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Corruption County’

Mary McCarty leaves Texas prison, enters local halfway house

Friday, March 25th, 2011 by George Bennett

Mary McCarty

Mary McCarty is back in Palm Beach County.

The former county commissioner, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to a federal felony count of honest services fraud, left a Texas prison Thursday and checked into a West Palm Beach-area halfway house to serve the remaining six months of her sentence, her husband confirmed Thursday night.

“She looks great and is in terrific spirits,” Kevin McCarty said.

Mary McCarty was the third county commissioner in a period of less than three years to resign, plead guilty to corruption charges and go to prison. Former colleagues Tony Masilotti and Warren Newell have already completed their sentences — and are both seeking to have their honest services fraud convictions thrown out and their forfeited assets returned.

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Judge to Masilotti: Yes, that $50,000 was a ‘kickback’

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by George Bennett

Masilotti in 2007

Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Tony Masilotti took a kickback when he collected $50,000 in gambling chips for using his political clout to persuade the Diocese of Palm Beach to sell 50 acres to a secret businesss partner, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Newell

As our Jane Musgrave reports, Masilotti wanted his honest services fraud conviction overturned — and an $8 million parcel of forfeited land given back to him — after the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that prosecutors must prove an official took bribes or kickbacks to be convicted of honest services fraud.

McCarty

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp rejected Masilotti’s arguments Wednesday.

Another former county commissioner and convicted honest services fraudster, Warren Newell, is also appealing his honest services fraud conviction. A third commissioner-turned-convict, Mary McCarty, has indicated she won’t challenge her honest services fraud conviction.

‘Entitled’ no more: Mary McCarty speaks from federal prison camp

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 by George Bennett

Mary McCarty in prison khaki with husband Kevin during one of his recent visits to the federal prison camp in Bryan, Texas.

Former Palm Beach County commissioner Mary McCarty, serving time for a felony federal honest services fraud conviction, sat with a Palm Beach Post reporter last week for an exclusive interview at the minimum-security prison camp in Bryan, Texas.

She talked about feeling “entitled” to play by her own set of rules when she was a commissioner, about her daily routine at the prison camp, about former colleagues/felons Tony Masilotti and Warren Newell, about the recent Supreme Court decision that narrowed the honest services fraud law and about the questions that arise among her fellow inmates when they see the avalanche of mail McCarty gets.

Read the article here.

Kickbacks? Nah, just ‘failures to disclose,’ Newell’s attorney says

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 by George Bennett

Newell

Disgraced former Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell wants his conviction for honest services fraud tossed because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that only those who take kickbacks or bribes can be charged with that felony.

Prosecutors say Newell indeed took kickbacks, such as the $346,000 he got for a vote that helped his former business associate get a lucrative deal for Palm Beach Aggregates.

Rogow

“These are not kickbacks,” Newell attorney Bruce Rogow argued. “These are failures to disclose.”

Read our Jane Musgrave’s complete story here.

Aaronson on latest colleague-turned-felon: ‘There was nothing to clean up’

Friday, August 13th, 2010 by George Bennett

Aaronson

Aaronson

Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson was on a cruise last week when Jeff Koons became the fourth commissioner in four years to plead guilty to a felony charge.

His reaction? Outrage.

“I leave this damn city for one week and all hell breaks loose,” Aaronson said at Thursday’s Tourist Development Council meeting. “In my opinion, there was nothing to clean up.”

Read more here.

Yet another Palm Beach County commissioner jailed

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 by George Bennett

2003bccblogpic-300x212 Check out this picture of the Palm Beach County commission from 2003. Three commissioners (Tony Masilotti, front right; Warren Newell, front left; Mary McCarty, back left) have gone to federal prison on corruption charges.

Koons

Koons

A fourth, Jeff Koons (back row, second from left) was booked into the Palm Beach County jail early this morning and is expected to appear before a judge today on charges of extortion, perjury and violating Florida’s open-meetings law.

Click here to see the sheriff’s booking information on Koons, who checked into the Gun Club Road jail at 3:41 a.m.

‘Corruption County’ ethics package en route to governor

Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate gave final approval to a measure pushed by the Palm Beach County Commission that would allow counties and cities to go beyond current state law in fines and jail time for county officials and staff who violate local ethics ordinances or financial disclosure requirements.

The measure now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat running for attorney general, said he sponsored the bill (SB 1980) on behalf of county officials after “three of the seven county commissioners ended up in jail” on public corruption charges.

Under the measure, counties like Palm Beach could double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 and extend jail time from 60 days to one year for corrupt officials.

The House refused to pass a harsher public corruption measure (SB 902) pushed by Palm Beach County’s State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

His anti-corruption proposals, sponsored by former federal prosecutor and Aronberg primary opponent Sen. Dan Gelber, would have made it a crime for any public official to knowingly withhold information about a financial interest in something on they vote or cause to take place. It would would also have required disclosure of financial interests that could benefit a family member.

Another would enhance penalties for crimes, such as official misconduct, that public officials commit in their official capacity.

UPDATE: House passes ‘Corruption County’ priority ethics bill, Senate committee OKs tougher approach

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved (SB 902) a tougher measure than the House’s version.

The Florida House approved a measure that would allow counties and cities to go beyond current state law in fines and jail time for county officials and staff who violate local ethics ordinances or financial disclosure requirements.

Under the measure, counties like Palm Beach could double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 and extend jail time from 60 days to one year for corrupt officials.

The House approved the bill (HB 1301) – one of Palm Beach County’s top priorities this session – by a 111-1 vote today, but the Senate is taking a different approach.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is about to combine the ethics proposal with two measures that would impose much harsher penalties on corrupt officials pushed by Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

Both anti-corruption proposals are being blended with a measure (SB 902) that would increase the legislature’s oversight over state agencies’ contracting, a priority for powerful Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, chairman of the committee.

One of the harsher measures would make it a crime for any public official to knowingly withhold information about a financial interest in something on they vote or cause to take place. It would would also require disclosure of financial interests that could benefit a family member.

Another would enhance penalties for crimes, such as official misconduct, that public officials commit in their official capacity.

The two stricter measures are sponsored by Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in corruption cases. The PBC-backed proposal is sponsored by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. The two colleagues are running against each other in a Democratic primary for attorney general.

McAuliffe said the changes in the law would make it possible for the state rather than federal officials to prosecute officials like the three former Palm Beach County commissioners and two city commissioners who went to prison on federal corruption charges.

Palm Beach County officials said those bills aren’t a priority and aren’t working to make sure those bills (SB 1076, 734) pass.

‘Corruption County’ crackdown cruises through House committee

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

A “Corruption County”-inspired bill that would beef up penalties for county officials who violate ethics ordinances moved forward in a House committee this afternoon.

The changes that would allow counties to go beyond current state law in fines and jail time for county officials and staff who violate local ethics ordinances or financial disclosure requirements.

Under the measure, counties like Palm Beach could double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 and extend jail time from 60 days to one year for corrupt officials.

The House Public Safety and Domestic Security Policy Committee unanimously approved Rep. Kevin Rader’s bill (HB 1301) today.

Rader, D-Delray Beach, and fellow Palm Beacher Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, sponsored the proposals at the request of Palm Beach County officials.

A $1,000 fine may not seem like much of a price to pay for politicos who’ve been convicted of taken thousands of dollars in bribes, steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to their buddies or voting on multi-million dollar deals in which they have a financial stake.

But, Rader said, the fine “and a year in jail is a step in the right direction.”

Palm Beach County recently established an ethics panel in an effort to shed its “Corruption County” image. In the past four years, three former county commissioners and two West Palm Beach city commissioners were sent to prison on corruption charges.

New term-limits proposal offered….

Friday, February 26th, 2010 by George Bennett

pbcpolspic

The Post‘s Andrew Abramson spotted this message along Dixie Highway in Lake Worth.

Corruption County: New ethics commission debuts Tuesday

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 by George Bennett

A new Palm Beach County Ethics Commission, created by county commissioners last year in response to the corruption convictions of five local elected officials between 2006 and 2009, holds its first meeting Tuesday in West Palm Beach.

Among the first orders of business for the five-member commission will be choosing a chairman and vice-chairman.

The ethics panel, plus representatives from the State Attorney and Public Defender offices, will sit as the selection committee for a new inspector general position. The inspector general post, modeled after one in Miami-Dade County, is the centerpiece of reforms approved Dec. 1. Applications for the inspector general’s job and for a new executive director for the ethics commission are due Friday.

The ethics panelists were chosen by a variety of groups outside county government. Read about them after the jump…..

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Retired Judge Edward Rodgers named to new ethics commission

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by George Bennett

Rodgers

Rodgers

The Palm Beach County League of Cities today picked retired Circuit Judge and former Riviera Beach councilman Edward Rodgers to fill the seat set aside for a former elected official on the new county Ethics Commission.

Rodgers was one of eight former elected officials vying for the spot.

The five-member ethics panel was created by county commissioners last year in response to scandals that sent five local elected official to federal prison between 2006 and 2009. Each of the seats is to be filled by a different organization. In addition to the League of Cities’ choice of Rodgers, county police chiefs picked former federal prosecutor Bruce Reinhart for one seat and the president of Florida Atlantic University picked FAU ethics professor Robin Fiore for another.

The two remaining seats will be filled by the county chapter of the Florida Institute of CPAs and by a coalition of minority lawyer groups.

Six former elected officials apply for ethics commission seat as Monday deadline looms

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010 by George Bennett

Six former elected officials have applied so far for one of the seats on the new five-member county ethics commission approved by Palm Beach County commissioners last month as part of a sweeping package of reforms.

The ethics legislation calls for the Palm Beach County League of Cities to fill one of the seats by appointing a former elected official. The league plans to make its choice Wednesday, Jan. 27, so Executive Director Jamie Titcomb has set a deadline of 5 p.m. Monday to submit applications.

Applicants so far: former county commissioner Ken Adams, former county commissioner Dennis Koehler, former Jupiter councilman Tom McCarthy, former Delray Beach commissioner Alberta McCarthy, former Delray Beach mayor David Schmidt and former Haverhill Mayor Chuck Stoddard.

Other seats on the ethics panel are to be filled by county police chiefs, the local chapter of the Florida Institute of CPAs, the president of Florida Atlantic University and a coalition of minority lawyer groups.

Commissioners give preliminary OK to ethics reforms, inspector general

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by George Bennett

The scandal-rocked Palm Beach County commission gave preliminary approval today to sweeping ethics reforms, including creation of an independent inspector general’s office to investigate wrongdoing in local government.

After today’s unanimous votes, a final vote on the reforms is slated for Dec. 15.

The actions come after three county commissioners went to federal prison on corruption charges and a grand jury this year noted the county’s reputation as “Corruption County”

In a reflection of the commission’s tarnished reputation, commissioners agreed to have no role in selecting the inspector general and to essentially give an unelected ethics commission final say over any decision to remove the inspector general.

Proposals called for county commissioners to be able to remove the inspector general if five of seven commissioners found specific cause. But after several members of the public criticized the proposal as giving the commission too much power, commissioners agreed that a removal vote will only be valid if a new five-member commission on ethics agrees.

The commission on ethics is to include five members appointed by local police chiefs, minority law groups, the president of Florida Atlantic University, the Florida Institute of CPAs and the Palm Beach County League of Cities.

Commissioners move to shed “Corruption County” image at 10 a.m. today

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by George Bennett

Former Commissioner Mary McCarty's booking photo

Former Commissioner Mary McCarty's booking photo

Palm Beach County Commissioners, who have seen three of their colleagues go to federal prison on corruption charges since 2006, will give preliminary consideration to a package of ethics reforms this morning at 10 a.m. at the county Governmental Center in West Palm Beach.

The reforms include a new ethics code, a five-member ethics commission and creation of a new inspector general’s office to investigate public officials and contracts. Much of the debate over the last few months has focused on how much of a role the corruption-besmirched commission should play in choosing and approving the inspector general.

After today’s preliminary vote, a final vote on the ethics reforms is scheduled for Dec. 15.

County corruption not just a white thing, says commish who wants more diverse ethics panel

Monday, November 30th, 2009 by George Bennett

Taylor

Taylor

So far the Palm Beach County elected officials going to the federal hoosegow have been white Baby Boomers. But as the county prepares to enact sweeping ethics reforms, County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor says she expects to see a more diverse group coming under scrutiny.

Read in this week’s Politics column about Taylor’s proposal for the county’s planned ethics commission.

Corruption County: Masilotti wants out of slammer early

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 by George Bennett

Masilotti

Masilotti

Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Tony Masilotti, who still has more than two years to go on his federal honest services fraud sentence, wants out early, citing Judge Kenneth Ryskamp’s belief that the honest services statute is unconstitutionally vague.

Masilotti used his position to make $10 million on secret land deals. He pleaded guilty to honest services fraud as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Read about it here.

Corruption County: Aaronson wants board applicants to reveal past felonies

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 by George Bennett

Aaronson

Aaronson

Palm Beach County Commissioner Aaronson will ask his colleagues today to approve new language on the standard form that people fill out when applying for appointment to any of the approximately 80 county government advisory boards and commissions:

“Have you ever been convicted of a felony for violation of any state or federal law or regulation: If so, give details.”


Read about it here.

Corruption County: McAuliffe urges school board, munis to join in ethics reform

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 by George Bennett

State Attorney Michael McAuliffe and Palm Beach County commissioners today urged the school board and local governments to put themselves under the scrutiny of a proposed corruption-fighting inspector general.

School board Chairman Bill Graham said the school board is “conceptually on board” but wants to examine details.

The discussion came as county commissioners, school board members, state lawmakers and municipal officials held a joint meeting.

With five elected officials jailed on federal charges since 2006, County Commissioner Burt Aaronson said local politicians will feel the wrath of voters if they don’t approve reforms.

“If anybody says ‘No, we don’t want to do it,’ your constituents are going to tell you you’d better do it because there’s another election coming up. And anybody that doesn’t want to join in possibly won’t be an elected official the next time around.”

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Do you know where your elected official is this afternoon?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 by George Bennett

Power powwow: County commissioners, school board members, state legislators and municipal officials gather this afternoon

Power powwow: County commissioners, school board members, state legislators and municipal officials gather this afternoon

Chances are he or she is at the Clayton Hutcheson Agricultural Center outside West Palm Beach, where about 40 elected officials from Palm Beach County — county commissioners, school board members, state legislators and municipal officials — are engaged in a joint meeting that just got underway.

Among the topics the group will discuss: a countywide ethics watchdog. County commissioners are considering a package of ethics reforms for county government. The school board and city governments could also come under the proposed inspector general’s scrutiny if elected officials agree. No binding votes are expected today.

UPDATE: School board Chairman Bill Graham just reminded everyone that the 0.5 percent county sales tax to pay for school construction is set to expire at the end of 2010. The tax, originally approved in a 2004 referendum, can only be extended if voters approve in another referendum

“We’d like to have a discussion with everybody here about what we might do in the future,” Graham said.

The group put off discussion of the matter until the next multi-board meeting in January.

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