Cooper City mayoral candidate Gary Laufenberg dropped out the race Wednesday, effectively giving the mayor's job to his opponent, attorney Greg Ross, just six days before the vote.
A tearful Laufenberg told Local 10's Bob Norman he did it to "save" his campaign aide and family friend, Ryan Shrouder, who was caught on surveillance tape stealing a Ross campaign sign from a restaurant and was placed under investigation by the Broward Sheriff's Office. To read more about the case and Shrouder, click here.
"I'm doing this for Ryan," Laufenberg said between sobs. "He's like my son and they are going to ruin him. He's in law school ... it's just not worth it to me. I'm out. I'm done. I can't deal with it."
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Laufenberg wouldn't get into details but said essentially that a deal was struck that charges wouldn't be pressed if he dropped from the race. He said he confirmed from a BSO sergeant that the criminal case against Shrouder had been dropped before filing his papers with the city to leave the race today.
Ross said there was no deal and that it was Laufenberg who called a meeting with him at a Dunkin' Donuts earlier this week. He said Laufenberg was there with Shrouder and Mayor Debby Eisinger, who is being term-limited from office and has been a political mentor to Shrouder, who made the news in 2006 when he was criminally charged with orchestrating a grade-tampering scandal while serving as president of the senior class at Cooper City High School.
Ross said it was Eisinger who did much of the talking, telling him that Laufenberg wanted to drop out of the race.
"I said, "I am not making any deals,'" said Ross. "I can't make a deal, I'm not the victim. I never extorted ... they asked me, 'Can you talk to the restaurant owner," and I said, "I'm' not here to jam the kid up.'"
He said that both Eisinger and Laufenberg told him that if he helped convince the victim of the crime, Eric Gilreath, owner of Vita Italian Restaurant, to drop the charges that Laufenberg would step down from the race.
"I told them that I wanted him to stay in the race," said Ross. "I have beaten him fair and square."
But Ross did speak to Gilreath to help convince him to drop the charges. He said Gilreath had already waived prosecution before he spoke to him.
"Look, in the big scheme of things, that sign is not going to make me or break me, it's not going to lose me the race," he said he told Gilreath. "[Shrouder] is in law school. We all do stupid things. It's not a big thing to crucify a man over."
Now out of the race and with Ross poised to take the mayor's seat, Laufenberg didn't have kind words for Ross or his political camp.
"They're evil, they're mean, they are ugly and I can't deal with this," he said. "They were going to prosecute him and take him down. I resigned this morning and they waived prosecution. You can figure this out. It's disgusting."