities and fire and mosquito control.

Other smaller districts, where lobbyists are rarely seen, rely on various user fees, assessments, tolls and other sources to finance and maintain facilities.

This year’s bill is currently before the Senate Rules Committee after sailing through two other committees by unanimous votes last month. It obliges the state ethics commission to investigate sworn complaints about registration violations and to make findings and recommendations to the governor, which can include penalties ranging from public censure to a fine or restitution.

Lobbyists would be required to pay an annual fee of $40 for each client to fund the registration system if the bill passes.

The bill includes other changes to governmental ethics policies, notably making it a first-degree misdemeanor for government officials to provide prohibited extra compensation such as bonuses, golden parachutes or hush money to state officials or contractors.

That provision was met with strong opposition, particularly from public hospitals. “There are lots of people working behind the scenes on this, demanding exemptions from the bill,” Gaetz said.

One of those who pushed on the hospitals’ behalf was Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, but he withdrew his amendment.

The bill would also require counties and school boards to take action in response to the recommendations of auditors. It would also strengthen collection methods against politicians and state employees with unpaid fines for violations of financial disclosure requirements.

Other reforms include post-employment lobbying restrictions would also be applied to certain individuals with Enterprise Florida, its divisions and the Florida Development Finance Corporation.

Corruption-plagued Broward School Board sees no evil in bid rigging allegations

By William Hladky, FloridaBulldog.org 

The Broward School Board

The Broward School Board

In the last five years, two Broward School Board members were convicted of corruption and a statewide grand jury described the board as both inept and corrupted by “contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.”

It was against that backdrop that the School Board this month chose to see no evil in a whistleblower’s sworn complaint that district administrators had “rigged” bidding procedures. Instead, they mostly complained about bad publicity and said they didn’t want to get involved in overseeing the process.

Except for Nora Rupert, board members during the March 17 meeting indicated that they did not want Superintendent Robert Runcie to send them any of the controversial bid documents. Instead, they grumbled about “the press,” the “nay nays,” and “Monday morning quarterbacks”.

Michael Marchetti, former special assistant to the superintendent, has claimed school administrators rigged bidding to ensure that Jacobs Project Management Company would receive the contract to manage $800 million in capital projects that voters agreed to finance. The contract is estimated to be worth as much as $20 million.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie Photo: Milken Family Foundation

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie Photo: Milken Family Foundation

Marchetti told Runcie about the alleged rigging in two January emails and reported it to a Broward County School Police detective during a Feb. 10 sworn statement. Marchetti, who retired last month, also said that Jacobs executives violated the school district’s “Cone of Silence” in a telephone call to Marchetti and during a subsequent meeting they had with him.

The Cone of Silence policy prohibits bidders from talking to any school board member or district employee except “designated staff…until the contract is awarded by the School Board.”

The school administration took no action on Marchetti’s claims until March 9 when FloridaBulldog.org sought comment about the allegations. The district then posted a notice reversing its recommendation to give the contract to Jacobs because company officials had violated the Cone of Silence policy. The administration also recommended splitting the contract into two parts when the work is rebid. Derek Messier, the school district’s chief facilities officers, has said that should be soon.

BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR JACOBS

At its meeting two weeks ago, the board brushed aside Marchetti’s most serious assertion and unanimously approved the administration’s recommendations to rebid the contract in two parts. The board did not sanction Jacobs Project Management, or any of its officials. Jacobs is eligible to rebid on the new contracts.

Board Chairwoman Donna Korn suggested the board may need to change its policy so it can ban a company from future bidding and not just the company representative who violates the Cone of Silence. The chairwoman said the board currently can bar the representative from doing business with the school district for up to two years.

Jacobs Project Management is a subsidiary of the international engineering, architecture and construction firm Jacobs Engineering Group, headquartered in Pasadena, California.

Marchetti has alleged that Messier told him before bids were requested that he liked Jacobs, and that after bids were received Messier handpicked amenable administrators to sit on an ad hoc committee that selected Jacobs for the contract. The move bypassed the School Board entity that usually ranks bidders – the Qualifications, Selection and Evaluation Committee (QSEC) – before district staff negotiates a proposed contract for the board’s approval.

The board’s discussion focused not on why Messier created a special committee to vet the bids, but whether it was within policy.

Board policy requires the qualifications committee to be involved in contracts involving “total program managers.” Messier told the board the contract “fell outside QSEC.”

The issue centers on whether the contract involves “total program managers.”

School Board General Counsel J. Paul Carland II said bypassing the qualifications committee “doesn’t appear to be a…violation” because the proposed construction management contract is not for a “total program manager.” The attorney said he based that tentative opinion on Runcie’s interpretation of the policy, adding he needed to research the issue further.

Marchetti accused Runcie in an interview of “playing verbal games.”

Charlotte Greenbarg who served on the school district’s Audit Committee and Facilities Task Force between 1999 and 2014, agreed, saying Messier is wrong.

“If it is going to manage projects, how can they not go through QSEC?” she said in an interview.

Carland’s opinion prompted Board Chairwoman Korn to say she was “not comfortable with this going to QSEC…If we want this to go to QSEC, we need to change the policy…I haven’t seen something wrong here except for a breach of the Cone of Silence (policy).”

“THAT’S NOT MY JOB”

Board members Ann Murray and Abby Friedman expressed support for Messier and noting they didn’t want to “get into the weeds” concerning the allegations.

“That’s not my job,” said Murray.

“I never take the perspective that somebody is trying to hide something,” added Board member Rosalind Osgood.

Video of the meeting shows that only Rupert questioned the decision to bypass the qualifications committee, which she noted was “put in place to avoid situations such as we are in…We still do not know who was on this particular committee …was there any conflict…It doesn’t pass the smell test…”

Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, chair of the district’s all volunteer Facilities Task Force, told board members Messier advised the task force in November that the qualifications committee would be bypassed. “The air in the room literally changed and people raised eyebrows. I advised that would not be the best course of action,” she said.

In an interview, Lynch-Walsh said she opposed Messier’s ad hoc group because the qualifications committee meets “in the sunshine” and includes a member from the Facilities Task Force and the school district auditor’s office.

“There was no task force member (and)…no auditor on (Messier’s) committee,” she said.

Task force members monitor the planning, construction and maintenance of school facilities. The board selects them from nominations submitted by its members, Parent-Teacher Associations, the League of Cities, the Broward Teachers Union and other organizations.

While giving Messier a thumbs-up to proceed in the face of Marchetti’s allegations, board members also used their platform to lash out at critics and the media.

“We will always have our critics, will always have our Monday morning quarterbacks and we will have people who question what we are doing..,” said member Patricia Good.

“I’m not going to get into the situation where the press and other nay nays can start taking us down one by one,” said Murray. “We are a whole and we have to stay a whole…I am going to support the superintendent and staff…”

The board split on whether to praise or criticize Marchetti, who earned a civilian award from the FBI in 2011 for his prior whistleblowing at the School Board.

Freedman and Murray bashed Marchetti for talking to a representative of a company covered by the cone of silence.

Korn, however, disagreed. “The violator is the lobbyist,” she said. “I don’t ever want an employee to feel like they are somehow guilty of something because they receive a phone call.”

“I actually think (he) should receive an award,” said Rupert.

Marchetti’s job was to talk to Jacobs company officials on a regular basis. The School Board earlier had awarded Jacobs a $1.2 million services contract to help the school district assess facilities needing repair. Cone of Silence violations occur when company officials discuss the new pending contract, not the older services contract.

Several board members cautioned the administration as it moved forward.

“Perception…Mr. Messier is very important,” said Heather Pomper Brinkworth. “We need to be very careful when we bring things forward we think about the process…and what the perception is going to be.”

Robin Bartleman urged Messier to work with the Facilities Task Force. “They are our watchdog,” she said.

FBI slams own 9/11 document; New report discounts Sarasota Saudis ties to hijackers

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

From left to right, Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, FBI Director James D. Comey and former Congressman Tim Roemer at a Wednesday press conference

From left to right, Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, FBI Director James D. Comey and former Congressman Tim Roemer at a Wednesday press conference

A report that lauds the FBI for making “great strides” in protecting the nation from terrorists in the past decade also says the Bureau produced and made public bad information linking Saudis in Sarasota to 9/11 terrorists.

The 9/11 Review Commission, a congressionally authorized body that relied heavily on the FBI for support and some staff, produced the 128-page report released Wednesday, “The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century.” Among its conclusions: an April 16, 2002 FBI report that ties the Saudis to 9/11 hijackers was “not substantiated.”

The FBI provided the heavily censored document to Broward Bulldog Inc., parent company of FloridaBulldog.org, in 2013 amid an ongoing Freedom of Information lawsuit that seeks access to the FBI’s files on the matter.

The FBI document says flatly that the Saudis, who abruptly moved out of their home in the upscale community of Prestancia in south Sarasota, about two weeks before the 2001 attacks – leaving behind their cars, furniture, clothes and other items – had “many connections to individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

FloridaBulldog.org first reported about the document on April 16, 2013.

FBI DOCUMENT ‘UNSUBSTANTIATED?’

“The FBI told the Review Commission that the (FBI document) on which the news article was based was ‘poorly written’ and wholly unsubstantiated, the commission’s report says. “When questioned later by others in the FBI, the special agent who wrote (it) was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did.” The agent was not identified and no further explanation was offered.

The document’s information, however, is corroborated by a counterterrorism officer’s detailed account regarding what the FBI found during its investigation of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, in a story published by FloridaBulldog.org in September 2011.

911debrisIrish journalist and FloridaBulldog.org contributor Anthony Summers first interviewed the counterterrorism officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Summers and Robbyn Swan are co-authors of The Eleventh Day, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2012.

“The report raises more questions about Sarasota than it answers,” said Thomas Julin, the news organization’s Miami attorney. “The report provides no plausible explanation for the contradiction between the FBI’s current claim that it found nothing and its 2002 memo finding ‘many connections’ between the Sarasota family and the 9/11 terrorists.”

The FBI kept its inquiry a secret from both the 9/11 Commission and Congress’s prior Joint Inquiry into the attacks, yet the 9/11 Review Commission’s report did not inquire as to why.

The FBI document not only contradicted the FBI’s prior public statements about the matter, it re-fueled concerns raised by official investigations that the full truth about Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attacks has yet to be told.

“The report raises new concerns that the FBI is concealing Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks,” said attorney Julin. “The report should have explained why the Sarasota investigation was not disclosed to Congress.”

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham

Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry, said Wednesday that he had been unaware of the existence of the 9/11 Review Commission until its release.

“I was surprised by it, as were most Americans, and therefore I was not able to contribute to its deliberations,” said Graham, adding he wished he’d had that opportunity.

The Review Commission’s findings, as well as its lack of supporting documentation for its conclusions, failed to persuade Graham to alter his public skepticism about the FBI regarding 9/11.

AN FBI COVER UP?

“The FBI has served America through most of its history. There were stumbles by the agency before 9/11 and since the tragedy there has been a consistent effort to cover up the extent of Saudi Arabia’s involvement,” Graham said. “Let’s let the American people know what happened and have…a serious discussion of what happened, why it happened, where it was adverse to U.S. interests and how to avoid its repetition.”

The 9/11 Review Committee was established in January 2014 when Congress directed the FBI to create a commission to conduct a “comprehensive external review” of the implementation of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission in 2004. Part of the job was to assess “any evidence now known to the FBI that was not considered by the 9/11 Commission,” the report says.

FBI Director James B. Comey appointed three commissioners: former Reagan Administration Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Congressman and Ambassador Tim Roemer and Bruce Hoffman, a professor and terrorism expert at Georgetown University. The commissioners and executive director John Gannon, a former CIA deputy director for intelligence, were apparently paid for their service. The report says each worked under a personal services contract, although how much they were paid and who paid them was not disclosed.

The report says commission staff traveled to eight FBI field offices to interview key personnel including members of counterterrorism squads, but none in Florida. More than 30 officials with the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community were interviewed, including ex-FBI director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA boss John Brennan. Their statements were not made public.

“I am shocked that this commission failed to talk to Bob Graham,” said attorney Julin.

While the report urged the FBI to do more about the threat of terrorism, Director Comey saw it as vindication for the FBI.

“I am pleased the Review Commission recognized the significant progress we have made to build a threat-based, intelligence-driven law enforcement and national security organization,” Comey said.

The report says commissioners obtained a copy of the Sarasota case file, interview reports and copies of a handful of documents previously released to FloridaBulldog.org via the Freedom of Information Act. FBI officials also briefed commission members more than 60 times on a variety of topics. One of those briefings was about Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, whose father Esam Ghazzawi was an advisor to a member of the Saudi Royal family, the report shows.

Still, the 9/11 Review Commission’s report omits a number of seemingly relevant facts. For example, it neglects to mention that the April 2002 document the FBI discounts also cited national security to withhold other information from the public.

The report, while saying “the FBI found no evidence of contact between the hijackers and the family,” also does not mention other information linking al-Hijji to terrorist figures, including Prestancia gatehouse security logs and license plate photos the counterterrorism officer said showed that Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 figures had gone to al-Hijji’s home. Also, unmentioned are statements made in 2004 to the FBI by now imprisoned terrorist associate Wissam Hammoud that described al-Hijji as an acolyte of Osama bin Laden who had once introduced him to al Qaeda figure Adnan El Shukrijumah.

Likewise, the report omits any reference to the ongoing Freedom of Information case in Fort Lauderdale where U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch is currently reviewing 80,000 classified pages of 9/11 records from the FBI’s Tampa field office. The judge will decide what documents should be made public.

A Broward tale: Property taxes, politics and conflicting interests

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Martin Kiar being sworn in as Broward Vice Mayor last year by his father Monroe Kiar. Photo: Mark O’Loughlin, TheWoodlandsTamarac.com

Martin Kiar being sworn in as Broward Vice Mayor last year by his father Monroe Kiar. Photo: Mark O’Loughlin, TheWoodlandsTamarac.com

Broward Vice Mayor Martin Kiar is beginning to look a lot like the county’s next property appraiser, but his political ambition already has created an apparent conflict of interest at the board that decides property tax appeals by homeowners and businesses.

Kiar’s father is Monroe Kiar, the $225,000-a-year lawyer for the Broward Value Adjustment Board (VAB) – the independent, quasi-judicial authority that reviews taxpayer appeals of exemptions, classifications and valuations set by the office of Property Appraiser Lori Parrish.

The VAB attorney advises the board on all aspects of its review process and the law. His job is to “ensure that the proceedings are fair and consistent with the law,” according to rules established by the Florida Department of Revenue.

But the elder Kiar’s independence is in question with Parrish’s decision to boost the younger Kiar’s campaign to succeed her by hosting a major backyard fundraiser and picnic at her Davie home on April 12.

“Contributions are limited to $1,000 per person or corporate entity,” says the invitation. “Please make checks payable to: Martin David Kiar Campaign.”

SPECIAL-INTEREST SUPPORTERS

Kiar filed paperwork to run for Broward Property Appraiser with the county’s Supervisor of Elections on March 2. So far, no one has challenged him.

2012 victory party for Property Appraiser Lori Parrish and Broward County Commissioner Martin Kiar. Also pictured, left, is Sunrise Commissioner Joseph Scuotto. Photo: TamaracTalk.com

2012 victory party for Property Appraiser Lori Parrish and Broward County Commissioner Martin Kiar. Also pictured, left, is Sunrise Commissioner Joseph Scuotto. Photo: TamaracTalk.com

The invitation identifies 170 Broward special-interest movers and shakers – lobbyists, politicians, attorneys and business owners – as the “Committee to Elect Martin David Kiar Broward County Property Appraiser.” Should they all show up and give the max, Kiar’s campaign would reap $170,000.

Three big names supporting Kiar are Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and lobbyist Bill Rubin, longtime friend and advisor to Gov. Rick Scott.

Also invited: VAB chair and vice chair Stacy Ritter and Barbara Sharief, who are also Martin Kiar’s colleagues on the county commission, and VAB board alternates, Commissioners Dale V.C. Holness and Mark Bogen.

Click here to see the invitation with the full list of names.

State law prohibits government employees from having conflicting employment or contractual relationships, saying they should refrain from relationships “that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his or her private interests and the performance of his or her public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his or her public duties.”

Monroe Kiar told FloridaBulldog.org he’d resign his high-paying job as VAB counsel if his son is elected next year. “I would not serve in the capacity as the attorney for the VAB if Martin is property appraiser,” he said.

But asked if Property Appraiser Parrish’s upcoming fundraiser for his son creates a more immediate conflict, or the appearance of a conflict, requiring his action now to negate, Monroe Kiar responded, “All of my legal decisions are based on the facts of the case and Florida law.”

“AN UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATION”

Tallahassee attorney Benjamin Phipps, who has long specialized in property tax appeals, said Parrish’s endorsement of Martin Kiar creates “an uncomfortable situation” for Broward taxpayers with appeals before the VAB.

“The problem is that the person being asked to rule (on legal and procedural questions) has got a political connection to one of the parties in the contest,” said Phipps. “If I were a taxpayer appearing before the Broward VAB and there was a legal issue that could tilt either toward the board or the taxpayer, I would be very uncomfortable about a decision” by Monroe Kiar. “That decision is final. It is not appealable.”

Parrish took issue with Phipp’s assessment.

“You tell Mr. Phipps that I’m surprised that any attorney would talk like that. First of all, I didn’t give up my civil rights for Mr. Phipps or anybody else,” said Parrish. “As far as legal opinions, sometimes Monroe Kiar has agreed with us and sometimes he does not agree with us.”

The political connections between Parrish and the Kiars, longtime personal friends, aren’t limited to the upcoming fundraiser.

In 2012, while serving as VAB counsel, Monroe Kiar was a member of a committee backing the re-election of Parrish’s husband, Broward Circuit Judge Geoff Cohen. The Kiars also sponsored a fundraiser at Cohen and Parrish’s home.

Later that year, Parrish and Kiar held a joint victory party after she was re-elected without opposition and he was elected to the county commission without opposition. In her Facebook announcement, Parrish referred to Martin Kiar as her “close friend.”

HIGH-PAYING JOB

Monroe Kiar, a veteran Democratic activist and former Davie mayor whose current annual pay exceeds the yearly salaries of Florida’s attorney general and the judges and justices of Florida’s courts, won a no-bid extension of his contract for up to five years last June with the help of other politicians now supporting his son for property appraiser.

VAB members Ritter and Sharief, Martin Kiar’s county commission colleagues, were part of a 4-0 vote in favor of favor of re-hiring Kiar’s dad. Monroe Kiar won a competitive process to serve as VAB counsel in 2009, while his son was a state legislator.

BrowardBeat.com reported in December that Martin Kiar announced his run for Property Appraiser at a fundraiser for Sharief’s husband, Miramar commission candidate Maxwell Barrington Chambers. Chambers won his election this month.

Broward’s VAB has long been troubled by a public perception that fairness for taxpayers takes a back seat at a venue controlled by local politicians.

That perception was validated last year when a state performance audit reported that property tax appeals at VABs across the state appear to have been rigged by local government officials more interested in safeguarding tax revenues than fairly valuing real estate.

In Broward, the audit found the VAB had compiled “tracking reports” on special magistrates who recommended large assessment reductions and used them to get rid of six magistrates who had given the highest reductions to taxpayers.

“Independence in the appeal process at the local level may have been compromised due to local officials involved in the process who may not have been impartial and whose operations are funded with the same property tax revenue at stake in the appeal process,” said the audit by Florida Auditor General David W. Martin.

Property tax dollars provide about 50 percent of public education funding and 30 percent of local government revenues in Florida, the audit said.

Arrests near in Coconut Creek Taser case? PBA chief suggests death from natural causes

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak

Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak

Citing a public records exemption requiring a good faith belief that an arrest will be made soon, Broward’s Medical Examiner is withholding autopsy records about a black man who was repeatedly shot with Tasers by Coconut Creek Police officers.

City police officials have released few details about the events preceding the Feb. 22 shooting of Calvon “Andre” Reid in the Andros Isle section of the Wynmoor retirement community. Eyewitnesses, however, have said that police fired at Reid four times, striking him at least twice in the chest with wires tethered to the high-voltage stun guns. Reid died two days later.

Four Coconut Creek officers are under scrutiny amid what police have said are parallel criminal and internal investigations. An attorney for the Broward Police Benevolent Association represents those officers –Sgt. David Freeman, Sgt. Darren Karp and officers Thomas Eisenring and Daniel Rush. No one else has been implicated publicly in Reid’s death.

Freeman, Eisenring and Rush were temporarily taken off street duty and given other assignments, city officials said. Karp, however, has not been reassigned.

Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak asserted the public records exemption in Florida Statute 119.071(2) in denying a request for access to the Reid autopsy records by FloridaBulldog.org. Mallak did not elaborate.

Broward County PBA President Jeff Marano was skeptical of the idea that any of the Coconut Creek officers are in jeopardy of arrest, saying he does not believe their Taser shots contributed to Reid’s death.

Broward PBA President Jeff Marano

Broward PBA President Jeff Marano

“I strongly doubt that they are looking at the officers involved in the Tasering as being related to the cause of death,” Marano said. “I don’t think (Reid) was the healthiest individual.”

The medical examiner’s refusal to make public autopsy records about an apparent homicide at the hands of police further clouds an investigation already tainted by extreme secrecy. For example, Coconut Creek did not disclose that city officers had discharged their Tasers, or that an in-custody death had occurred, until after Floridabulldog.org reported the story on Feb. 27.

Eyewitnesses John Arendale and his fiancé, Bonnie Eshleman, contacted the nonprofit news organization to inquire why a story about the shooting and death had not appeared on television or in newspapers. The pair, with a unique view of events from their apartment, was disturbed about what they had seen.

In interviews, they described hearing or seeing officers fire four Taser shots at Reid in two volleys. After the first volley, about five policemen “were around and on top of the man” who yelled out “Baby! They are going to kill me” and “I can’t breathe,” they said.

Police did not interview Arendale or Eshelman until the day FloridaBulldog.org published their account of what happened – five days after the shooting.

Coconut Creek’s only public statement about the matter was March 5 at a press conference by then-Police Chief Michael Mann scheduled as a result of intense media interest in the case. It featured an unusual public denial of a police whitewash.

“There is no cover-up,” Mann told reporters, as his boss, the city manager, stood by. Mann was forced out as chief less than a week later.

At the press conference, Mann said Margate paramedics summoned police after finding Reid in a parking lot suffering from “numerous cuts on his hands, arms and chest” and wearing torn and bloodstained clothing about 1:08 a.m. on Feb. 22. The paramedics had arrived following a 911 call.

Chief Mann described Reid, a 39-year-old meat salesman, as aggressive toward both paramedics and police. His statements appeared to back his officers’ actions.

“The officers attempted to detain Mr. Reid to determine what happened. As the officers approached Mr. Reid, he exhibited threatening behavior and appeared to be hallucinating,” Mann said. “Taser use became necessary for the officers’ safety as well as for Mr. Reid’s own safety.”

Mann declined to release any additional information. Coconut Creek Police since have provided no further details about what happened.

CBSMiami, however, reported last week that it obtained Coconut Creek police training records showing that three of the four officers now under investigation were not properly certified and should not have been carrying Tasers on the day of the incident.

City training records also show that about 80 other Coconut Creek officers, including Mann, were not properly certified to use Tasers that day. Two days after Reid’s death, the police department began catch-up training sessions to bring its officers, and Mann, into compliance with a state law requiring annual recertification in the use of dart-firing stun guns, the records show.

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