Openings arguments made in commissioner's trial

Patricia Atkins-Grad charged with bribery, conspiracy, official misconduct, unlawful compensation

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The trial began Tuesday for former Tamarac City Commissioner Patricia Atkins-Grad, who is accused of selling her vote to two developers who wanted to build a housing development within a golf community.

Atkins-Grad, 66, was arrested two years ago. She is charged with six felony counts, including bribery, conspiracy, official misconduct, and unlawful compensation. Atkins-Grad faces 15 years in prison if convicted..

"Money was a huge, worrying concern for her," said prosecutor Deborah Simet.

The state's star witnesses, Bruce and Shawn Chait, have been linked to several high-profile public corruption cases in Broward County. Prosecutors said the duo helped get Atkins-Grad elected by reimbursing their friends and employees who donated to her campaign and even threw her a $4,000 victory party when she won.

A year later, after she voted to support their development deal, they paid Atkins-Grad $2,300 toward the lease of a new BMW, according to prosecutors.

Atkins-Grad turned down a plea deal last week that would have sentenced her to prison for two years.

"She could have said 'Hey, I have a friendship, relationship with the Chaits. I should not vote. I should not vote. I should refrain from voting,'" said Simet. "But she didn't. She voted."

Defense attorney David Malnick argued that Atkins-Grad simply befriended the Chaits, who were later caught bribing former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion. He added that Atkins-Grad didn't know the father and son paid for the victory party or the car, and that she only voted for the development project because as a realtor she was pro-growth.

"This is a case about manipulation," said Malnick.

Malnick added that the project would have passed even if she had abstained.

"So, on the first day of her job, she votes to follow the recommendation of the staff and joins a unanimous commission. That's the vote," said Malnick.

Atkins-Grad turned down a plea deal from the state in which she would have spent two years in prison. If she is convicted of all six counts, she could go to prison for 15 years.

Bruce and Shawn Chait are expected to testify. Both avoided jail time by becoming state witnesses.

Testimony resumes Wednesday.

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