Kraft Verdict: Former School Bd Member’s Probation Is A Fair Sentence






Defense lawyers called him Broward’s hanging judge behind his back, but on Friday Matthew Destry put his rope away.

Circuit Judge Destry gave former School Board member Stephanie Kraft five years probation.

He also withheld adjudication, meaning she won’t be a convicted felon and has a good chance of keeping her ability to practice law.

Prosecutor Catherine Maus asked for at least 18 months in jail.

So much for the image of Destry as a mean, unthinking judge who always does the prosecution’s bidding.

But the light sentence triggered a response from Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office represents poor defendants.

“I’m happy for Stephanie, but this sentence points out that there are two standards of justice in Broward County.  Rich, white and powerful get probation, while my clients get sent to jail,” Finkelstein said.

Among those attending the hearings to support Kraft was state Sen. Jeremy Ring, the Chair of the Broward Legislative Delegation; political fund raiser Aleida “Ali” Waldman and community activist Mary Fertig, two women who helped Kraft get elected; Tom Powers, a former Coral Springs commissioner and several school system personnel.  

Destry noted that only once before had he seen such an outpouring of support for a defendant.

In the Kraft case, prosecutor Maus and her boss State Attorney Mike Satz are clearly the losers. Also proven wrong are elements of the hyperventilating media who had already convicted Kraft.

Prosecutors charged her with corruption. They got a jury to agree reluctantly – jurors were in tears delivering the verdict, according to the Sun-Sentinel – to a relatively minor official misconduct count.

The winner in this is justice.

No matter what you read or heard on television, Kraft was no School Board Jesse James. She was no Beverly Gallagher taking cash in a brown envelope.

Based on the testimony of two dead men that couldn’t be cross examined and two convicted slimy extortionist developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, the charges were always shaky.

Portions of the circumstantial case against Kraft and her husband Mitch Kraft looked bad for the couple. Mitch Kraft took a legal job and money from the dirty developers. Mitch Kraft never should have taken that job. His wife should have told him not to take that job.

I wrote about that here.

In politics, perception is always worse than the truth. The truth was Maus and Satz couldn’t prove that taking that job equaled Stephanie Kraft was corrupt.

So let’s recap:

* Judge Destry. Not the hanging judge every defense attorney moans about…at least in this case. One leading defense attorney was telling the courthouse crowd this week that Kraft would get five years. He was right.  She got five years…probation!

I believe that the judge dealt out a very fair sentence given the circumstantial nature of the evidence and testimony from the skeevy Chaits. Probation is a customary sentence for first-time offenders convicted of a third-degree felony.

Plus he delivered a much-needed scolding to Stephanie Kraft when he sentenced her:  “You were a member of Team Chait…When they set out to game the system, they needed inside help. They found you.”  Looking at the former School Board member, Destry said flatly, “You sold us out.”

* Maus and Satz. This four-year investigation costing untold dollars basically came up with almost nothing against Stephanie Kraft. I believe her third degree felony conviction has a good chance of being overturned.

Mitch Kraft awaits trial and could provide these prosecutors with a partial victory. But snaring the husband is not like convicting the School Board member.

* The Media. While most of the media was responsible including the always-fair Rafael Olmeda of the Sun-Sentinel, some journalists sadly convicted Stephanie Kraft four years ago.

Fueled by selective leaks from Satz’s office in this and other cases, one highly caffeinated reporter in particular branded Kraft and numerous other Broward politicians corrupt. The conviction rate of prosecutors in these highly hyped cases  – nearly nil.

So one lesson to be learned from Kraft’s case is don’t necessarily believe everything you read or hear on television.




41 Responses to “Kraft Verdict: Former School Bd Member’s Probation Is A Fair Sentence”

  1. felix says:

    Kraft will always be remembered as a crook. No one will remember whether she got probation or jail.

  2. courtwatchdog says:

    Stephanie Kraft got exactly what she should have gotten. A withheld adjudication and probation. I disagree with Mr. Finklestein- rarely do you see more than what she got for a 3d degree felony (non violent).
    Justice system worked.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If Howard Finkelstein doesn’t like Judge Destry, I’m for him. Finkelstein wants to free every criminal and homeless bum to wander our streets and knock us over the head. When Finkelstein stands up for the honest citizen I will listen to what he has to say.

  4. Las Olas Lawyer says:

    I can’t believe the idiots who read this blog like “Anonymous.”
    I don’t like Mr. Finkelstein’s “clients” as friends or neighbors. Under our Constitution, whether I or anyone else like them doesn’t matter. They deserve the same chance in court as Ms. Kraft. Mr.Finkelstein should be admired for representing those who have nobody else in their corner. Only someone who is totally ignorant of Constitutional rights would not understand that Mr. Finkelstein is is standing up for everybody when he stands up for the Constitution.

  5. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Poor people + victimless crime = prison

    Rich people + half-million-$ fraud = freedom

    Withheld adjudication = slap on the wrist

    Broward County’s corruption continues

  6. Jackson says:

    Buddy you are dead wrong on this one. Stephanie Kraft wasn’t just corrupt with the developers but with a lobbyist too. Look up Neil Sterling.


    She wasn’t charged with anything concerning Neil Sterling. Nor was Neil Sterling ever accused or charged with anything.

  7. SAM FIELDS says:

    In my six years as an Asst. Public Defender I represented hundreds charged with 3rd degree felonies as a first time offender.

    I don’t believe that one of them ever went to jail unless they screwed up probation.

    If all Howard Finkelstein’s Third Degree, first time offenders with clean records are now going going to jail it’s time to fire every single Assistant PD and start over.

    In point of fact the 5000 hours of community service is far more onerous than some Joe Schmo would have gotten. I thought that Destry continuing the “withhold” was kind.

  8. Barack Obama says:

    Judge destry is one of the only judges in broward who sentences consecutively after trial. Howard is right. You don’t see PD clients getting withholds after trial in Destrys court. They get maxed out consecutive sentences.

  9. The Guess Who says:

    Will Satz do the right thing now and drop all of the charges against Mitch Kraft? What about Stacy Ritter? Will he finally approve the closeout memo that’s been sitting on Donnelly’s desk for YEARS?

    I’m hearing rumblings that if Satz does the right thing on these BASELESS charges, he’ll have an easy re-election. If not, he’s going to be in for the fight of his life. Mike, do you want to spend all of 2016 running around to all the condo communities explaining yourself? Do you want to face an opponent that could raise 500k in a few weeks to run against you? Don’t be dumb.


  10. bubbala says:

    Channel l0 – wonder if they will have anything on this today?
    Doubt it
    dont believe anything I happen to hear on channel 10

  11. To SAM says:


    Not all PD first time offenders that lose at trial are given jail/prison. In certain courtrooms though, it doesn’t matter how clean your record is. If you’re a normal or poor person, you almost certainly getting a term of incarceration after trial. All the mitigation and good lawyering in the world is not going to change that. Destry is one of those judges who has a STEEP trial “tax.” Unfortunately this isn’t decades ago when you were at the PD’s office where you could lose at trial and not be slammed.

    5000 community service hours? Are you kidding me? A PD client would unfortunately be looking at 1825. Days in the big house that is. How many of those “hundreds” of first timers actually went to trial? Probation of course is available to first time offenders of nonviolent crimes in any courtroom, FOR A PLEA.

  12. zgt says:

    I was in the courtroom today for the sentencing phase of the trial. When Stephanie walked in the on-lookers clapped. It was standing room only. The people who spoke talked about her love of children, her fairness, her community service and how many of them admire her. To me the most heartfelt voice came from a student who is attending a high school in the community. This brave young woman cried as she told how much Mrs. Kraft has meant to her. Judge Destry did the right thing. Mrs. Kraft does not deserve to be in prison. Mrs. Kraft is needed to continue to help the people in this community. She has already seen how little the women in the Broward County jail are afforded. These women need books and many other things but if all we did as a community was to furnish the jail with such simple items, how much it would help. Judge Destry thank you for seeing Mrs. Kraft for who she is. A humble woman who continues to make a difference in the lives of the people she touches.

  13. Just Saying says:

    Disagree with this sentence. When a public official is convicted, you need to set an example for other elected officials … and to show the public there is no tolerance of public corruption. I would have sentenced Kraft to a year and a day, or maybe 14 months, with a year of probation to follow … but I would have had her sentencing/surrender date be in February (so she could care for her dying mom now).

  14. Fake Anthony Man says:

    My guess is that “The Guess Who” is Nick Steffens, but that is merely based on pure guessing, unequivocal speculation and talking out of my arse as I have no proof to support this position.

  15. Anonymous says:

    So it’s entirely coincidence that Destry is featured in an article critical of how tough he is the day before Kraft gets off with an unusually light sentence?

  16. Jody J says:

    Mmmm Mrs. Kraft is calling back some favors to her powerful friends to reduced 5 years sentence in jail. THAT IS REAL POWER WATCH AND LEARN!!

  17. The Batman says:

    Howard Finkelstein’s point of view is ridiculous. Stephanie Kraft’s sentence was worse than the sentence Howard got for his felony. And Howard’s was a violent felony. He crashed into another’s car yet the State was VERY kind to him. Oh wait…maybe our public defender is rich and white too.

    The problem is Howard will say anything to get his name in the media. The sad part is he doesn’t care what happens to his clients at all…he just likes people to think he does. So long as he’s in the news, he’s happy.

  18. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    I leave it to lawyers to correct me on the law and long time court observors like Mr. Nevins to correct me on the record, but DIDNT MRS KRAFT GET CONVICTED OF CORRUPTION AS AN ELECTED PUBLIC OFFICIAL? IF she was indeed CONVICTED of ABUSING HER ELECTED OFFICE, then “probation” is a JOKE! and the reason why people like STACY RITTER, a total you-know-what keep getting electing instead of indicted! All these “community leaders” praiseing someone CONVICTED (as I understand it) OF ABUSING THEIR OFFICE is the REASON BROWARD IS SO CORRUPT AND FEW IF ANY GO TO JAIL! NO CONVICTS, MORE CORRUPTION. But, no one seems to care, even Mr. Nevins of all people! I don’t get it! What am I missing?

  19. Alice Reiter Feld says:

    “Dont believe everything you read” says Buddy Nevins. Chuzpah

  20. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Compare & contrast… Beverly Gallagher got 37 months in PRISON followed by 3 years of probation – and this is in a PLEA deal…

    Beverly Gallagher, 51, of Pembroke Pines, was sentenced today on one count of bribery in programs receiving federal funds. At today’s hearing, U.S. District Court Judge James I. Cohn sentenced Gallagher to 37 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. In addition, Judge Cohn ordered that the defendant participate in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program while in prison.

    Today’s sentence follows Gallagher’s March 17 guilty plea to Count Two of the indictment against her, which charged her with accepting $9,000 in exchange for her promise to assist undercover FBI agents in connection with the issuance of a contract and subcontract work for the reconstruction and renovation of Hollywood Hills High School. …

    U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, “Corrupt officials, at all levels of government—whether elected or appointed—are on notice that if they breach the public’s trust, by stealing or accepting bribes or engaging in any other form of corruption in the course of their official duties, they will be prosecuted and they will face substantial prison time.”

    “Beverly Gallagher was elected to the school board, promising to help children get the best education possible,” said John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Miami Division. “Instead, she used her position for her own personal gain. In this economy, with schools already cutting budgets and laying off teachers, it is disgraceful what Beverly Gallagher did. This is reminder to all who serve in elected positions that if you break the law, you will get caught and you will go to jail.”

    …um, that is, unless you’re convicted & sentenced AFTER TRIAL by Broward County’s “hanging judge”!!

  21. Kevin Hill says:

    Dear #20/Ha Ha Ha.

    Yeah, but Gallagher was (1) busted by the feds, and (2) literally got an envelope full of cash money.

  22. Ha Ha Ha says:

    1) Kraft was being investigated by the feds. For reasons that remain unclear, the notoriously soft-on-corruption State Attorney’s Office wound up filing charges instead, thus setting the stage for the vigorous lashing with a wet noodle that we now see today from this “hanging judge”.

    2) Kraft’s involvement with the Chaits is only the very tip of her corruption iceberg…


    Apparently, the feds and state prosecutors didn’t believe they could make a case against Kraft for “her corruption iceberg.” In the one case State Attorney Mike Satz filed, the jury voted Kraft innocent on the three most serious corruption charges.

    It is true that Stephanie Kraft and, in particular, her husband Mitch Kraft were way too cozy to lobbyist like Neil Sterling and to slim-buckets like the dirty developers, the Chaits. Being cozy is not the same as being guilty of a crime. Endless allegations bellowed by one media outlet desperate for attention does not equal proof of anything.

  23. Broward Voter says:

    Public financing of campaigns will bring us more trustworthy government. How many of our officials can continue to remain untouched by the corrupt system we give them to work in? We then blame them as if we had no stake in the problem.

    The question is whether citizens are so corrupt as to allow a system they know is filthy to continue in operation. Only to complain about it later, as if they have some right to be surprised at the outcome.

  24. Ha Ha Ha says:

    “Being cozy” in the way that the Krafts were is certainly the same as being CORRUPT. Buddy, you’ve spilled lots of ink moaning about the School Board mismanaging money. But the Krafts exemplify exactly how and why that happens – not just half a million dollars worth (as with the Chait charges), but 1.7 BILLION DOLLARS worth (Vista Healthplans) and even more than that.

    The Krafts prove beyond any doubt that Broward County’s ability to control corruption has even less strength than the ability of a two-year-old child to resist fresh, colorful candy. Yet, Buddy, you think it’s OK that this woman, the Rod Blagojevich of Broward County, gets off with probation?!?

    Rod Blagojevitch is serving 14 years in prison; Stephanie Kraft should have gotten at least the five years in prison that Broward County’s “hanging judge” could very easily have given her.


    The FBI had wiretaps in the Rod Blagojevitch case. In the Kraft case, state prosecutors had circumstantial evidence, the testimony of two dead men that couldn’t be cross examined and the testimony of sleazy extortionists.

    Blagojevitch was tried twice, because the first trial resulted in a hung jury on the most egregious charges, despite the wiretaps. He was convicted the second time.

  25. Scrumptuous says:

    Endless allegations bellowed by one media outlet desperate for attention does not equal proof of anything.
    And who would that outlet be, pray tell?

  26. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Mrs.Kraft got lucky palin and simple. Her husband who is up next better be careful. I think Catherine Maus did a good job in dealing w/ Kraft. As far as Comm.Stacey Ritter there will be no charges against her. And yes I to saw the boxes floor to celing also. They had nothing that would stick. As far as the cady commnets about her I think she does a good job on the county comm. I heard that Comm./Ritter is eye-in the Supervisor of Elections postion. Run, run Stacey. She would be perfect for that job.

  27. Ha Ha Ha says:

    @23 – Yes, and Tallahassee is leading the way:

    @24 Buddy – 1) The Sunshine Law should be expanded to include mandatory wiretaps on all elected officials as public records (audio files that can be freely downloaded via the Internet). 2) You’re evading the question. The evidence was enough to convict her of the weakest charge. Destry then had the power to give her five years in prison. Just as Al Capone got a long prison sentence for tax evasion instead of murder, Kraft should have gotten five years in prison for her conviction. What makes you think this profoundly corrupt woman deserves a light slap on the wrist instead of the Al Capone treatment?!?


    Because the usual sentence in Broward County for a third degree felony with no priors is probation.

    Also, you have a mistaken definition of “investigative journalism.” The definition is stories developed from primary sources.

    It is not taking allegations dug up by prosecutors and printing them. That is merely being the mouthpiece for the prosecution.

  28. Respectfully Disagree says:

    Sam has conveniently clouded the issue talking about what people are “typically” sentenced to on a 3rd degree felony and it is BS.

    When making that statement, lets take a look at the “typical” crimes those with 3rd degree possession are charged with… possession of cocaine or large quantities of marijuana, driving while license is suspended, felony DUI, felony battery, welfare fraud etc.

    The key words to examine are “typical” or “usual”. The facts, charges etc in the Kraft case were not typical of a 3rd degree felony. Most third degree felonies impact only the criminal themselves and/or a few victims.

    In this case, the victims were all the residents of this County who Kraft served in a position which carried the responsibilities of public trust. No way was this was a “usual” 3rd degree felony in any way shape or form.

    It is easy to go on about the typical this or that of a 3rd degree felony, this case not about the “typical” nor the level degree of the charge. I was about being elected to a position of public trust and selling it out to the top bidder.

    Where Destry loses all respect in my book is going on and on about the awfulness of the crime (all true) and then wiping it away with a light sentence.

    I personally do not believe that she should have received 5 years in prison. I do believe that she deserved some form of incarceration, even minimal. No matter what, she should be a convicted felon. To think that this woman could go out tomorrow and run for office is disgusting.

  29. Señor Censor says:


    You keep referring to the “Chait’s” as “Slime-buckets, Dirty developers” they are just businessmen who played by the “Rules” set up by the elected “Political Mafia of Broward County” yet your waiving pom-poms like a little high school cheerleader for this woman Stephanie Kraft that violated her “Oath to Office”.

    Judge Destry caved to the political pressure, lets hope he gets an opponent.

    When you begin cheering for Mitch Kraft at his corruption trial please wear undergarments with your short skirts, no COMMANDO.

    Commissioner Stacey Ritter can drive her golf cart during her campaigning for S O E.


    Saying the Chaits played by the rules is an insult to the vast majority of developers who didn’t have to bribe anybody or get involved in elections to get a project approved.

  30. Señor Censor says:


    The Chaits played by the rules set up by Krafts et al, the unindicted co-conspirator turned states witness aka Mango Queen etc. “Pay to Play” this is the “Political Mafia of Broward County” rule #1.

    The Krafts are not innocent lambs being slaughtered, these are “Powerful” people that abused their authority for a few dollars. They “Chose” to do this.

    Lets define your term “Vast Majority” is it 51% or 99%? This means there are more “Krafts” that have not been apprehended by the entities that are supposed to ferret out this corruption.

    Buddy, you also neglected to mention yourself as one of the chosen few that were in attendance to show support for Stephanie Kraft.


    I was not in attendance in court or anywhere else to “show support for Stephanie Kraft.” I was not in the courtroom for any part of her case. Nor was I in the courthouse or even in Fort Lauderdale at the time.

    I don’t support what she did. I do believe the sentence was fair given the facts and the single charge that the jurors said she was guilty of committing.

    Always remember that a jury of her peers found her innocent of the three most serious charges against her. The prosecutors, after a four year investigation, could not prove these more serious charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

    That said, I have written that it is unbelievable sleazy and wrong for Mitch Kraft to have taken legal work for lobbyists and developers doing business with the School Board. Sleazy and wrong does not equal illegal.

  31. Question says:

    Yes Kraft was convicted of one minor crime in the grand scheme of the charges against her. What has gone unmentioned is the fact that it is highly doubtful this was the first time the Krafts did this. Are we to believe the Chaits put nine names in a hat and randomly pulled the one that said Kraft? So it begs the question, was this her first transgression or just the first time she got caught?

  32. Alice McGill says:

    Nobody who has not been convicted of a crime is on probation. Stephanie Kraft has been convicted of a crime. She is on probation. She is a criminal. She has to have her behavior monitored by another adult! Just another sad chapter in the history of Broward County elected officials. Wonder if she will be sipping eggnog with Eggelletion during the holiday season? Or drinking grog with Gallagher? Or zipping around the golf course in a cart driven by Ritter?

  33. Anonymous says:

    Why is no one talking about how Kraft got to walk out of the courtroom after she got probation. NO ONE who is in custody, coming from the jails, walk out of the courthouse once they receive probation. They have to go back to the jail and await their release which usually occurs in the early morning. That is total BS.

    And Destry has sentenced many a first time non violent offender to prison. He has been revered by the 4th twice in the past year on this very issue. He doesn’t care except when the media is involved.

  34. Plain Language says:

    @31 In our system of justice, you don’t go to jail for committing a crime. You go to jail for getting convicted which first means you have to get caught. A tiny percentage of all crimes actually committed result in arrest and conviction. If every crime committed resulted in arrest and conviction, few people would be free. Likely including yourself.

  35. Alice is clueless says:

    alice please get your facts correct. Ritter was NOT in office when her husband accepted a 20 year old golf cart from the Chaits when they closed the Sabal Palm Golf course and gave away most of the assets. she was not a candidate for the County commission. she was a private citizen.

  36. Broward Voter says:

    The Chaits testified that the golf cart was a bribe given to Ritter in exchange for her support of their projects. In office or not, Ritter is a lawyer who knew what she was doing. She knew the appearance accepting a gift like that might create. She was already a candidate for the county commission and she accepted the gift from someone she knew would be doing business asking for her vote. This is an act that defines a person’s character and no excuse can change that fact. She knew better and accepted the gift anyway.


    Just to be correct, the Sun-Sentinel says Ritter’s husband Russ Klenet asked for the golf cart and received it from the Chaits.

  37. Jim Miller says:

    Sorry, Broward Voter you are wrong. Ritter was a candidate for the state senate which has ZERO land use authority. So even if she took a golf cart, which she didn’t, it wasn’t anything the state senate woudl vote on. Some of you people wouldn’t know a fact if it bit you on the butt. And what is even worse, the worst of you don’t care.

  38. City Activist robert Walsh says:

    The golf cart was given to Comm.Ritter’ husband. She could care less about that golf cart(I told her to drive it right into the county comm. chambers and leave it there). Also all this bashing against Catherine Maus and State Att.Mike Satz. They did th e best that they could do and will wait to fry Kraft’s husband. You don’t possibly think that Mitch will be given the breaks as Mrs here(get a hair cut-will huh). As far as the Chaits they will always be branded “a Snitch” and no one should do business w/ them. As far as Kraft walking out of court you are right she should have gone back to jail and waited for her release paper work. I have never seen a sitting defendant (including myself) who after being found not guilty wa s able to walk right out of court w/ their jail scrubs on to boot. This was prearranged w/ the courts for her to walk out like she did. As far as Catherine Maus doin a shitty job thats not fair.(Catherine tell your buddy the ‘grand wizard’ people are talking about how cozy you two are-be careful he is representing the Church in regards to the homeless-Ft>lau put him on the map and if he continues I will substantchiate the fact that you are so up his ass ,and that he demands that you do ,this and that etc. Be warned I’ll put his friends on the stand to support this notion and yourself. If this is all BS(well), lets here your side-heard your name all year. Mr.Scherer if it cost us a million bucks you get nothing(oppurtunist). Sue our City. How dare you(oh I know Rothstien going down las Olas in a horse and carriage and no one noticed huh(you certainly did). Give the 40 mill you made recouping the Ponzi money back to the victims to charity. Again suing the city I’ll take above named down Bill and you w/ her…Talk about Trantalis YOU ARE NO BETTER……

  39. Dear Robert says:

    Looken fooorword to U substantchiat’ng the facts and pontificlate tem n hat speeecial weigh U dew

  40. M MORSE says:


  41. Really? says:

    @morse- So you are saying that buying Gant building from Stiles would have been a good idea? Not a chance. That was a flip job that would have meant huge profits for Dtiles at tax payers expense. Not only that, haven’t we seen the error of the districts ways by even leasing space in that building for so long? The new reign of school board members made ending that lease and getting out of that space priority number one. Good for Levinson, Good and Rupert for getting them out of that. If Kraft was against it she was right.