By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Gov. Rick Scott’s recent choice to serve on the governing board of tax-supported Broward Health testified under a grant of immunity before the federal grand jury that investigated disgraced former sheriff Ken Jenne.
Attorney Kimberly Kisslan’s grand jury testimony is secret. But her role in Jenne’s case is contained in court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in September 2007 to explain the factual basis for Jenne’s guilty plea to various corruption charges.
Kisslan, currently the city attorney for Sunrise, was the sheriff’s legal counsel under Jenne. She represented the police agency, but also did personal work for Jenne that landed her before the grand jury.
The work involved helping Jenne to coordinate the demolition of a home with code compliance issues that the sheriff owned in Lake Worth. Kisslan worked with Philip Procacci, a Broward Sheriff’s Office vendor Jenne had asked for assistance, to make it happen, court papers say.
Procacci, a developer who leased office space to the sheriff’s office, ultimately paid $8,130 to demolish Jenne’s house. Jenne never repaid the money and ultimately pleaded guilty to a number of charges that included not reporting the payment on his behalf on his federal income tax return.
DEMOLITION AND A DEAL
Kisslan and Procacci appeared before the Lake Worth Code Enforcement Code Board as Jenne’s representatives on June 28, 2001. Kisslan later wrote Jenne a memo about what occurred, but “deliberately chose not to put the memorandum on BSO letterhead because she recognized that she was doing work not for BSO but rather for Jenne personally,” court papers say.
While the demolition was being arranged, Procacci also was negotiating an amendment to an existing BSO lease for a building in Plantation. Two days after Kisslan and Procacci’s appearance in Lake Worth Jenne signed a deal with Procacci that committed BSO to lease an additional 5,000 square feet of space for five years at an added cost to BSO of $348,000.
Kisslan was “the attorney who negotiated the lease extension and signed the extension as a witness,” says the factual statement signed by prosecutors, Jenne and his lawyers.
The sheriff’s counsel works for the sheriff in his official capacity, not for the sheriff personally. Yet records show Kisslan worked with Procacci to obtain the demolition for Jenne while knowing the sheriff was handing Procacci a valuable BSO lease extension.
Kisslan did not respond to several requests to discuss her private legal work for Jenne, her immunity deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office or to say whether those matters came up during her pre-appointment discussions with the governor’s office.
The governor’s office, asked for comment about the matter on Monday and again Tuesday, declined to say whether it was aware of Kisslan’s immunized grand jury appearance.
“We are looking into it,” spokesman John Tupps said Tuesday evening.
Broward Health, whose legal name is the North Broward Hospital District, is among the largest public health systems in the nation. Gov. Scott appointed Kisslan to a four-year term on the district’s board of commissioners on July 19.
IMMUNITY RAISES QUESTIONS
Anthony V. Alfieri, Director of the University of Miami School of Law’s Center for Ethics and Public Service, called Kisslan’s appointment “troubling.”
“When an appointee is caught up in a federal criminal justice investigation of public corruption that results in a conviction, in which the appointee is granted immunity and in which her conduct raises questions about her candor and conflicts of interest, that should be relevant to the governor in making an appointment,” said Alfieri. “It certainly is important to Floridians to know that not only the best and brightest, but the best principled and right-minded people are serving the people of Florida.”
“If in fact this is coming to light the first time then it suggests that Kisslan deliberately declined to disclose this fact,” said Alfieri. “And to the extent that her nondisclosure shadows the appointment process it suggests that process may have been flawed and that it may not have been a full and fair deliberation.”
Candidates for gubernatorial appointments complete a seven-page questionnaire in which they are asked to discuss their qualifications and provide references. They are also asked to declare whether they’d ever been arrested, charged or indicted or had a probable cause finding that they’d violated Florida’s Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees.
Kisslan answered “no” to the two latter questions about possible past problems. Her references were Fort Lauderdale lawyer Edward A. Dion, a former county attorney who was her boss at BSO; Broward Circuit Judge Elijah H. Williams and retired Broward Circuit Judge Robert A. Rosenberg.
A graduate of South Broward High School who obtained her law degree from the University of Florida in 1991, Kisslan worked for Jenne’s law firm, Conrad, Scherer & Jenne, until not long after Jenne became sheriff in 1998 and hired her to work at BSO.
Kisslan stayed 10 years. She left in July 2008 to go to work for the Law Office of Stuart R. Michelson. Michelson, the husband of then-County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, had just been awarded a controversial, no-bid contract to be Sunrise City Attorney. Kisslan was his assistant until she took over as Sunrise’s $173,000-a-year city attorney in 2011.
During the 2007 grand jury investigation, Miami criminal defense lawyer Scott Srebnick represented Kisslan for $400 an hour at taxpayer expense. Over two months, the cost to BSO was $11,500.
Typically, prosecutors offer limited immunity to witnesses who have declined to answer questions on the ground that their truthful answers may tend to incriminate them. Agreements that confer such immunity are known as “queen-for-a-day” letters.
On his March bill, Srebnick charged BSO for a half hour telephone conference on March 16 with Kisslan and an assistant U.S. attorney (AUSA). Three days later, he billed again to “review immunity letter” and attend another conference with Kisslan and the prosecutor. On March 20, he billed four and a half hours for yet another conference between his client and the government.
Srebnick’s bill for April outlined further conferences and meetings. They include charges for a four-hour “AUSA debriefing” of Kisslan on April 10 and another six hours for Kisslan’s “grand jury appearance in Fort Lauderdale.”