By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward School Board Member Lori Alhadeff has raised thousands of dollars for Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony’s election campaign, and a nonprofit organization she leads purchased thousands of dollars in bleeding control kits sold by a company Tony founded.
Now, the sheriff’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund (LETF) has awarded Alhadeff’s nonprofit, Make Our Schools Safe Inc., a grant of $8,000.
The cash is fruit of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act that allows police to seize and forfeit contraband used in the commission of felonies – including cash, property, cars and aircraft – and funnel the proceeds into local trust funds. In Broward, the County Commission holds the funds before generally rubberstamping the sheriff’s specific spending requests.
Florida law requires LETF funds to be spent on such things as crime prevention, school resource officers, drug abuse education and other law-enforcement purposes like defraying the cost of complex investigations and defibrillators for use in police cars. While the law says “an agency or organization” can apply to the sheriff for an appropriation, no mention is made of nonprofits or other non-governmental organizations, nor, as the sheriff claims on BSO’s website, does it allow funds to be used for other “community purposes.”
In Broward, however, sheriffs have long used LETFs like a slush fund to hand out valuable grants to an array of worthy nonprofit supplicants and use the giveaways to rack up political goodwill in the local communities where they run for office. Recent recipients include both the well-known and the obscure: Girls Scouts of Southeast Florida, Holocaust Documentation & Education Center, Covenant House Florida, Fountain of Love Ministries, Khan Economic Development Inc. and Julian’s Fountain of Youth.
Tony’s grant to Alhadeff’s nonprofit is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it is from one elected official to another. Second, it has the look of an exchange of political favors because of Alhadeff’s prior fundraising and public support for Tony, as well as the bleed kit purchases from Blue Spear Solutions, a company now operated by Tony’s wife, Holly.
“It certainly creates an appearance of impropriety and raises a lot of questions,” said Nova Southeastern University constitutional law professor Bob Jarvis. “On the other hand, it’s not surprising that you would have these two people on the same page on a particular issue that affects both their worlds.”
Alhadeff hosted a July 11, 2019 fundraiser for Tony’s political committee, Broward First, at the clubhouse of the Watercrest development near her home in Parkland. Broward First reported she spent $237 for food at the event that raised nearly $8,800 from about 50 guests. Alhadeff also made two $100 contributions to Tony’s campaign last November and again on July 6, 2020.
Make Our Schools Safe’s website says it donated Stop the Bleed kits to three high schools. The biggest donation, in May 2019, was for $19,584 worth of kits to J.P. Taravella High in Coral Springs. A photograph that accompanied an article about the donation in Coral Springs Talk shows Alhadeff standing next to a bleeding control kit bearing the name of Tony’s company, Blue Spear Solutions.
The other schools are Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, which got $4,000 to buy Stop the Bleed Kits, and Miami Beach Senior High, which received kits costing $1,973.42 on Jan.8, 2020.
Florida Bulldog reported last May that under Tony BSO paid out as much as $750,000 in 2019 to buy bleeding control kits from a South Carolina company – North American Rescue – that Tony did business with before he became sheriff, and where he later worked as an executive for more than a year. The story also reported that at least two bidders for that deal weren’t actual competitors, and how after North American Rescue won the bid, the amount originally set to be spent to purchase bleed kits mysteriously doubled to $750,000.
In May 2020, Alhadeff told Florida Politics, “Since his appointment, Sheriff Tony has created innovative and more effective training for our School Resource Officers, launched a Real Time Crime Center, expanded the Guardian Program, and added bleeding control kits in 256 schools… I will be supporting Sheriff Gregory Tony in the upcoming election, and I hope others in our community will too.”
Alhadeff vote for BSO
Last Oct. 29, Alhadeff voted to approve the school district’s $3.4-million contract with Tony’s BSO to provide armed school resource officers (SROs) from October 2019-June 2020.
“I am definitely comfortable with the agreement,” she told reporters at the time. “We are making sure that we are in compliance with state law that we have one SRO officer or guardian at each school.”
Federal tax filings show that Make Our Schools Safe reported total revenue of $308,000 and total expenses of $23,049 in 2018. The group has not yet submitted its Form 990 for 2019, having obtained an extension to file until Nov. 15, according to Alhadeff.
Alhadeff refused to comment further for this story.
The LETF grant was among nearly three dozen grants handed out to nonprofits in September. The $8,000 award to Make Our Schools Safe was to “jumpstart ten [Make Our Schools Safe] clubs in Broward County schools as well as to provide club t-shirts to students who are members,” according to a description signed by Tony. The purpose of the clubs “is to help foster a culture of safety within schools” by giving “students an opportunity for hands-on activism that includes roundtable discussion, policy proposal etc.,” he wrote.
Alhadeff and her husband, Ilan, founded Make Our Schools Safe two weeks after their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was shot to death at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, 2018. Alyssa was among 17 students and teachers killed that day. Another 17 were injured.
The Parkland tragedy
Alhadeff was elected to the School Board six months after the massacre. Since her daughter’s death, she’s successfully lobbied in Florida and New Jersey, her home state, to adopt Alyssa’s Law. The Florida version calls for the allocation of $8 million to install computer software and cell phone apps that will provide a silent panic alarm to every teacher and staff person. The alarms, which are to be functional next year, will be linked directly to nearby police stations. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Alyssa’s Law in June.
Under Florida law as interpreted by the Commission on Ethics, the political backscratching between Tony and Alhadeff does not rise to the level of a legal conflict of interest. To do so, the situation would require Alhadeff to derive a “personal benefit” – interpreted to be a gift, received directly or indirectly, with a monetary value of $100 or more. Gifts with political or reputational benefits, but no monetary value, are ignored by the commission and the law.
Alhadeff told the ethics commission that neither she nor her husband takes a salary or compensation from their nonprofit. And as a result, in January 2019 she obtained the commission’s blessing to accept donations for Make Our Schools Safe from school district vendors.
“And because the Board member does not have an employment contract or contractual relationship with the nonprofit, she will not be presented with a conflict of interest,” the commission said.
As with other matters of ethics, Florida trails the federal government where, in a different context, personal benefit has been interpreted more broadly to include both “pecuniary gain or a reputational benefit.” A 2016 Supreme Court case, Salman v. United States, reaffirmed that under federal securities laws “personal benefit” does include items that do not have monetary value. In that case, the defendant gave a “gift” of inside corporate information to his brother with the expectation he would then trade on the information.
The commission cautioned Alhadeff, however, that she is nevertheless prohibited from accepting any donation “when you know, or with the exercise of reasonable care should know, that it is being given to influence some action you might take as a School Board member.”