By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
After two FBI agents serving a search warrant were gunned down in Sunrise on Feb. 2, 2021, the nonprofit Broward Sheriff’s Advisory Council took quick action to cut a pair of $10,000 checks to help the agents’ surviving spouses.
The council, which costs $5,000 to join plus $750 in annual dues, is a separate entity from the sheriff’s office. Members get to carry BSO ID cards and gold Broward County Sheriff’s Office badges with the title “Advisory Deputy,” but have no actual police powers.
Members can also opt to pay up to $50,000 to join what’s called the “Diamond Chairman’s Circle,” the top elite tier with extra council benefits, including an opportunity to speak at events.
Normally when the council writes checks to support the family of a fallen law enforcement officer or firefighter in Broward, the checks are presented by a member of the council’s board of directors. The sheriff has nothing to do with it. But not this time.
According to the group’s former executive director, Nancy Vaniman, Sheriff Gregory Tony called the council’s chairman, Marvin Andrew “Andy” Mitchell, demanding the checks for the FBI spouses be delivered to him so he could present them – either directly to the spouses, or to the FBI, which was targeting him in a bid-rigging probe.
$10,000 CHECKS TAKE A RIDE TO BSO
Vaniman, the council’s executive director for nearly six years, initially resisted. She explained the council’s process for providing financial support to police or firefighters killed or disabled in the line of duty to both Mitchell and to Broward Undersheriff Nichole Anderson and Col. Oscar Llerena. She told them she was in contact with an FBI liaison in Miami and another official inWashington about getting it done. After her explanation, everyone seemed to be on board with that, Vaniman said.
“Then the next thing is I get calls coming in from Oscar and Andy: ‘Where are the checks?’ I said, ‘We talked about it.’ But that didn’t matter. It was ‘get the checks over there right away.’
“I drove over and (Undersheriff) Nichole (Anderson) and four deputies met me outside” BSO headquarters, said Vaniman. “Nichole said she was giving the checks to the sheriff.”
The checks were given to the spouses of FBI Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger later that day, before the funerals. No one from the Sheriff’s Advisory Council attended, which was unusual Vaniman said.
As Vaniman was driving back to her council office, Mitchell called her again.
A ‘LIVID’ SHERIFF
“He said that the sheriff had called him again and that he was still livid. Andy said, ‘He threatened to take away all of our BSO ID cards.’ If you take them away you can’t carry the badge,” Vaniman said. “He also said he was told I wasn’t welcome back in the (BSO) building.”
Mitchell, whose full-time job is CEO of the Fort Lauderdale development firm The Fairwinds Group, also told Vaniman the sheriff had told him he was arranging payment of the council’s money with the special agent in charge of the Miami FBI office, George Piro. “They were friends and had a relationship and he was coordinating with the SAC, Andy said,” according to Vaniman.
Vaniman, a retired career Naval officer who has worked as a fundraising consultant for local nonprofits, was puzzled. Nevertheless, during a 40-minute conversation with Mitchell she offered to “step aside” if he and the board thought it would smooth things.
In March, Mitchell “told me they’d decided to go in a different direction.” Vaniman was out. She says she later heard from a board member that Tony pressured the council to fire her.
“I guess it was because I resisted him,” said Vaniman. “They thought they’d be getting the checks by 11 a.m. and it wasn’t until 4 p.m. It was weird. I thought we were all in agreement, then suddenly we weren’t.”
Florida Bulldog sent a detailed email to Andy Mitchell requesting comment. “We have reviewed your request and have ‘no comments,’” Mitchell replied.
A similar email sent to BSO requesting Sheriff Tony’s comments was received, but there was no reply.
THE SHERIFF’S ADVISORY COUNCIL
Created in 1985, the Broward Sheriff’s Advisory Council is a federally approved 501(C)(3) nonprofit corporation supported by donations from its members and others in the community. According to its 2020 form 990 filing with the IRS, it received $740,000 in contributions and ended the year with $995,000 in assets.
While the sheriff’s office is part of the group’s name, its work is not exclusive to the sheriff’s office. In addition to using its resources to provide funding for those lost in the line of duty, the council funds specialized training, technology and equipment and other requests made by any law enforcement agency and fire department in Broward. One example of purchased equipment on the council’s website: $98,726 for lighter, buoyant OPS Core FAST Helmets that “won’t drag an officer down in a water situation.”
Oddly, there is no statement in the advisory council’s recently amended bylaws discussing what kinds of advice the council contemplates providing to the sheriff.
The requirements for membership are few. New members must pay the $5,000 initial fee and $750 annual dues, and also pass a formal BSO background check. BSO must then approve them before they can receive BSO credentials, according to the group’s bylaws.
The council’s board consists of 13 voting members. In recent years, the bylaws were amended to include the sheriff as a non-voting, ex officio member. He has no say about its policies, actions or staff.
The group’s website used to include a membership directory, but that has been removed. Vaniman said there are about 200 members, up from 50 when she was hired in 2015. Company owners who join the Silver Chairman’s Circle ($15,000+), Gold Chairman’s Circle ($25,000+) or Diamond Chairman’s Circle ($50,000+) get various benefits, including having their corporate logo with a link to their website on the council’s home page.
FBI agents Daniel Alfin, 36, and Laura Schwartzenberger, 43, were shot and killed outside Sunrise’s Waterside Terrace apartments while attempting to execute a search warrant in a case involving violent crimes against children.
Alfin left behind his wife and son. Schwartzenberger was survived by her husband and two young sons.