By Bob Norman, Florida Center For Government Accountability
Special to FloridaBulldog.org
As an elected official, Vincent Moretti’s job is to oversee the North Springs Improvement District (NSID), a public water utility that services large portions of Coral Springs and Parkland.
A big part of the 58-year-old NSID board president’s responsibility is providing a check on its mercurial manager, Rod Colon, who has a well-documented penchant for finding inventive ways to personally profit from his own public employer.
But often it seems Colon is the one overseeing Moretti at the district, which has a budget of roughly $17 million and provides water and sewer to 40,000 county residents. To pay for its operations, it levies a non-Ad Valorem assessment on all taxable property within the district.
First elected to NSID’s three-member board in 2008, Moretti has acted as a virtual rubber stamp for Colon, casting numerous votes to allow the NSID manager to rake in millions of dollars from his agency’s coffers.
When, for instance, Colon began a makeshift construction company in his Plantation home and vied for contracts from NSID, Moretti voted to award Colon’s company some $16 million in district business. He also voted to allow Colon to serve as Realtor on an NSID land sale. Colon pocketed $240,000 for himself on the public land sale.
Moretti has not responded to recent messages asking for comment nor past requests regarding an ongoing investigation by the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLCGA) that exposed those deals as well as bidding irregularities and multiple apparent conflicts of interest. When questioned in person after a NSID board meeting early this year, Moretti sat by silently as Colon literally stepped in and threatened a reporter with arrest for trespassing if the reporter didn’t leave the building.
DISTRICT LEADER’S COMPANY GETS PAID
But a possible clue that may explain Moretti’s seeming deference to Colon was found in an obscure NSID financial document – a $2,960 payment made by NSID to a company called Pro Bowl Plumbing in August 2021.
The owner of Pro Bowl Plumbing? Moretti.
When questioned about the payment, Colon admitted that he hired Pro Bowl for plumbing work at NSID. He said he did so not to gain sway over the board president, but sheerly out of convenience, as Pro Bowl is located just a few miles from the water plant in Coral Springs.
“We don’t use [Pro Bowl] very much at all,” Colon said. “Very few times.”
Colon texted a spreadsheet that indicated Moretti’s company has received payments totaling $10,369 beginning in 2015, much of it for small jobs like repairing water leaks, repairing toilets, and installing faucets.
While it clearly runs contrary to ethical practice, Moretti’s profiting from his public service is de rigueur at NSID, starting with Colon’s own self-dealing.
COLON CITES ETHICS EXEMPTION
A public official doing private business with his own public agency is illegal, but Colon claims the prohibition doesn’t apply to NSID because of an exemption in the Florida Ethics Code pertaining to special districts like NSID.
That exemption, however, dictates that all other state ethics rules apply, including the ban on misusing one’s position for personal gain, and that any use of the exemption that runs counter to the intent of the ethics code will be deemed a violation.
(State Rep. Christine Hunchofsky, a Democrat in NSID’s jurisdiction in Parkland, said that as a result of the recent revelations about NSID, she plans to draft a bill to close the exemption in the next legislative session).
Legal or not, the district has also become a haven for special interests, where relatives of Colon, NSID developers, and board members get jobs, according to multiple former employees, one of whom said the agency has a “friend and family hiring plan.”
Florida law holds that a public official with power over personnel decisions may not appoint, promote, or recommend a relative for employment. Colon, however, claims the term “public official” doesn’t apply to him.
“I’m not a public official, I’m a public employee,” he said. “There’s a difference. My three board members are public officials.”
Several former employees say Colon rules the agency as if it were his own fiefdom and does so with an iron fist.
“There’s one word that could describe him: God,” said Nick Schooley, who was drainage manager for NSID before retiring in 2015. “That’s what he thought he was, that he was above everything and everybody. He doesn’t care about taxpayers. In the old days we worked for the taxpayer. Now the taxpayers work for him.”
Stories of dubious hires and favoritism are legion at NSID, but the employment of a woman named Karina Sankarsingh could be among the most egregious. Sankarsingh, ten years younger than Colon, says she met him for dinner and before she knew it, had a job with the district for which she wasn’t qualified.
Her NSID story is a dark one – with a nearly tragic ending.
When Sankarsingh first encountered Colon roughly 12 years ago, she was single, broke, and, she says, at the lowest point in her life. Then she and Colon went on a date (she believes they met on a dating app) and everything changed.
“Basically that night he offered me an office job,” Sankarsingh said of her hiring at NSID. “I was not qualified for it, but I needed it. And I took it.”
‘AN OFFICE OUT OF NOWHERE’
Colon, who at the time was deputy district manager of the agency, hired her as an employee not at the water plant but in the affluent Heron Bay community where NSID had a contract to manage a clubhouse called the Commons, said Sankarasingh.
“He gave me an office out of nowhere,” she said. “He gave me random tasks to do. There was nothing specific. A lot of it was just hanging out with the main manager [of Heron Bay Commons].”
She said that in order to obtain the job, she had to pass a drug test, a requirement for all NSID employees. But there was a problem, according to Sankarsingh: She’d recently consumed cannabis, which tests positive for several days after consumption.
“He said, ‘I’ll just give you my pee,’” Sankarsingh said. “He gave it to me in a little vial and I had it in my armpit.”
She said she became completely dependent on Colon, financially and romantically, and that he seemed to relish playing the role of big shot.
“He was very manipulative, very cocky,” she said. “I thought he loved being the alpha. He always had to be the center of conversation. He told me, ‘I’m the one signing the paychecks.’”
AN ENVELOPE FILLED WITH CASH
One afternoon when they went out for lunch Colon left her in his car in a parking lot and returned with an envelope filled with hundred dollar bills, said Sankarsingh.
“He comes back and he says, ‘Can you count this?’ And I think I counted 27 grand,” she recalled. “I didn’t ask him where it came from.”
She only learned later that Colon was married and said that when she pressed him on it he told her he was going to get a divorce.
That didn’t happen. Police records show that on May 9, 2011, Colon called the Coconut Creek Police Department to report that he recently ended his relationship with Sankarsingh and that she was suicidal.
“I was getting more and more depressed,” she said. “I just said f— it all.”
When cops arrived at her apartment, she told them she had nothing to live for and was going to end her life, according to the police report. She was transported to the hospital and later to a mental health facility under the state’s Baker Act.
That was the end of her relationship with Colon, who admitted hiring Sankarsingh, but denied having a sexual relationship with her. *Sankarsingh wrote about her relationship with Colon – including allegations about the urine sample and cash-filled envelopes – in an online review that was later deleted.
“I’m denying 100 percent of the allegations,” he said. “It’s really not fair.”
Colon said Sankarshingh reacted not to the end of a relationship but to her firing at NSID.
“When she found out that she was being terminated, she said she couldn’t survive,” Colon said. “The police were called and they [used] the Baker Act.”
Records show that the NSID payroll has served as a kind of employment petri dish for relatives and special interests tied to Colon and the district he manages.
Colon’s father-in-law, Hernan Coral, worked at the district for several years, making $32,313 and $35,904 in 2016 and 2017 respectively, according to GovSalaries.com, an online database of public sector employees. It appears Coral, who is now 71, stopped working at NSID in 2019.
Coral initially worked at Heron Bay Commons, the same place Sankarsingh was stationed, said a former employee with knowledge of the arrangement. The father-in-law later was moved to the water plant where the ex-employee said he did little.
Multiple former employees said Colon’s wife’s cousin, Claudia Noriega, was hired at NSID as well. The GovSalaries.com database shows that Noriega collected a $64,000 salary last year. She has listed her occupation online as a billing assistant and manager at the district. Photos posted on social media show Colon’s wife, Katherine Coral, with Noriega as well her father Hernan.
NSID also has a well-established habit of taking on the children of developers. FLCGA previously reported that the daughter of developer Frank Anzalone was hired as an intern at NSID while Anzalone’s company, East Coast Builders and Developers Corp., was doing business with both NSID and Colon’s own company, Intersol LLC.
Lisa Bisogno has worked as a staff accountant at the district. She is the daughter of Peter Bisogno, the founder of Interstate Construction Corp., a company that has secured millions in NSID contracts and where Lisa Bisogno has served as president. The GovSalaries.com database listed her public salary at $78,000 in 2020.
Employment records also show that the stepchildren of the owner of Century Building Restoration USA, another NSID contractor, have also been hired at the agency. Kimberly Blondet-Mundo, stepdaughter of Century Building owner Juan Carlos Garcia, worked for the district and was paid a salary of $45,864 in 2021, according to the GovSalaries.com database, while her brother Justin pulled in $42,682.
DISTRICT’S PRIOR PRESIDENT BENEFITTED, TOO
NSID President Moretti wasn’t the only NSID president who benefited from his association with the district. His predecessor, Mark Capwell, previously worked directly for Colon at a private detective agency owned by the district manager. FLCGA previously reported that Capwell’s ex-wife worked at NSID for a time and that his son currently serves at the agency as a water plant operator.
Another questionable – and rather mysterious – district hire was that of Esther Colon Denmeade, whom former employees say cleaned NSID offices and was widely thought to be Colon’s mom. One former employee said Colon personally introduced Denmeade as his mother.
The 71-year-old Denmeade was last employed in 2016, according to the database, at a salary of $14,000. When asked about her, Colon said his mother died in 2007, but acknowledged there may have been confusion about his connection to Denmeade.
“She had the same name as me,” said Colon. “She was like a mom to me, but she wasn’t related to me in any way.”
When contacted at her home in Delray Beach, Denmeade immediately hung up the phone upon hearing that a reporter was working on a story about NSID and didn’t return subsequent calls or messages.
Another former employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said that whether Denmeade is Colon’s mother or mother figure, the hire is indicative of a culture of cronyism at NSID.
“He has control over these people he hires,” said the former employee. “That’s why he has his own people. If he didn’t hire these people, he couldn’t use his position for personal gain.”
Florida Bulldog is partnering with the non-profit Florida Center for Government Accountability to bring you this story.
Steve / December 31, 2022 9:32 am
Unbelievable! Great work exposing them. Hard to believe they can be so blatant about cheating the government and get away with it for years.
Rory McMahon / December 31, 2022 11:48 am
Corruption obviously is not limited to the federal government. Obviously it affects state and local government agencies as well.
Keep up your great work exposing these criminals Bob !!!
Rory J McMahon
Ron Mattingly / January 1, 2023 1:10 am
I don’t understand why NSiID customers continue to let this go on, it is their money that is lining Rod Colon’s pockets.
George Stroker / January 3, 2023 10:50 am
This is not new to Broward County
Debra Seritello / January 3, 2023 12:55 pm
Thank you Bob for exposing these criminals. Keep up the great work and don’t stop with just this section of Broward County, move on to The Broward County Animal Shelter! The corruption and manipulation going on there behind close doors is an abomination!
BCTSignal9 (ret) / January 5, 2023 10:05 am
Broward County Transit is STILL full of corruption, even after
Chris Walton’s retirement.
But the bulldog is really a lap dog. All bark, no bite.
Dan / January 6, 2023 11:17 am
Gee, it’s amazing that Gov. DeSantis has somehow overlooked these people in his efforts to remove and replace elected officials in Broward County.
AJ / January 19, 2023 2:54 pm
I’ve lived in Parkland for 6 years now. From day one, I thought these people operated like a bunch of good ol’ boys and not a professional public utility. I’ve noticed the lack of professionalism at all levels with them. Please, please keep digging. I bet there’s a future RICO or at least a theft of honest services case to be made.
An Even Bigger Story / February 22, 2023 12:21 pm
Ask Broward County CFO George Tablack how many county agencies are running a deficit.