PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Broward Sheriff Scott Israel doesn't have an opponent for 2016 yet, but his campaign has put out its first attack ad anyway.
The target: me, Bob Norman, reporter, apparently in retaliation for my coverage of the sheriff and his relationship with a self-admitted dirty political operative named Roger Stone.
The ad, a 30-second TV spot, made its debut on YouTube last Tuesday, claiming that I'm "reckless" and "sloppy," among other things. I'll break down the ad's specific allegations -- largely false -- below. It was paid for by a recently formed 527 political committee called "Citizens for Effective Law Enforcement."
In April, I reported on that political committee's initial fundraiser at developer Ron Bergeron's ranch in west Broward. At the fundraiser as the guest of honor was Sheriff Israel, with his wife Susan, along with several big money donors and members of the sheriff's 2012 campaign team, including Ron Gunzburger and Lisa Castillo, who are all now employed at BSO.
Bergeron readily admitted it was a fundraiser for Israel's reelection, while Gunzburger, current BSO general counsel, denied it.
Shortly after the attack ad against me was posted on YouTube, it was taken right back down. Then the very same ad appeared on YouTube again, only this time the disclaimer changed from Citizens for Effective Law Enforcement to the sheriff's campaign website, the Broward Bugle.
Oops. Not only was the campaign caught trying to alter the funding source for the ad, but it also revealed that the campaign and the Bugle are working hand in glove. Understand that the Bugle now bills itself as an independent news site and routinely claims "scoops" from information fed to it by BSO insiders. It's an unholy hybrid, a partisan political site masquerading as independent journalism and all of it connected to the highest political office in the county. It has no care for accuracy, slinging mud in a manner that would make Karl Rove or Lee Atwater proud. And it's all very understandable when you see who is running it.
Currently listed as the Bugle's "publisher" is 30-year-old political operative named Andrew Miller, who recently ran a ridiculous campaign by convicted prostitution madam Kristin Davis for New York comptroller. Davis' bid for office was cut short in August when she was arrested by the feds for allegedly selling hundreds of pills -- including Adderall, Xanax and Ecstasy -- to an FBI informant.
Miller is a long-time cohort of the aforementioned notorious GOP operative Roger Stone, a key campaign operative for Israel. Stone is a former business partner of now-imprisoned Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein with a long and sordid past in politics beginning with Richard Nixon's Committee to Reelect the President.
Serving as the nexus between the sheriff and Stone is campaign strategist Ron Gunzburger, whom Israel hired as BSO's general counsel at salary of $205,000 after his election. Sheriff Israel also hired three of Stone's cohorts on the public dime after gaining office, including Miller's stepmother and long-time Stone assistant Dianne Thorne (now assistant to Israel's chief of staff), along with Miller's fiancée, Jen Hobbs, and Stone writing partner Mike Colapietro, both of them in the community affairs department, which is loaded with other Israel political hires.
Israel and Stone are an unlikely pair. While Israel, who changed parties to Democrat before running for office, tries to convey a squeaky clean and above-board image, Stone falls in sharp contrast, reveling in his reputation as a dirty trickster. The New York Daily News wrote that he "boasts of being the sleaziest man in American politics."
Stone was fired by presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996 after a swingers' sex scandal and was forced to resign from his post with the New York state Republicans in 2007 after leaving a profane voice mail with then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 83-year-old father. You can listen to that here to get a taste of Stone's bile.
Stone's ties to the fraudster Rothstein also run counter to Israel's public image, as Israel routinely attacked former Sheriff Al Lamberti for his own ties to Rothstein. And while Israel touts his support of President Obama and the Democratic Party, Stone rails against Obama and once claimed falsely on Fox News that Michelle Obama referred to white people as "whitey" on tape. He's recently written a book about Benghazi attempting to savage Hilary Clinton, whom he calls a "bitch."
In 2008, Stone started an anti-Hillary Clinton committee called "Citizens United Not Timid" for the acronym alone. He routinely calls Bill Clinton a "serial rapist" and on his Twitter account are a number of crude attacks, most recently pointed at, of all people, actress Sofia Vergara, whom he called a "self-centered bitch. After former New York Times editor Jill Abramson was fired, he tweeted simply: "DIE BITCH!"
Sheriff Israel knows the dark side of Stone well. In 2008, Stone backed Lamberti and launched a series of attack ads on against Israel. Israel's campaign produced an ad aimed at Lamberti's tie to Stone, whom Israel labeled a "Bush hatchetman" and "dirty trickster-in-chief," and alleged that Lamberti had "sold his soul" to work with such a person.
Stone compared Israel to Richard Nixon and referred to Israel as "an unqualified punk, a racist and a thief," according to the Sun-Sentinel. After that election Stone turned against Lamberti and Israel welcomed the "hatchetman" into his own 2012 campaign with open arms.
In Broward, Stone's venom is spewed at anyone who dares question the sheriff, including several journalists, mostly through the bogus Bugle, and most recently with the ad above. Here's a breakdown of the ad's allegations against me, followed by the facts.
ALLEGATION: First he accused a long-time Democratic activist of bouncing checks costing her her job. That turned out to be false.
FACT: That "Democratic activist" was Scott Israel's campaign manager, Amy Rose. And I didn't accuse of her bouncing checks. The Tallahassee Police Department did and charged her for it back when she was a student at Florida State University. After Rose, the political campaigner, helped Israel win the election, the new sheriff was all set to put her on the public payroll, but then the background investigation learned not only about the bounced check problem but also the fact that she had failed to pay traffic fines in Broward. It was Israel who chose not to hire her based on that information, not me. There was absolutely nothing false in my report, which you can watch here.
ALLEGATION: Then he accused Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief of corruption, but that story was wrong too and quickly retracted.
FACT: The story in question didn't accuse Sharief of corruption. It accurately reported on a state audit that found that Sharief's health care company, South Florida Pediatric Homecare, overcharged Medicaid by hundreds of thousands of dollars. There were no factual errors in the piece, but while describing the general problem of Medicaid fraud late in the package, file FBI video was used to illustrate it. Sharief, through her lawyer, claimed this made it seem as if the FBI was involved in her case. The station clarified that point.
ALLEGATION: Then Norman accused the sheriff's wife of attending a party thrown by a convicted drug dealer, but Norman was wrong and that story was corrected too.
FACT: This involves statements made by nightclub owner Sam Frontera, a convicted cocaine kingpin, who told me on camera that he had arranged a political party at the home of his attorney Darren Covar in Pompano Beach so he could meet with Sheriff Israel about his club. Frontera gave me a photo of himself and the sheriff's wife, Susan, taken at the political party and said it was a victory party for Israel. That turned out to be wrong -- the party Frontera arranged at Covar's house was actually billed as a Democratic club party. We rightly corrected that error.
UPDATE: Pembroke Pines Commissioner Angelo Castillo tells us he did not attend Sheriff Israel's fundraiser; we have removed his name out of the post.