A vice president of a Wellington construction firm, one of a dozen rounded up in a public corruption scandal dubbed “Operation Dirty Water,” is no longer a convicted felon.
In a four-page ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeal on Wednesday threw out the conviction of Chaz Equipment executive Robert Wight, ruling that the 2011 jury verdict didn’t pass legal muster.
While convicting Wight, 59, of one charge for showering gifts on Delray Beach city employees as part of what prosecutors said was an organized effort to curry favor and lucrative government contracts, the jury acquitted the West Palm Beach man of a more serious charge of racketeering.
Since the gift-giving was part of the same conspiracy, the split verdict is legally inconsistent and therefore can’t stand, the appellate court ruled.
“Wight’s acquittal of a conspiracy existing between 2004 and 2010 necessarily negates an element of a second charge accusing Wight of being involved in the same conspiracy between 2008 and 2010,” it wrote. “Both conspiracy charges allege, at their core, the same offense: unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior.”
The jury convicted Wight of that charge but cleared him of a charge of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. He was placed on probation for two years.
Even though he wasn’t ordered to prison, friends said the conviction was a blow to a man they described as a devout Christian, who lived his life as a Boy Scout.
Neither he nor his attorneys were immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Chief Assistant Palm Beach County State Attorney Alan Johnson said he was disappointed by the decision. He blamed it on a mistake made under former State Attorney Michael McAuliffe. Different charges should have been filed, he said.
“It was not based on the facts. It was based on the law,” he said.
Wight was among 13 people charged in 2011 in connection with the investigation into influence peddling by local contractors, working on municipal water and sewer projects. Another Chaz employee, Bradley Miller, pleaded guilty this week to four unlawful compensation charges. Three other government employees also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Four others — a Chaz employee and three municipal employees — have pleaded guilty and were placed on probation.
Four cases, including one against Chaz president Gary Czajkowski, are still awaiting trial. Czajkowski was acquitted in November in another case involving the town of Palm Beach. Jurors said they couldn’t decide whether his $25,000 loan to town construction manager Steven White was influence-peddling or merely a favor for a friend. White pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 42 months in prison after admitting he took kickbacks in exchange for helping secure construction projects for Chaz Equipment and Dee Griffin Earthworks, of West Palm Beach.