A lobbyist charged in the mayor of Sweetwater's public corruption case received a $15,000 consulting contract with the Broward Sheriff's Office despite one former official saying he wasn't qualified.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel became friends with Jorge Forte when they both worked in North Bay Village. Jim Chinn, then-BSO's director of strategic planning, said Forte was being considered for a consultant gig for fleet services for a $25,000 contract.
"I asked [Forte], 'Have you ever managed a large fleet,' and he said no," Chinn told Local 10's Bob Norman. "That was the end of my questions, I didn't need to know anything else. I couldn't see any justification for hiring him."
Forte's company, Miami Lakes-based REALM Consulting firm, received a month-long contract from BSO worth $15,000.
The contract called for Forte to look at surplus BSO vehicles to see if they were suitable for use by child protective investigators. He was also asked to determine if it would be better to lease or buy sport-utility vehicles as opposed to standard police interceptors.
Forte received $5,000 up front, $5,000 after he worked 40 hours, and another $5,000 when he completed the job.
Israel put out a statement on Facebook on his relationship with Forte after Local 10 began inquiring on the matter. Here's the full text of the sheriff's statement: "I first knew Jorge Forte from my time as Police Chief in North Bay Village, as Mr. Fort was then the city manager. He always seemed to be a very competent administrator. After my election as sheriff, Mr. Forte volunteered from time to time to give advice with the transition. When I took office, we hired Mr. Forte for a brief (4 week) consulting project to determine cost saving possibilities related to our vehicle fleet. I am as surprised as anyone by the news of Mr. Forte's arrest yesterday, as the person I read about in the news reports was clearly not the person I thought him to be."
Forte offered no comment Thursday, but a source said he completed the analysis and submitted a 115-page report to BSO.
Angelo Castillo, Chinn's successor, hired Forte. He said Forte impressed him as a volunteer after Israel was elected, but said he wasn't impressed with his report and nixed an attempt for him to continue consulting for BSO.
Forte was arrested -- along with Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño, and fellow lobbyist Rich Candia -- as part of a public corruption investigation. He is charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official rights.
CORRECTION: Due to a misunderstanding with Chinn, the original version of this story stated that Israel directly asked Chinn to hire Forte. Chinn later clarified to Local 10 that wasn't the case. We regret the error.