May. 21, 2015

Former Tamarac mayor's trial on corruption charges starts

Story by Rafael Olmeda

The trial of former Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco opened Tuesday with a sweeping overview of corruption in Broward County, with attorneys on both sides dropping the names of former political figures accused of wrongdoing in connection with a pair of developers who admit using money to buy support for their projects.

Flansbaum-Talabisco, 62, is facing charges of official misconduct, bribery and criminal conspiracy for allegedly accepting $27,000 in campaign assistance in exchange for her support for a controversial housing development in 2006.

The developers, Bruce and Shawn Chait, are scheduled to testify during the trial, which is expected to last about three weeks.

The road to trial has been complicated for Flansbaum-Talabisco, who was arrested in 2011, removed from her job by the governor, cleared by a judge who dismissed the charges and allowed to take office again a year after her arrest. In 2013, an appeals court reversed the judge's decision and reinstated the charges.

Flansbaum-Talabisco is the last public official to face trial as a result of the admitted corruption of the Chaits, who pleaded guilty to unlawful compensation charges.

Former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion lost the most from his dealings with the Chaits. In 2011, Eggelletion pleaded guilty to a federal charge of unlawful compensation and went on to serve a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.

Others took their cases to juries and, for the most part, won. Former Tamarac Commissioner Patricia Atkins-Grad was acquitted of criminal charges in 2012. Last year, the Chaits testified against former Broward School Board member Stephanie Kraft, who was found guilty of official misconduct but cleared of unlawful compensation and bribery charges. She was sentenced to probation and is appealing the verdict.

Kraft's husband, Mitchell Kraft, was acquitted of unlawful compensation after the Chaits testified against him earlier this year.

Another Tamarac official implicated by the Chaits, Vice Mayor Marc Sultanoff, died in 2012, before his case could be resolved.

Prosecutor Catherine Maus mentioned all the politicians, except the Krafts, accused of receiving gifts from the Chaits.

Flansbaum-Talabisco, Maus said, told voters she would hold the Chaits' feet to the fire during her campaign for mayor in 2006, all the while accepting the campaign assistance — polls, fliers and attack ads against the two opponents who ran against her for mayor — and telling the Chaits she was on their side.

"Bruce Chait is going to tell you it was understood, her support of his project was based on his support of her campaign," Maus said.

Defense lawyer Larry Davis said prosecutors were mixing corruption with normal politics.

"There is a huge different between politics and public corruption," he said. "Politics are not on trial here today. Campaign finance is not on trial here today."

He added that Flansbaum-Talabisco had not received any payments from the Chaits beyond campaign assistance he depicted as legal., 954-356-4457, Twitter @SSCourts and @rolmeda