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Delray Beach developer’s deep political ties force state attorney to request moving case to another jurisdiction

A powerful Delray Beach developer once tasked with helping appoint local judges also has ties so close to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office that it is backing away from handling his prosecution for allegedly cheating a sandwich mogul out of more than $1 million.

Anthony Pugliese and his business manager, Joseph Reamer, are fighting charges of conspiracy to commit organized scheme to defraud, money laundering and grand theft.

Investigators say Pugliese, with Reamer’s help, created fake companies and phony invoices to steal $1.2 million from Subway founder Fred DeLuca. DeLuca at the time was working with Pugliese on Destiny, a failed $111 million, 41,000-acre “green” community planned just south of Yeehaw Junction in Osceola County.

Pugliese, 65, and Reamer, 54, turned themselves in to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies days before Dave Aronberg was elected state attorney. By then, not only had Pugliese donated money to Aronberg’s campaign but he also once retained as his lawyer Barry Krischer — the former state attorney, a chief Aronberg supporter and a volunteer adviser to the top prosecutor.

Shortly after his election, Aronberg said he would give Pugliese’s donation to charity but keep the case. Last month, however, one of his chief assistants asked Gov. Rick Scott to assign another office to the case. Last week, Scott’s legal office assigned the case to prosecutors from the 20th Judicial Circuit, a five-county jurisdiction that covers the Tampa area.

“It is my opinion that it would serve everyone’s interests to have another prosecutor assigned to this case,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes wrote in a January letter to Scott’s office.

Fernandes’ letter offered only a hint of the political power Pugliese held by the time investigators brought the charges against him. Pugliese was then one of only a handful on non-attorney members of the 15th Circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission, responsible for interviewing candidates for judgeships and recommending appointments to the governor.

He resigned from that position shortly after his arrest, but it is likely that Scott would have suspended him anyway.

Campaign finance records show he contributed to local and state political campaigns, including races for Aronberg and his predecessor, former State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

In 2008 – the same year he supported McAuliffe for state attorney – Pugliese also donated $500 to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s re-election campaign, and gave the same to Republicans Adam Hasner and Mike Horner for their state House campaigns. Pugliese supported former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and state Rep. Randy Johnson two years earlier. He also contributed to former Attorney General Bill McCollum’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, although Gov. Rick Scott beat McCollum in the Republican primary.

Nationally, Pugliese contributed to both of President George W. Bush’s campaigns and, more recently, donated $2,500 to Newt Gingrich’s failed quest to secure the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. On the national level, Pugliese has donated to the campaigns of Congressmen Allen West, Robert Wexler and Bill Posey, former Sen. Mel Martinez and others.

McAuliffe by last summer had left office for a job in the private sector, but investigators in his office were looking at whether to arrest Pugliese, who in 2010 depositions for a related lawsuit admitted creating the fictitious companies to siphon off DeLuca’s cash. He said he did it to create a cash reserve in case DeLuca pulled out of the project.

But investigators linked the rerouted cash to Pugliese’s own lavish expenses, including a mammoth home stereo system and an $11,000 moat chiller to cool the water surrounding his Gulf Stream mansion for the fish swimming in it.

DeLuca’s lawyers complained in the civil case that Pugliese wasn’t afraid to show them he had powerful friends when he thought he was in jeopardy of landing in criminal trouble. He came to interviews in the lawsuit last year surrounded by a cadre of legal heavyweights — including Krischer and former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. DeLuca’s lawyers demanded all of them enter formal notices of appearance as his lawyer if they were on his team.

When asked about his connection to Pugliese in October, Krischer declined to respond, referring all calls to Jack Goldberger, another member of Pugliese’s deep roster of lawyers.

Fernandes did not mention Krischer by name but offered as his first reason for withdrawal that Pugliese “once retained for counsel a volunteer for this office who consults on executive issues” — an exact description of Krischer’s involvement with Aronberg’s administration.

And, according to Fernandes’ letter, there was more to Pugliese’s support of Aronberg than the $500 donation. He also served on a host committee for an Aronberg campaign fundraiser. Fernandes did not specify the fundraiser, but records show that a March event for Aronberg was held at a building Pugliese leased to a local law office.

State attorney’s office spokesman Mike Edmondson declined Friday to comment on the case beyond the letter’s contents.

“We wouldn’t want to say anything that would create any problem” for the new prosecutors, Edmondson said.

McAuliffe was out of office by the time of Pugliese’s arrest. Gov. Scott appointed Peter Antonacci interim state attorney. Butterworth was Antonacci’s old boss.

Antonacci is now Gov. Scott’s general counsel. His office handles requests like the one Fernandes made. Reached by phone last week, Antonacci confirmed the governor had assigned the case to the Tampa circuit. He said such requests from prosecutors’ offices around the state are routine.

“Usually they cite a conflict of interest, but there are a hundred other reasons,” Antonacci said. “It’s not at all uncommon.”

Pugliese attorney Doug Duncan said Friday he respected Aronberg’s decision and was glad the case had been reassigned so that his team could begin receiving evidence prosecutors plan to use and preparing their defense.

“Mr. Pugliese has entered his plea of not guilty and is looking forward to having his day in court where ALL the facts and circumstances will be fully presented,” Duncan said in an email.

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