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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Another Corruption Investigation Hits Hollywood

Another corruption investigation hits Hollywood
The Miami Herald by James H. Burnett III - May 6, 2011

Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober confirmed Friday afternoon that he has asked federal and state authorities to investigate allegations that City Manager Cameron Benson used city employees who were personal friends to accept gifts from a company seeking the city’s garbage collection contract. The allegations wee made in two typed, unsigned letters City Commissioners received last week. One letter claims that two years ago, when Hollywood privatized its garbage collection services, “...Benson spearheaded this transition, using several of his close, personal friends, to guide and direct WastePro representatives and lobbyist (sic) during the period when the City’s ‘Cone of Silence’ ordinance was in effect. During this period when City employees are prohibited from actively promoting or otherwise providing bid information to potential vendors,” Wade Sanders and Charles Lassiter, two Hollywood public works employees and purported friends of Benson’s, were wined and dined by WastePro. The letter says Sanders was given a gift card and money order for home improvement services at one of the meals, and that he used them to buy items for Benson’s vacation home in Nova Scotia, Canada, then personally drove more than 2,000 miles to deliver the items to the house. “It is common knowledge that Wade Sanders brought several items for Cameron Benson’s second home in Nova Scotia with the money order and gift card received from the WastePro group,’’ the letter stated. “In fact, many of these items were driven to Mr. Benson’s Nova Scotia home by Wade Sanders during one of his recent trips over the last year.’’ WastePro ultimately landed the city contract, and Sanders was promoted to a supervisory position in the city’s Public Works Department. The letter also claimed that Benson ordered Hollywood Police to buy several generators using city money and had an officer deliver one of the generators to Benson’s parents’ Lauderhill home following Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Sources close to the investigation said Friday that Benson has acknowledged asking a police officer to deliver a generator to the home of his father, longtime community leader and current Lauderhill Commissioner Hayward Benson. But, the source said the city manager adamantly denies that city money was used to pay for the equipment. Benson, through a city spokeswoman, declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing investigation. And efforts to reach Sanders and Lassiter were unsuccessful. A spokesman for WastePro denied the allegations in the letters and suggested the anonymous charges are being made by opponents of the company’s efforts to secure further garbage contracts with other Broward municipalities. Bober said Friday that he had no choice except to seek outside help to investigate the claims against Benson. The day before, he asked the FBI for assistance.

He also sought help from the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner wrote Satz’s office as well, to inform Broward prosecutors that he was requesting investigative assistance from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “I hope none of this is true, but given Hollywood’s history with prior scandals involving public office, and my promises of transparency when I campaigned for this office, I had to ask the question: Would the residents of Hollywood accept the city investigating itself in this matter or would it be more appropriate to have an impartial party do so,” Bober said. While the letters’ anonymity bothers him, Bober said, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not credible. “I have seen circumstances in which employees would like to complain about superiors but don’t because they fear that if they’re identified they could suffer repercussions,” said Bober, a labor attorney. “As unfortunate as the situation is, we have to take these claims seriously.” Corruption claims are not new to Hollywood.

In 2000 former Police Chief Rick Stone filed a RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization) lawsuit against police union bosses, alleging they helped facilitate criminal behavior on the part of active cops. In 2007, four Hollywood Police officers were busted for acting as guards and escorts for cash and jewels being shuttled through the city by FBI agents posing as mobsters. The bust was part of an FBI sting aimed at rooting out corrupt cops. That federal investigation was cut short, after then police chief James Scarberry exposed the investigation - a move federal authorities said may have tipped off other cops who might have gotten caught on the take. Scarberry resigned a short term later. That same year Hollywood Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom was removed from office after a jury convicted him of misconduct for pushing other comissioners to award a multi-million sludge clean-up contract to a company with whom he’d secretly cut a side lobbying deal.

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