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Antonacci returns to Capitol — as Scott’s top lawyer

Thursday, December 6th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Pete Antonacci, who served as Palm Beach County state attorney since March, is returning to the Florida Capitol after being named Thursday as Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel.

Antonacci, appointed by Scott to succeed Michael McAuliffe, who left for a private-sector job, is scheduled to leave office in January following the election last month of Dave Aronberg as Palm Beach County state attorney. Antonacci, who had been a statewide prosecutor and formerly a top deputy under Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, has practiced law and lobbied in Tallahassee for the past 15 years.

Antonacci will take over the general counsel’s post Jan. 8, Scott said.

The opening in Scott’s office emerged when current general counsel Jesse Panuccio was named executive director of the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

Panuccio takes over for Hunting Deutsch, who announced his resignation this week after questions were raised about him having received unemployment benefits for 20 months ending last year. Panuccio becomes Scott’s third jobs czar in 14 months.

During part of the period Deutsch was out of work as a banking executive, he traveled in Europe and was apparently unavailable to accept a job even if offered, a requirement of Florida’s unemployment compensation system. Scott, who apparently did not pressure Deutsch to leave, later said he had made the correct decision in stepping down.

Antonacci wasn’t a quiet caretaker in serving out the remaining months of McAuliffe’s term. He fired a couple of top prosecutors after criticizing the county’s criminal conviction rate, and took the unprecedented step of filing a legal motion to have a county judge, Barry Cohen, barred from presiding over criminal cases.


Scott to name Pete Antonacci as interim Palm Beach County state attorney

Thursday, March 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to name Peter Antonacci, a former Florida statewide prosecutor and deputy attorney general who has handled high-profile assignments for Republican and Democratic governors, to fill the Palm Beach County state attorney’s job, Tallahassee sources said today.

Scott is expected to make an announcement Friday on a replacement for State Attorney Michael McAuliffe, who is leaving office next week to take a job with billionaire Bill Koch’s Oxbow Carbon.

The appointee will serve through the end of McAuliffe’s term on Jan. 7. Scott last month said he did not know whether he wanted his appointee to run for a full four-year term in November.

The appointment has been a difficult one for Scott. He originally set a Feb. 15 deadline for applications and received five, then extended it to Feb. 22 and received six more. Scott personally interviewed five applicants.

Read The Palm Beach Post’s story here.

Aronberg poised to jump into race to succeed McAuliffe

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Former state Sen. Dave Aronberg — a Greenacres Democrat — looks poised to become the first candidate to jump into the race to succeed outgoing Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

Aronberg has scheduled a West Palm Beach news conference Thursday at the county’s historic courthouse, where he expected to announce his candidacy.

“It’s an exciting time,” Aronberg told the Post. “It shows you that even when you lose a race and it looks like a door has closed, it can be a new beginning.”

Aronberg has been working as an assistant statewide prosecutorl for Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, since December 2010. Aronberg, who earns $92,000-a-year,  is based in Palm Beach County and oversees efforts to combat prescription fraud and abuse.

 Aronberg, who served eight years in the Senate, lost a 2010 bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. While in the Senate, he had pushed for creation of the prescription drug database that is now a central part of the state’s efforts to crack down on so-called pill mills, which have proliferated across South Florida.

“No matter what job I’m in, I’m not changing my focus,” said Aronberg. “It’s always going to be about public safety and fighting prescription fraud.”

McAuliffe surprised local officials Tuesday when he announced he would not seek re-election, instead taking a job with the energy company Oxbow Carbon. Aronberg had been mulling a Democratic primary challenge to McAuliffe, but now appears set to be the first candidate running for the open seat.

Aronberg, 40, has said he had considered running for state attorney several years ago, when longtime state attorney Barry Krischer announced he would not seek another term in 2008. But by then, Krischer had positioned McAuliffe to run as his successor.

Aronberg, who earned his undergraduate and law degrees at Harvard, grew up in South Florida. He formerly worked as a special assistant in the U.S. Treasury Department and as an assistant attorney general.

Some Dems fret about ‘heartbreaking’ McAuliffe-Aronberg primary

Monday, November 21st, 2011 by George Bennett

Former state Sen. Dave Aronberg says he’s still doing some “due diligence” before deciding whether to challenge Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe in a 2012 Democratic primary.

McAuliffe’s consultant says he expects Aronberg to run, while many party bigs say they are hoping to avoid a primary that county Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel says would be “heartbreaking.”

Read about it in this week’s Politics column.

State Attorney McAuliffe explains his third-quarter fundraising

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by George Bennett


After raising a robust $89,333 between April 1 and June 30 for his reelection campaign, Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe collected a mere $6,400 from donors last quarter, then loaned his campaign $100,000 in personal funds.

McAuliffe, a Democrat who has not drawn an opponent, told PostOnPolitcs in an e-mail today that he was busy building his campaign organization and prosecuting criminals during the last quarter:

“As a state attorney running for reelection, I am humbled by the tremendous and broad base of support I have received. In our initial quarter of fundraising ending in June, we raised almost $100,000 in contributions without an opponent. That provided a solid base to start the reelection effort.

“This past quarter we intentionally did not focus on fundraising, but on building the organization for the reelection campaign to come. I also concentrated on personally prosecuting one of the worst violent predators in South Florida in Dunkin Donuts robbery and shooting case. That successful effort resulted in nine life sentences. Over the past several months, I also have personally directed the efforts in the Beauchamp multiple homicide investigation resulting in first degree murder charges and the latest efforts in the fight against pill mills resulting in charging and convicting a pain clinic owner on murder charges – a first in the nation.

“In short, I lead an office of 125 prosecutors and that is always my first priority. However, the reelection effort is strong and will be in full swing this fall.”

McAuliffe’s quarterly fundraising plunges from $89,333 to $6,400; Benacquisto adds $106,074

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by George Bennett


It’s tough to raise campaign cash in the summer, especially in an anemic economy.

Even so, Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe‘s latest campaign finance report stands out. After raking in $89,333 in contributions between April 1 and June 30, the Democratic incumbent collected a mere $6,400 from outsiders between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to a report filed Tuesday.


McAuliffe added a $100,000 loan from personal funds on the last day of the quarter.

Among those posting strong quarters was state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. The former Wellington councilwoman raised $106,074 during the quarter and has collected $345,399 overall for her reelection bid.

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: 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.”


Top prosecutor says ethics watchdog needs dedicated money source to be independent

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by George Bennett



To be truly independent, a proposed ethics watchdog for Palm Beach County must be assured of an adequate budget through a dedicated money source such as a surcharge on government contracts, State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said today

McAuliffe, who convened a grand jury that recommended an inspector general to combat public corruption after five local elected officials went to federal prison for ethical misdeeds, spoke to the nonpartisan Voters Coalition this afternoon.

McAuliffe did not take a position on competing views of who should hire and fire the inspector general. The Voters Coalition is part of a consortium of business and civic groups that says the watchdog should answer to an independent ethics commission. County administrators have proposed having the inspector chosen by an independent selection committee but subject to final approval by the county commission.

The grand jury recommended modeling the office on the inspector general in Miami-Dade, where a selection committee chooses the inspector but commissioners have a final vote. Miami-Dade also imposes a 0.25 percent charge on government contracts to help finance the inspector’s office.

McAuliffe said he’s optimistic the consortium and commissioners will reach an agreement on inspector-general language to put before voters in November 2010.

Majority of Palm Beach County commissioners endorse grand jury’s independent watchdog recommendation

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by George Bennett

After seeing three of their own go to federal prison on corruption charges in less than three years, a majority of Palm Beach County commissioners say they support creating a politically independent watchdog to monitor county government.

A county grand jury recommended such an entity in a report last month, suggesting as a model the Office of Inspector General that Miami-Dade County created after corruption scandals there in the 1990s.

Four Palm Beach County commissioners — Steven Abrams, Karen Marcus, Jess Santamaria and Shelley Vana — say they support the concept of an inspector general.

Commission Chairman Jeff Koons has said he opposes the idea. Commissioner Burt Aaronson said the idea “merits discussion” and he hasn’t taken a final position.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the grand jury report July 21.


Aaronson, Greene, Vana won’t testify

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 by George Bennett

From left: Addie Greene, Burt Aaronson, Shelley Vana

Our Jennifer Sorentrue reports that three members of Palm Beach County’s corruption-tarnished commission will decline State Attorney Michael McAuliffe’s invitation to testify before a state grand jury trying to uncover more wrongdoing. McAuliffe characterized the probe as a general, information-gathering exercise that isn’t targeting specific individuals or transactions. He didn’t offer immunity.

Read about it here.

The decliners: Burt Aaronson (“no need” to testify), Addie Greene (“I don’t have anything to hide”) and, according to an aide, Shelley Vana.

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