Sheriff's family collects thousands of dollars and apparent ethical violation

Big campaign donors, BSO employees pay big money at graduation party

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - Elective office has its perks -- just ask Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and his triplets.

A group of campaign donors, Broward Sheriff's Office employees and various agency hangers-on threw the Israel family a graduation party, complete with the largest pile of king crab you've likely ever seen, that netted gifts valued at more than $15,000 for the kids to take home with them, according to Israel's recently filed campaign disclosure forms with the Florida Ethics Commission.

The largest benefactor for the party was Jamie McDonnell, the flashy and at times erratic multimillionaire businessman who calls himself the "King of Weston." McDonnell - who rang Israel's cellphone last year when his then-girlfriend complained to BSO that McDonnell had battered her -- ponied up $843 for "catering" and $300 as gifts for the Israel children after their high school graduation. Another $750 in gifts came from his brother, Joseph McDonnell, for a total of nearly $2,000 between them.

Not bad from guys who opposed Israel's election, strongly backing his opponent, then-Sheriff Al Lamberti. Davie developer and garbage company owner Ron Bergeron was another big political spender at the party and he ponied up over $600 in gifts. He, too, was a Lamberti supporter, as was Craig Goldstein, owner of Westway Towing, which has a contract with BSO. Florida ethics law restricts politicians like Israel from accepting a gift valued at more than $100 from a vendor that does business with their own agency.

The problem: Goldstein gave $300, according to Israel's gift disclosure forms.

When questioned about it, Israel's general counsel Ron Gunzburger, who also attended the party and gave $300, said the sheriff is going to act quickly to correct the seeming ethics violation.

"As upon inquiry it appears [Goldstein's] company is in fact a BSO vendor, the Sheriff will immediately file an amended state gift report and personally refund him the difference above the $100 gift limit for vendors set by state law," Gunzburger wrote in an email. "It was an honest oversight by the Sheriff and he is immediately correcting."

While ethics law allows politicians to accept a gift of $100 or less from vendors, it doesn't allow those same politicians to solicit any gifts from the same. When asked Goldstein how it came to be that he was at the party, Goldstein said, "I was invited, so I went. I go to a lot of functions."

He said he couldn't remember who it was who invited him, a key question in any potential ethics case. Goldstein refused to comment on why he gave the money, saying, "I go to a lot of fundraisers." When asked if he gave to influence the sheriff's actions, he simply said, "No."

In all, at least 10 of the gift-givers had supported his opponent, giving about $4,500. Also present and ponying up between $150 and $300 were several members of Israel's command staff, including Col. Jack Dale and Lt. Cols. Robert Drago, Michael DiMaggio and E. Keith Neely. Majors Paul Arndt, Nathan Osgood, John Hale and Oscar Llerena all gave, as did Deputy Lee Martin, the PBA secretary. Israel's executive officer, Russell DiPerna, a big campaign volunteer whom Israel hired after he won the election, gave $300, as did his executive assistant, Brenda Littieri, and longtime secretary, Mary Jo Mastrodonato.

Throwing the party at his million-dollar home in Southwest Ranches was Deputy Ira Goldberg, who campaigned for Israel and whom the sheriff leap-frog promoted after the election from detention deputy all the way to captain over "Special Projects," nearly doubling his salary to $118,000 a year. Use of Goldberg's home was listed as a gift worth $1,000 to the sheriff.

There was also some, in addition to Gunzburger, from the political crowd, including fundraiser Stephen Greenberger ($375), whom Israel hired as a "community outreach liaison," and Ann Zucker ($150), the former Weston Democratic Club president whom Israel also hired onto the payroll, and campaign supporter Lynn Reich, also now working at BSO as a "community outreach liaison."

Gunzburger, who also worked on Israel's 2008 campaign and was hired after the 2012 election at a salary of over $200,000, said the party for him was all about friendship and the triplets.

"I have been friend with the Sheriff and his family for seven years," he wrote. "I have seen the triplets grow up through their high school years and they are amazing kids."

The bail bonds industry was well-represented at the shindig, with Brandy Bail Bonds' Wayne Spath, another strong campaign supporter who gave $750, and Ricky Heath of AIA Bail Bonds ($300). Then there was the Broward Sheriff's Advisory Council contingent, including President Alan Stotsky, Kathy Windridge, Drew and Sandy Romanovitz and Nick and Beverly DiNunzio. Huge campaign supporter -- who again had supported Lamberti last time around -- Ken Meares gave $300, with campaign supporter Tom O'Connell, an attorney, giving $225.

In all, gifts earmarked for the children were valued at over $13,000 -- with catering and the house the total value of the party was over $15,000. The sheriff refused to comment on the matter, though BSO issued a statement saying, ""This was a graduation party by a parent for his children ... no gift would ever influence the sheriff."

Follow Bob Norman on Twitter @NormanOn10

Follow Local 10 News on Twitter @WPLGLocal10

Copyright 2015 by Local10.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.