BY BUDDY NEVINS
In a big victory for State Attorney Mike Satz, the corruption case against Tamarac Mayor Beth Talabisco was reinstated Wednesday by a state appeals court.
Mike Satz: Big Win
The Fourth District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed dismissal of the charges against Talabisco. She is accused of taking campaign help in return for her vote on a housing project.
Talabisco can appeal the decision by the three justices to the full Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
It is not known if Gov. Rick Scott will now suspend Talabisco…again.
The ruling means that Satz’s anti-corruption team gets another opportunity to prosecute the Tamarac corruption prompted by dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait’s bribery. The Chaits have admitted paying off politicians in the hope that their huge housing project would be approved.
Satz’s critics have long contended that the chief prosecutor has been soft on political corruption. The Tamarac cases gave him an opportunity to show he was tough on crooked office holders.
But the cases didn’t work out the way prosecutors planned:
* Vice Mayor Marc Sultanof died before he went to trial. He was charged with accepting a gift from Chaits in return for his support for their housing project.
* Commissioner Patte Atkins-Grad was acquitted of taking gifts from the Chaits in return for her vote. Jurors bought her argument that she was too dumb to know such gifts were illegal.
There is currently a recall underway against Atkins-Grad.
* Beth Talabisco was charged with receiving a poll and contributions from the Chaits so that she would vote to approve their project.
The charges were dismissed by Circuit Judge Cindy Imperato.
The judge ruled that Talabisco never received a “benefit” as required by law to prove the criminal charge. Imperato agreed with Talabisco’s defense that the poll that the Chaits paid for and their campaign contributions were not benefits to her personally.
Satz appealed the dismissal.
The three justices agreed with Satz on Wednesday. They ruled that “contrary to Talabisco’s argument, the definition of ‘benefit’ in chapter 838 is broad enough to include receiving assistance in her election effort. The poll conducted and mailers created and distributed were to Talabisco’s ‘advantage’ and she cannot reasonably contend that she did not ‘gain’ from them.”
The Court of Appeals ordered the charges reinstated.
The ruling also puts Talabisco in jeopardy of having to repay $137,000 in legal fees and costs that the city paid if she is eventually convicted.
The opinion is fascinating reading for political junkies, illustrating Broward politics at its worst.
The justices noted that at the same time that Talabisco’s campaign was taking a $7,000 poll and a $19,000 mailers from the Chaits, “the resident believed Talabisco’s opposition to the project to be genuine, (so) the resident assembled a group of volunteers to hand out 1500 flyers (that the Talabisco campaign supplied) which claimed Talabisco would not ‘bow to developers’ as mayor.”
At the first meeting after her election, the project was on the agenda for approval.
Talabisco voted for it after Bruce Chait sent Talabisco’s campaign manager — Bev Stracher, a former political operative who is not mentioned in the opinion by name and who was on the Chaits’ payroll for a fee of up to $100,000 cash, according to other media outlets. — to lobby her, the justices wrote.
So much for not bowing to developers!
Now you know why I get cynical about local politicians.
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