Report: Hallandale commissioner Anthony Sanders “engaged in pattern of misconduct”

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anthony Sanders and Jessica Sanders

A preliminary report by the Broward Inspector General’s Office says Hallandale Beach City Commissioner Anthony Sanders “engaged in a pattern of misconduct” when he “failed to disclose payments” made to him and other family members by a community group which Sanders voted to give thousands of dollars in city grants and other funding.

The July 7 report obtained by Florida Bulldog also said that Palms Community Action Coalition Inc. (PCAC) made contractual payments to Higher Vision Ministries, where Sanders is the pastor and the only paid full-time employee. The report adds that Sanders solicited and received contributions for the church from developers seeking to do business with the city.

PCAC is a Hallandale Beach-based nonprofit organization that provides job training and community development services to local residents.

The various payments occurred during a three-year period in which Sanders voted in favor of PCAC, according to the report.  “Commissioner Sanders continued taking a salary from his employer, continued accepting significant payments from PCAC on behalf of his employer, failed to abstain from voting, failed to disclose the voting conflicts to the voting body either verbally or in writing, directly and indirectly solicited developers to give contributions to his employer, and accepted those contributions on behalf of his employer,” the IG report stated.

The report said the Inspector General plans to refer the office’s findings about Sanders to the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Hallandale Beach city commission “for whatever action those entities deem appropriate.”

“We are filing against Commissioner Sanders an ethics complaint charging a violation of the Broward code of ethics to be tried by an administrative hearing officer,” the report said.

If sustained, the allegations would violate provisions of state, county and municipal codes that prohibit elected officials from receiving anything of value to influence their vote, take any action that provides undue benefit to family members and require refraining from voting to avoid conflict and disclosures in such cases.

The report apparently stems from an investigation opened by the IG’s office, as reported by the Florida Bulldog in June 2016, involving the city’s Community Benefit Program (CBP). The program requires contributions from private developers vying for city projects over $1 million to help fund recruitment, training and hiring of city residents and purchasing from local vendors.

PCAC partnerships

According to the IG documents, it was Sanders who “initially promoted the idea that local workers should be included in city development.” The city requirements made it difficult for developers to win a city contract without a program partner, which had to be named in bidding documents. The IG said PCAC was frequently designated as “partner” in bid documents.

The Bulldog story said investigators were looking for voting conflicts in their review of city commission and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) minutes. The inquiry came three years after the IG found the city “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars in CRA funds. Sanders was investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing in the IG probe four years ago, but did not escape criticism in the latest probe.

Sanders did not return calls seeking comment on the Inspector General’s latest assertions.

The new investigation of Hallandale Beach covered a period from January 2013 through December 2015. During that time city commissioners, including Sanders, approved direct grants to PCAC three times and development contracts that included the group as a “benefit plan partner” seven times, according to the report.

The city requires companies seeking contracts above $1 million to set aside funds for things like job training programs.

The 10 grants and development contracts ultimately “benefited PCAC a total of approximately $893,320,” the report said. Funds collected from successful bidders were later transferred to PCAC, amounting to $695,870; the balance came from city grants.

The report outlined the connection between the commissioner and the community group. “The OIG [Office of Inspector General] substantiated that PCAC made contractual payments to Higher Vision Ministries…, that PCAC employed his [Sanders’] son; and that PCAC also made other consulting and employment payments to the commissioner’s wife and another son.”

Payments to Sanders’s wife

According to the report, PCAC paid Sanders’ wife, Jessica, for consulting and grant writing and paid two of Sanders’ adult sons for part-time employment. Jessica Sanders had been involved with PCAC in 2011. “We found that PCAC directly paid the commissioner’s immediate family a total of approximately $7,588 between January 2013 and December 2015,” the report stated.

In addition, the report said that PCAC made monthly $1,000 payments to Higher Vision Ministries to transport job trainees to classes. But, it added, neither the church nor PCAC documented any rides. The IG said it determined PCAC paid Higher Vision approximately $27,000 for 613 miles of transportation service – or about $44 for “each accountable mile” under the agreement.

“In all,” the report said, “PCAC paid Commissioner Sanders’s employer and immediate family a total of approximately $38,688 during this three-year period.”

“Following one of Commissioner Sanders’s votes in November 2013 for a Hallandale Beach multi-million public workers project that included PCAC as a community benefit plan partner, PCAC paid an extra (that is, over and above $1,000 per month) $2,000 to Higher Vision Ministries with a memo notation of Donation/Pastor’s Appreciation,” the report stated.

In another instance, the report said, “…following city commission approval for direct city funding to PCAC between October and November of the following year [2014], it [PCAC] made extra payments totaling another $2,100 to Higher Vision Ministries.”

“As described in this report,” the IG report stated, “the commissioner was well aware of the nature of these conflicting relationships and their bearing on the propriety of his voting. Yet, Commissioner Sanders admitted that he did not disclose these relationships or payments to the public at any time during the period he voted to benefit PCAC.”

The IG report said investigators “also established that, while they were at city hall for a commission meeting involving one of the development votes, Commissioner Sanders solicited one of the project awardees to make a direct contribution to the Higher Vision Ministries church, who then asked a second developer to do the same. Their companies’ two donations to the church totaled $1,100.”

 

Gov. Scott chose a familiar face to manage his $72 million blind trust

 

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Alan Lee Bazaar, left, and Gov. Rick Scott

Alan Lee Bazaar, left, and Gov. Rick Scott

Most Floridians have never heard of Alan Lee Bazaar. Yet as chief executive of the New York investment advisory firm that serves as trustee of Gov. Rick Scott’s blind trust, Bazaar is the keeper of an important public trust for Florida’s citizens.

Bazaar and the company he runs, Hollow Brook Wealth Management, oversee Scott’s $72 million portfolio of stocks, bonds and other investments on the governor’s behalf. Their duty is to decide when to buy or sell the governor’s assets without telling him – in effect “blinding” Scott to his holdings and, by law, immunizing him from prohibited conflicts of interest.

Trustees of qualified blind trusts in Florida are supposed to be disinterested fiduciaries. Relatives of the governor, his political allies, state employees or any “business associate or principal” need not apply.

The governor’s office describes Bazaar and Hollow Brook as “independent” of Gov. Scott. Bazaar and Scott, however, are intimate, longtime associates at Richard L. Scott Investments, according to a variety of public records.

Bazaar was a principal at the governor’s Naples-based investment firm for nearly 11 years, serving in positions of responsibility and trust until shortly before the governor announced his candidacy in April 2010. Bazaar joined Hollow Brook shortly after leaving Scott’s firm.

Bazaar worked for Scott from July 1999 to January 2010 as managing director and portfolio manager. He “co-managed the public equity portfolio and was responsible for all aspects of the investment decision-making process, including all elements of due diligence,” according to a biography on file at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

DEEPER TIES

Scott’s relationship with Bazaar is deeper than employer-employee, and he and his family’s financial ties to Hollow Brook go beyond the blind trust.

SEC records show that more than a decade ago the two men were members of a Delaware company that invested several million dollars in a small Deerfield Beach computer security company – an investment that later yielded tens of millions of dollars in returns.

SEC records also show that today Hollow Brook is “investment adviser” to two other large entities in which Gov. Scott owns a beneficial interest, – “a family partnership controlled by Richard L. Scott’s spouse (the Scott Family Partnership) and a revocable trust for the benefit of Mrs. Scott’s spouse (the Scott Revocable Trust).”

Bazaar declined to discuss Hollow Brook or his work, past or present, for Gov. Scott. “We don’t speak to reporters,” he said.

The governor’s office was asked why Gov. Scott chose Bazaar to oversee his blind trust given their long-standing business relationship. A spokesman cited the state ethics code’s definition of business associate: “Any person engaged in or carrying on a business enterprise with a public officer….as a partner, joint venturer, (or) corporate shareholder where the shares of such corporation are not listed on any national or regional stock exchange.”

“Mr. Bazaar does not fall within that definition,” spokesman John Tupps said in an email.

The past relationship between Gov. Scott and the man who oversees his blind trust is nevertheless troubling, according to Dan Krassner, executive director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida.

“The relationship certainly stretches the concept of an independent third-party making disinterested investment decisions,” said Krassner. “When the legislature said don’t use business associates, you would think that would prohibit involvement of someone’s portfolio manager.”

BLIND TRUST CREATED TO HIDE THE GOVERNOR’S ASSETS

Gov. Scott’s blind trust was created in 2011 to place a veil over Scott’s many financial assets and any transactions involving them. Under a state law enacted last year, the arrangement immunizes Scott from any prohibited conflicts of interest because those assets are considered to be outside Scott’s knowledge or control.

Last week, however, BrowardBulldog.org reported that the trust has been ineffective in preventing disclosures of the governor’s assets. Information about stock purchases and sales by the blind trust are a matter of public record elsewhere.

For example, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records show that since December 2012 the blind trust has sold millions of dollars worth of shares of Argan Inc., a company that does business in Florida through its power plant construction subsidiary, Gemma Power Systems. Scott continues to be the beneficial owner of approximately $27 million in Argan shares.

The law does not require Scott to make public the agreement he signed with Hollow Brook that created the blind trust, and his office declined BrowardBulldog.org’s request to release a copy.

Instead, Bazaar certified to Florida’s Commission on Ethics last July that the blind trust met the law’s requirements. There is no way to verify Bazaar’s assertion.

Gov. Scott picked Hollow Brook and Bazaar, who turns 44 this weekend, to manage his blind trust when it was created in April 2011. It was a comfortable selection for both men. Bazaar’s duties were similar to his former job at Richard. L. Scott Investments where he helped research and choose Scott’s investments.

SCOTT’S EYES AND EARS

At the firm, Bazaar was Scott’s eyes and ears when serving as a director on the boards of corporations in which Scott had taken a large investment stake.

A decade ago, for example, Bazaar was named to the board of directors of a company called Media Sciences International. Federal records state that Bazaar’s board membership was part of a deal in which Scott invested $1.25 million in exchange for a million shares of Media Sciences stock directly from the company.

Alan Bazaar, third from right, with other members of the board of directors of NTS communications

Alan Bazaar, third from right, with other members of the board of directors of NTS communications

As trustee of the governor’s blind trust, Bazaar continues to serve on boards of companies in which Scott is heavily invested.

One example is NTS, a broadband services provider. Bazaar joined the board of directors in 2012 in the wake of a settlement between management and dissident shareholders looking to make changes in order to maximize shareholder value.

Last month, Lubbock, Texas-based NTS merged with another company and its stockholders received $2 for each share they owned. SEC reports show that Scott’s blind trust owned 1.25 million shares worth $2.5 million. Scott was also the beneficial owner of an additional 3.7 million NTS shares held by the Scott Family partnership and the First Lady’s trust. The total value of the Scott’s NTS shares: $10 million.

In 2013, Bazaar also became a director at Wireless Telecom Group of Parsippany, N.J.

Two years before, Gov. Scott’s blind trust reported its initial assets included $434,000 in Wireless Telecom stock. When Bazaar joined Wireless Telecom’s board on June 12, 2013, the company disclosed that Gov. Scott was the beneficial owner of 1,872,265 shares, or 7.9 percent of the company. The market value of those shares was $2.26 million.

How many of those Wireless Telecom shares were assets of the blind trust is not known. The governor typically owns shares indirectly via trusts or partnerships and Wireless Telecom did not identify the entity or entities holding Scott’s shares.

Hollow Brook, whose employees also include Scott’s longtime corporate accountant Cathy Gellatly, charges its clients fees based on a percentage of assets under management and performance, according to SEC records.

SCOTT FAMILY’S ENORMOUS ASSETS

In the case of the Scott family, those assets are enormous. The governor’s blind trust alone holds assets valued at more than $70 million. The Scott family partnership and the First Lady’s revocable trust are worth upwards of tens of millions of dollars more, SEC records show.

SEC records reveal something else: an apparent coordination of transactions among those three entities, each of which owned huge parallel interests in some of the same stocks.

On more than one occasion, the blind trust, Ann Scott’s trust and the family partnership bought or sold large numbers of shares on the same day, at the same price and in the same or similar proportions.

Gov. Scott filed reports with the SEC disclosing two such transactions.

The first report states that on Nov. 2, 2011 the blind trust, Ann Scott’s trust and the family partnership each bought shares of NTS for which they paid a total of $750,000. The second filing reported proportional sales by those entities of 350,000 shares of Argan on Dec. 20, 2012. The sales grossed $6.3 million.

SEC records also disclose Bazaar’s personal investments in stocks that Scott owned.

For example, Bazaar was a member of Fernwood Partners II, a Delaware investment company that Scott and his wife, Ann, used in 1999 to invest $3.7 million in Cyberguard, a Deerfield Beach computer security firm.

As part of that deal, Cyberguard added Scott’s brother, William Scott, and former Columbia/HCA Healthcare executive David Manning to its board. Gov. Scott was Columbia/HCA’s chief executive until 1999 when he resigned amid a federal Medicare fraud investigation.

Others who later joined Cyberguard’s board included Gov. Scott’s longtime friends, Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne, who later went to prison for corruption, and Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William D. Rubin. For their board service, both men were granted Cyberguard shares worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Florida ethics bill: Lobbyists at independent taxing districts must register, disclose

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org floridaseal

A government ethics bill introduced in the Florida Senate would for the first time require lobbyists before many large independent special districts to register and disclose their clients, areas of interest and general compensation.

If enacted, the sweeping new registration requirements would apply to every independent special district across Florida that levies property taxes – from water management and hospital districts to children’s services councils and improvement districts.

Florida has 136 independent districts, many run by unelected boards that impose ad valorem taxes on homeowners and businesses, according to data from the Department of Revenue. Not all exercise that power, but in 2011 those that did levied more than $1.82 billion in property taxes.

The three independent special districts that collect the most property tax dollars are the South Florida Water Management District, North Broward Hospital District and the Health Care District of Palm Beach.

Senate Bill 846, filed last week by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, was filed less than a month after BrowardBulldog.org reported how Florida independent special districts that raise and spend billions of dollars in public funds every year do not require lobbyists to register or disclose any information about themselves or their clients.

The bill seeks to impose on independent special districts the same registration and reporting requirements now faced by lobbyists at the Executive Branch. Those requirements include annual registration before lobbying can commence, the filing of quarterly compensation reports and a ban on expenditures.

Latvala’s committee has scheduled the bill for an initial hearing on Feb. 17.

“Generally, it would be fair to characterize Integrity Florida’s first look at Senate Bill 846 as containing several solutions that would strengthen ethics laws in Florida,” said Integrity Florida’s executive director, Dan Krassner. “We look forward to hearing more about it at the hearing.”

In addition to expanding Florida’s lobbying regulations, the bill would also:

  • Require elected municipal officers across the state to participate in annual ethics training and certify to that participation on their annual financial disclosure forms.
  • Apply Florida’s Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees regarding gifts and conflicts of interest to officials and members of the boards of Enterprise Florida, Space Florida, the Florida Development Finance Corp. and the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corp.
  • Establish revolving door prohibitions that would bar departing public officials at those entities, and Citizens Property Insurance Corp., from returning to lobby within two years.
  • Authorize Florida’s Commission on Ethics to initiate investigations and public hearings regarding any failures to file a full annual financial disclosure form. If violations are found to be “willful,” the commission would have to recommend an official’s removal from public office.
  • Toughen the collection of unpaid ethics fines. Government employers would be authorized to withhold the entire amount of an ethics fine, plus related costs, from a violator’s paycheck, unless hardship could be proven. The ethics commission would be allowed to seek wage garnishment from private employers, and refer unpaid fines to a collection agency.

The bill has the support of Senate President Don Gaetz. If passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, it would take effect July 1.

The measure marks a second round for ethics reform that began last year. That legislation gave the ethics commission the power to investigate complaints referred by law enforcement and the governor, and allowed public officials to put their personal assets into what the law calls “blind trusts” to avoid conflicts of interest.

Florida’s independent special districts provide dozens of specialized governmental services such as ports, airports, mosquito control, community development, water management and public hospitals. They outnumber Florida’s counties, cities, towns and villages by more than two to one, yet operate largely in the shadow of their better-known municipal counterparts.

In all, there are nearly 1,000 independent special districts in Florida. Collectively, they spend in excess of $10 billion every year. Many, however, are so small they never encounter a lobbyist seeking to influence a contract or policy.

Under Latvala’s 26-page bill, lobbyist regulation requirements would be confined to independent taxing districts. Hundreds of small districts, many with budgets of less than $10 million a year, that use bonds or assessments to raise revenues won’t be included in the new rules.

Some big budget operations are also are not covered by Latvala’s bill. For example, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, the independent special district that runs Tampa International Airport, also does not levy ad valorem taxes.

 

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