Conflict of interest? Could woman's property purchase be taking advantage of taxpayers?

Kim Briesemeister purchases property in area marked for redevelopment

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. - (EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect actions that took place after the previous story was written)

Public tax money -- $12 million of it -- is flowing into the so-called "Old Town" section of Pompano Beach just east of Interstate 95. There are new street lights, landscaping and building improvements, all to attract new businesses, including coffee shops, a brewery and an art gallery.

The money is coming from the publicly-funded Community Redevelopment Agency, which is run for the city by Kim Briesemeister. Her private company, RMA, is contracted by the city for a fee of $1 million per year.

"One of the focuses of any redevelopment agency is to make sure that you create business opportunity," Briesemeister once said at a public meeting.

But Local 10 News has learned that Briesemeister may be taking advantage of one of those business opportunities, purchasing a two-building property in 2015, right in the middle of the district where she has been directing millions of the public's dollars. 

She and business partner Christopher Brown purchased it for $750,000 two years ago. Today it's assessed at nearly $1 million.

"The city didn't know anything about it," Pompano Beach Commissioner Beverly Perkins said. 
Perkins said she believes it is a clear conflict of interest. 

"We're paying RMA $1 million a year, and we're not paying them to buy personal property," she said. "That's a no-no."

Fellow Commissioner Michael Sobel echoes Perkins' concern.

"This, in my view, is outrageous," Sobel said. 

Vice Mayor Charlotte Burrie likened the property purchase to insider trading. 

In fact, Briesemeister's contract with the city demands that she notify the CRA in writing by certified mail of any potential conflict of interest -- something that was not done.

Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman caught up with Briesemeister last week. 

"Did you notify anybody of that?" Norman asked her. 

"It's not a conflict of interest, and yes I did," she said. 

"Who did you notify?" Norman asked.

"The city manager," she said.

So Norman went to the city manager.

"Do you think that the commission should have been notified?" Norman asked City Manager Greg Harrison.

"That's out of my league," he answered.

Briesemeister did write a letter to the city manager's office in March 2016, nearly four months after buying the property, but no letter was sent to the CRA. 

Mayor Lamar Fisher said Briesemeister mentioned the purchase to him at some point as well. 
"I don't know if it's a conflict of interest ... but if it's in a contract issue then I do have concern," Fisher told Norman.

Briesemeister claims the purchase was not for investment, but for an expansion of RMA's offices.

"We are allowed to have our offices, Mr. Norman," she said.

"You don't have offices there," Norman said. "It's an investment property, clearly." 

"No, it is not," she told Norman.

Briesemeister admits she has no intention of kicking out Holy Cross Family Medical Center, her first-floor tenant, and the second floor of the building is still boarded up after two years.

"Why didn't you publicly announce this possible conflict of interest?" Norman asked Briesemeister. 

"It's not a conflict of interest," she said. 

"Many people disagree with that," Norman said. 

Briesemeister points to a legal opinion she received from a local law firm that works with the CRA as proof that she did nothing wrong. But numerous officials don't agree, including Broward County Vice Mayor Mark Bogen, who pointed to city CRA promotional materials.  

"Right smack in the middle of that picture is the property that she owns promoting that area, promoting the expenditure of millions of dollars of taxpayer money," Bogen said.

Bogen said he intends to contact the Inspector General to demand an investigation.

"This is supposed to be about the people, and it shouldn't be about personal gain," Perkins said.

On Tuesday, the Pompano CRA held an emergency meeting to vote on whether to terminate the RMA contract with the city based on the possible conflict of interest. The commission voted 4-2 to retain Briesemeister's firm.

However, Broward County vice mayor Bogen says he has now filed a complaint with the inspector general to investigate.

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