HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - After hearing the audio recording of his own voice he didn't even know existed, Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Bill Julian seemed shell-shocked.
"That's all new to me," he said. "This has never happened before."
Julian had accidentally left a recording of a private conversation on a voice message after apparently failing to hang up the phone. On the recording, obtained exclusively by Local 10 News, Julian appears to admit to agreeing to accept favors in exchange for his vote to approve a massive and at times controversial $450 million condo and hotel development at his city's Diplomat Golf & Tennis Club.
In the conversation with an unidentified person Julian talks of the developers buying "a frigging van" for the Hallandale Food Pantry, his favorite city charity, adding that it was something he "couldn't tell anybody." He also said that the developer's attorney, Debbie Orshefsky, offered him 300 campaign workers for his reelection.
"Orshefsky tells me before this, 'Don't worry, we'll have 300 people out in the street for you when you run for office,'" the vice mayor says on the audiotape. "So I want to see that."
The unidentified person then said, "You're going to have to have it," prompting a laugh from Julian.
When asked about those apparent favors and played the audio recording that he had no idea existed, Julian immediately admitted that he had agreed to accept those gifts during negotiations in a meeting with one of the project developers, Michael Meyers, and Orshefsky, a partner in the Holland & Knight law firm and one of the most prolific development attorneys in South Florida. He said he personally asked for the van and Orshefsky made the offer regarding the campaign workers.
"She said it to you?" Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman asked.
"Yeah, (it) made me feel good," he said. "I've got volunteers coming. I don't know. ... My opinion was, 'Oh, yeah, well I'm going to need them. Thanks. I'm going to need them, but it's not going to happen."
When asked if he should be accepting gifts from developers, he asked, "What do you think other commissioners are doing? They're all asking for their wish list."
"Are these developers and these lobbyists giving all of the politicians these kinds of gifts underneath the table?" Norman asked.
"This is the first time I've ever had somebody say, 'Look, we're going to help you with people,'" he said. "...And I'm thinking, 'Well, great.'"
"Isn't that illegal for you to say that?" Norman asked. "For you to accept that?"
"I don't know if it's illegal," Julian said. "I don't know."
A call to developer Meyer went unreturned. Louis Birdman, another developer on the project, said during a brief phone call that he was not present at the meeting and had no knowledge of what was being alleged. The development company, Diplomat Golf Course Venture LLC, issued the following written statement:
"Everything we did to secure our approvals with the city of Hallandale Beach was 100 percent above board and by the book. We work closely with neighboring communities and other stakeholders for their input and to help shape our development plans, which were ultimately approved by a supermajority of the city commission. Our team was completely transparent throughout the entire process. For anyone to suggest otherwise is completely wrong."
Julian characterized the talks regarding the favors as perhaps idle offers.
"She could have said, 'I'm going to buy you a new Cadillac, Bill,'" he said. "Oh good, I could use a new car."
"So you'd take a car as well?" Norman asked.
"No, no," he said.
"You'd tell them you would accept that car?" Norman asked.
"No way," he said. "You can't do that. It's against the law."
"Exactly, that's the same thing as accepting campaign workers," Norman said.
He admitted that such a promise came with a large price tag, as campaign workers generally charge about $10 an hour. Hundreds of them could cost tens of thousands of dollars, he acknowledged, saying that was further evidence that it was never going to happen.
"Who's going to do that? Who's going to spend that kind of money?" he said. "It ain't gonna happen, Bob. Ask her."
Outside a recent Hallandale Beach Commission meeting, Orshefsky was visibly taken aback when asked about the allegation.
"I would never say something like that," she said.
Orshefsky said she would remember if she did.
"I've been doing this for 37 years," she said. "...I don't get involved in that side of campaigns. Whatever campaigning I get involved in is done through political contributions, which are entirely legal."
Julian said he was also offered campaign contributions at the meeting with Orshefsky and Meyers prior to the vote and indeed accepted at least $3,000 from companies tied to the development.
"Was that part of a quid pro quo?" Norman asked.
"No, not really," Julian answered. "'We're going to help you.' OK, so I know what that means. They are going to help me as everybody else does."
Julian admitted the public should have been told about the van, saying he wanted to keep it a secret from the public because he didn't want to look "like a pig" for trying to get the van for a charity to which he is so closely tied. He said he delivers food for the pantry one day a week, though he said he "probably" wouldn't have driven the van had it been delivered.
When asked if he could have told the public about the campaign workers, he said, "Hell no."
Julian said he was "super glad that neither those 300 campaign workers nor the van had yet been delivered because if he had it would have meant "big trouble" for him. He said he would no longer request delivery of the van, which he said he had "begged" for to no avail.
Hallandale Beach Commissioner Keith London said he wanted the case forwarded to the state attorney's office, saying it appeared to be a "quid pro quo."
"You're going to make me look a bad guy, like I violated ethics," Julian said during the interview.
"Yes, obviously," Norman said. "You're on tape talking about taking these gifts."
"People are going to think that I'm taking bribes," he said. "They are going to say, 'Wow, Bill, after all these years, he turned out to be another criminal.'"
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