Jury lets a gift-taking politico walk

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter
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Atkins-Grad, center, with Stacy Ritter and Diane Glasser

The jury made corruption legal in Broward County.

That's the big take away from the trial for former Tamarac Commissioner Patricia Atkins-Grad. The facts weren't in dispute. Atkins-Grad accepted gifts including an election victory party and lease payments for a brand new BMW from dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait around the time she voted in favor of their controversial housing development. 

While the facts speak for themselves, the defense argued that Atkins-Grad was manipulated by the Chaits, that she wasn't very intelligent, that she thought they were just good friends. Her attorney Ken Malnik was happy to paint his client as a terrible elected official, but he said there was a "quantum leap between being unqualified and being corrupt," as my colleague Roger Lohse wrote in his report on the verdict.

The jury apparently bought it and now Atkins-Grad -- who initially claimed she was mentally incompetent to stand trial at all -- now wants to return to her seat on the Tamarac Commission. Which is perfectly reasonable considering that if there were a requirement of mental competency to hold public office in Broward we probably couldn't get a quorum in most of the municipalities. 

I don't like to blame juries, but sometimes they get it wrong. Two aberrant juries that come immediately to mind are the ones for O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. They found doubt where no reasonable person would find any existed. That happened in this case.

There was a sense early on that the trial might go the way it did. Not because of the merits of the case but because of the character of the prosecution's lead witnesses, Bruce and Shawn Chait. The pair of bribe-paying developers are so dirty that the jurors probably felt compelled to get on the other side, aka the defense. 

The prosecution was stuck with the Chaits but their slime quotient could have been mitigated. State Attorney Michael Satz made a huge mistake by giving both father and son deals that excluded jail time, a travesty considering they admitted to paying off at least a half-dozen politicians.

So far the controversial deal with the Chaits has been a huge bust. The developers haven't cost any of the politicians they paid off a day in jail (while former Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion was sentenced to prison for accepting bribes from them, that sentence ran concurrent with a federal sentence on an unrelated conviction so it had no real consequence).

Can you imagine how the jurors felt when they heard these degenerate developers talk about paying off bribes and then learned they got off scot-free? How can you expect them to follow justice when the State Attorney's Office oversaw that little outrage?

I still expected justice -- maybe nobody taught those jurors that two wrongs don't make a right. After Atkins-Grad, the happiest person to hear the verdict had to former School Board Member Stephanie Kraft, who is next up for trial in the Chait case. Satz is promising to go ahead with the trial. This time Satz and his crew better find a way to better sell the Chaits (good luck). And maybe pay a little more attention at jury selection.

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