PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – When Jim Chinn was told about a proposed Broward Sheriff's Office consulting contract for lobbyist Jorge Forte, he says he was skeptical.
Chinn, then BSO's director of strategic planning, said Angelo Castillo, then the BSO finance director, told him that Sheriff Scott Israel wanted Forte hired as a consultant for fleet services.
Chinn said he knew Forte as a political guy, whom he'd seen at Israel campaign and transition team meetings. What did the guy know about police cars?
While Chinn says he was never given any answers to that question, Castillo did have a specific number in mind for how much Forte would be paid by BSO: $25,000.
"It sounded like too much money," said Chinn, who resigned from BSO in July. "There were no details about what he was going to do for us. My responsibility is with the public."
So Chinn interviewed Forte, whose friendship with the sheriff began when both men served as officials for the little town of North Bay Village in 2006.
"I asked [Forte], 'Have you ever managed a large fleet,' and he said no," said Chinn. "That was the end of my questions, I didn't need to know anything else. I couldn't see any justification for hiring him."
Chinn said he told Castillo he didn't approve of the hiring, but later learned that Forte and his Miami Lakes-based REALM Consulting firm had been hired on a month-long contract worth $15,000.
Chinn said he's still not sure what Forte did to earn that money, though he did see that he attended a fleet meeting at BSO. He didn't think of him again until this week, when Forte was arrested by the FBI in a corruption case that also nabbed Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Marono, and fellow lobbyist Rich Candia, of the Becker & Poliakoff firm.
Forte is charged with extortion after allegedly participating in a scheme to steal federal grant money with the help of the mayors.
Israel put out a statement on Facebook on his relationship with Forte yesterday 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. Forte 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."
I have a public records request in for Forte's work product to see exactly what he did to earn that $15,000 and will update when BSO provides the information.
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.