FLASHBACK: Former Broward Housing Official Lawyers Up In BTU Probe

Santeramo Overpaid Construction Company

Esposito, left, with Tom Pennavaria (Photo Credit: Blacktie South Florida)
Esposito, left, with Tom Pennavaria (Photo Credit: Blacktie South Florida)

NORMAN NOTE: Last month acting Broward Teachers Union President John Tarka told union leadership to prepare in two weeks for the arrest of his predecessor, Pat Santeramo. Well it's now been more than two weeks. Here's two posts I wrote this past November about the case that for some reason don't come up on Google anymore: 

Embattled Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo often ran the 11,000-strong BTU in secretive fashion -- and some of the exorbitant amounts he paid to contractors remain shrouded in suspicion. 

Santeramo directed about $190,000 in union money to a Coral Springs company called Marstan Construction during the past two years, according to an audit conducted by the American Federation of Teachers. The work included a renovation. The audit found the company was grossly overpaid. 

"ATF's research suggests that the amounts are approximately double the reasonable and customary charge for this type of work," the auditor wrote. 

The company is listed to the home of David S. Esposito, the former chairman of the Broward County Finance Authority. Esposito, an appointee of former Broward County Commissioner Ben Graber, left the authority in 2010. When I contacted Esposito he was in no mood to talk about his firm's work for the BTU. 

"I refer all questions to my attorney, Mike Moskowitz," Esposito said before hanging up the phone. 

Moskowitz, a lobbyist and Democratic Party official, is also representing Santeramo, who is under criminal investigation. Moskowitz is also the attorney for Ashbritt, a company accused in an audit of ripping off the school board of about $750,000 after Hurricane Wilma. 

BTU executive board member Leslie Janin-Starr said the union payments to Marstan had been a sore point for months.  

"I kept asking how much are we paying them, what's going on?" said Janin-Starr, who helped uncover the union's problems, leading to a criminal investigation. "It kept getting shifted around in different budget items, so it was very hard to see what they were doing. I asked Pat, 'Where are all the bids? And secondly is he union?' There were no bids and he wasn't a union contractor." 

Why Santeramo paid Esposito's company so much money is still a mystery -- and on top of that are questions about lawn care and cleaning expenses. BTU paid $525 a month for lawn service and $1,044 a month to a company that cleaned the building. Again, there's no evidence of bids and the cost for both services seems inordinately high. 

... And the follow-up post that was published the next day: 

The more we find out about David Esposito, the contractor who was allegedly paid double the work he did for the Broward Teacher Union, the more suspicious it gets.

This was a deal made in the political world from the get-go.

Esposito, as reported here yesterday, was paid $190,000 over the course of two years for renovation work on the BTU building. An audit by the American Federation of Teachers found the amount was twice the amount the union should have paid him.

... Santeramo and Esposito have apparently known each other for decades. Back in 1992, Esposito ran for the Broward County School Board, according to published reports (hat tip to Red Broward). At the time Santeramo was already serving as executive vice president of the BTU, which plays a deep role in school board elections.

Esposito in fact comes loaded with political connections. At the time he started doing the work, he was a member of the Broward Housing Finance Authority (after being appointed to the position by former Broward County Commissioner Ben Graber in 2002). He stopped serving on the Authority in 2010.

Esposito is also a long-time official in the Broward Democratic Executive Committee. Records show he's currently a committeeman at the DEC, which continues to be headed by lobbyist Mitch Ceasar. He's also a former president of the Coral Springs Democratic Club.

And it gets even more interesting: Esposito and his Marstan firm gave a total of $1,000 to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink's campaign on May 22, 2009. Also giving $500 was a Maureen Esposito, believed to be his daughter of the same name.

On that very same day, BTU board member (and Davie Vice Mayor) Caryl Hattan, BTU office manager Arlene Marotta, BTU spokesman John Ristow, and other union officials also contributed $500 to Sink's campaign.

Those Sink contributions were reimbursed by Santeramo with union funds in a matter that is now under criminal investigation by the state. Were Esposito's contributions also reimbursed with union money? That's not known but it would seem to be a good question for the State Attorney's Office.

... One more piece of trivia about Esposito: In 1990, he ran against (and lost to) politically connected engineer Tom McDonald for a seat on the Port Everglades Commission. From a Sun-Sentinel article at the time: "David Esposito, 41, a contractor from Coral Springs, based much of his campaign on attacking McDonald`s political alliances and business ties to the port. McDonald`s firm does work for the port as well as other county government agencies."

Looks like Esposito picked up some pointers from McDonald as well.