Stacy Ritter paid campaign $$$ to criminal attorney

By Local 10's Bob Norman

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - After getting in trouble in her last election, Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter has paid $2,000 in campaign funds to her criminal attorney and another $2,000 to the attorney who handled her Florida Elections Commission violation case.

The payments were made to Miami lawyer Ben Keuhne, who is representing her in a wide-ranging criminal investigation being conducted by the State Attorney's Office, and the law firm of Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron, who represented Ritter in a recent Florida Elections Commission case.

Lawyer Brenda Chalifour, who filed the previous elections complaint, said authorities should determine if those payments were legitimate to the campaign or a way to pay her outside attorneys. She noted that Ritter is a lawyer herself.

"The law is clear and a member of the Bar can read that statute and decipher what it says," Chalifour said. "It's not that tough and if you have questions you can ask the elections commissions."

Veteran Broward elections official Mary Cooney told me she couldn't remember any other candidate paying lawyers for legal services from campaign accounts.

Ritter said she hired the attorneys as a result of the previous elections case, which initially involved 28 violations and was settled last year. "After what I went through last time, it would have been foolish of me to not hire election lawyers to make sure there were no mistakes," she wrote in an email to Local 10.

Kuehne, who represents former Broward Teachers Union president Pat Santeramo in his corruption case, is known best as a criminal attorney, but he said he routinely gives campaign law advice.

"I have many clients who engage my election law services for campaigns," he said. "The legal specialty I provide is of great assistance to my clients." 

When I asked him to name other politicians that paid him from their campaigns, he refused to do so.

The State Attorney's Office corruption investigation into Ritter has been ongoing for months.

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