FDLE: School board member had voting conflicts

A statewide grand jury was tasked in 2010 to investigate corruption at the Broward County School Board, but it led agents to an unlikely subject: a school board members sex life.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found that former School Board Member Jennifer Gottlieb, who abruptly resigned last year, had extramarital affairs with two high-ranking Citigroup bankers who did business with the school board and helped finance millions in public bonds used to build Broward schools.

Both Citigroup bankers -- Rick Patterson of Tampa and Michael Baldwin of Orlando -- were senior managers in the public finance division who admitted to the extramarital affairs in sworn interviews. Baldwin broke down and cried during a sworn interview last year saying he and Gottlieb were in love like "high school kids" and had been romantically linked for three years.

Gottlieb met both Patterson and Baldwin during taxpayer-paid trips to conferences held by the Florida School Boards Association. Citigroup routinely wined and dined school board members at those conferences to curry their favor -- and their votes. She was introduced to Patterson, for instance, at an all-you-can-eat steak and lobster dinner held by Citigroup at The Palm restaurant in Tampa. 

"You shake your head and you go, 'What were they thinking?'" said Nova Southeastern University ethics professor Robert Jarvis. "In what universe could they have thought this was appropriate behavior?"

Reports indicate Gottlieb, who is married to a Broward County Judge Ken Gottlieb, knew it was wrong as she and her paramours actively concealed the relationships from the public by using personal email accounts and prepaid phones.

"Baldwin stated he and Gottlieb had a conversation about personal e-mails going through the SBBC server and the fact that those e-mails were public record," investigators wrote. "Gottlieb told Baldwin that if she sent e-mails from her personal e-mail they would not be considered public record and no one could find it. Baldwin and Gottlieb had a discussion the first night of their relationship which entailed the issue of Baldwin being a vendor to the SBBC. Baldwin stated he and Gottlieb were aware of the problems stemming from a public official having a personal relationship with a vendor and the perception that gives the public."

Patterson told investigators they dated for few months before breaking up in September 2007 in part because Gottlieb's campaign manager had told her the relationship would destroy her political career. The following month Gottlieb struck up a relationship with Patterson's colleague, Baldwin, who said carried on the affair with Gottlieb until he learned that he was being subpoenaed in the grand jury investigation last year (Gottlieb was never subpoeanaed). Baldwin said he learned of the investigation in an email while he and Gottlieb were staying together in a Hampton Inn in Tamarac.

Jarvis said he believes an official misconduct case could have been made based on Gottlieb's votes on the Citigroup bonds and the effort to hide it from the public. "At the moment you talk about intentional action to conceal and defraud the public really it's not an ethical matter anymore it's a criminal matter," he said.

In its final report, FDLE explained that it brought no criminal charges because there is no specific law forbidding voting on public matters involving intimate friends.

Jen Gottlieb resigned from the school board last summer, citing family reasons. Ken Gottlieb filed for divorce this past June. Here's the FDLE summary of the Gottlieb case, which the agency titled "Voting Conflicts":

When the investigation was initiated, media outlets reported and provided a series of e-mails from Board member Gottlieb and a vendor conducting business with the SBBC. Ms. Gottlieb at no time reported her relationship with this vendor to the board and continued to cast votes on matters concerning the vendor that came before the board. Interviews and sworn testimony were acquired from two additional vendor employees, who stated that at different times, they each had a personal and intimate relationship with Ms. Gottlieb. These two employees represented a financial institution that advertised and sold bonds to investors that generated the funds the SBBC utilized to construct new schools and facilities. Each employee testified as to being picked up at the airport by Ms. Gottlieb, attending dinners and lunches with Ms. Gottlieb as well as being romantically involved with the former board member. At no time did any seated board member question the perceived impropriety of these relationships nor does the board have a policy that prohibits a board member from voting on matters concerning a vendor they are personally and/or romantically involved with. The Board does not even have a policy requiring the board member to disclose the relationship regardless of how personal the relationship is. State statute does not address disclosure of a personal relationship with a vendor and a subsequent vote in favor of that vendor. Unless the relationship involves a spouse or immediate family member, having a personal relationship and then casting votes thathas a direct impact on the livelihood of the person with which one is having a relationship is not by itself a criminal offense. Shortly after the release of the Grand Jury report, Board member Gottlieb resigned from her Board position.