Former Boynton Beach Mayor Jose Rodriguez came to court Friday and took the blame in two separate criminal cases, pleading guilty to ethics violations and bank fraud.
But he later was less than repentant in slamming Palm Beach County’s third most populous city, the municipality he led for two years.
“These events are the result of the citizens of Boynton Beach electing a results-oriented, business mayor, and then that mayor running smack into $150,000+ salaried life bureaucrats who have spent their entire careers on the hamster wheel - wasting our tax dollars,” he wrote in a statement released by his lawyer.
Just hours earlier, a judge sentenced Rodriguez to five years’ probation — reduced to three if he behaves — as well as about $1,000 in fines and court costs, more than $100,000 in restitution, and 59 days in jail. Rodriguez’s attorney, Jason Weiss, said he will serve house arrest instead; the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office still must approve that.
Rodriguez, 50, was suspended from office Jan. 27, 2012, one day after his arrest on charges he pressured Police Chief Matt Immler and interim City Manager Lori LaVerriere to stop an investigation into allegations that he abused his then-11-year-old stepdaughter. Investigators declared the abuse allegations unfounded, but Rodriguez was charged with misusing his power as mayor.
Rodriguez also was arrested July 16 in a separate case in which prosecutors charged he defrauded a bank when he did a “short sale” of a Palm Beach condominium but actually sold it to a relative and, in effect, back to himself.
Rodriguez had proclaimed his innocence in both cases.
In the deal announced Friday, prosecutors dropped all the remaining corruption charges — a judge had tossed one in October — except for one misdemeanor count.
Assistant Palm Beach County State Attorney Daniel Funk hinted prosecutors were concerned about the corruption charges, saying he and his associates looked at the “proportionality” of the case “and decided “a misdemeanor was the more appropriate charge.”
But it was that one count, that Rodriguez violated the county ethics ordinance’s ban on “corrupt misuse of official position,” that was the first filed under the ordinance.
“The people voted in the toughest ethics code in the state of Florida,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson said. It was while Johnson was executive director of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics that the ordinance was enacted.
“This is a watershed day,” Johnson said. “This tough code of ethics has now been used.”
Funk said of Rodriguez, “What he did, basically, was mix his personal life with his public role. That’s what got him in trouble.”
Weiss, Rodriguez’s lawyer, said that after Rodriguez’s arrest in the short-sale case, the state insisted any deal in that case would require a plea in the corruption case. In the end, Weiss said, Rodriguez was forced to admit “to what he didn’t do, in order to protect him from what he did do.”
In that case, Rodriguez agreed to plead guilty to a second-degree felony charge of “willful false statement or report to a financial institution.” His sentence is concurrent with the corruption one and he must pay a fine. But adjudication is withheld, meaning he’s officially not a felon.
But he must begin repaying the defrauded bank — $500 a month for the first six months and $750 a month after that — and put up for sale the Palm Beach condominium involved in the short sale charge. Once it’s sold, he must repay the remainder of the $104,475 owed to the bank.
“He made a bad mistake,” Weiss said. “He’s taking responsibility.”
In the corruption case, Rodriguez long has insisted he was a victim of “political retaliation” by police after he was critical of the department in the fall of 2011 following a series of embarrassing incidents, including arrests of officers.
“One of the most difficult things I have ever had to do is to admit to something God knows I did not do, but our system breaks you down physically, financially and emotionally, leaving you little or no choices,” Rodriguez wrote. “This was clearly retaliation and misuse of power by the Boynton Beach Police Department. Why has FDLE or the FBI not looked into these actions? Unfortunately, this was clearly a situation of the fox guarding the hen house.”
Weiss said Rodriguez “is not satisfied. He feels strongly that he did not misuse his position. (But) he did what he needed to do to protect himself, his future, and his family.”
And, he said, “Any statement made to Ms. LaVerriere was misinterpreted.”
He said Rodriguez “didn’t need her assistance. The investigation was closed by two separate agencies.” The two were Boynton Beach Police and the Florida Department of Children and Families.
As part of Friday’s deal, during Rodriguez’s probation, he is barred from seeking public office, contacting LaVerriere or Immler, or attending city commission meetings.
Neither LaVerriere nor Immler responded to requests for comment.
During Friday’s hearing, Rodriguez stood next to his lawyer and answered, “yes, I do,” and “yes, your honor,” to questions from Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles E. Burton about pleading guilty.
After being fingerprinted, he stepped outside the courtroom and walked briskly down a hallway without speaking to reporters.
A Cuban immigrant with a 6-foot-3 frame and winning smile who sought the American Dream in both finance and real estate, Rodriguez had been a rising star in local politics.
He was elected to the Boynton Beach City Commission in 2006 and defeated six other candidates for the mayor’s seat four years later, winning 35.5 percent in a seven-candidate field. In his two years as mayor, he steered the city through financial straits, lobbied businesses to move to the city, helped push neighborhood revitalizations, fought to bring together the city’s disparate ethnic groups, encouraged kids to exercise and read books, and even wrangled volunteers to paint city hall.
Twice, Rodriguez lobbied for an appointment to the county commission, seeking the seats of Warren Newell and Mary McCarty, both of whom resigned amid scandal. But his stormy personal life has dogged him. Rodriguez’ Reguez Investments, which buys and sells properties, has been embroiled in several suits, both as plaintiff and defendant. Rodriguez has said those are the cost of doing business.
Current mayor Jerry Taylor, who stepped down because of term limits in 2010 and was replaced by Rodriguez, declined Friday to comment on Rodriguez’s fate.
“That’s all past stuff. I don’t want to relive the past,” Taylor said.
Statement from Jose Rodriguez:
I first want to apologize to those that I have disappointed during one of the most difficult seasons of my life. I made some bad personal financial decisions in the down turn of the economy that I take full responsibility for. I also want to thank the many people who believe in me and continue to stand by my side.
One of the most difficult things I have ever had to do is to admit to something God knows I did not do, but our system breaks you down physically, financially and emotionally, leaving you little or no choices. I had to admit to doing something I did not do in exchange for not suffering unacceptable consequences for what I did do.
These events are the result of the citizens of Boynton Beach electing a results oriented, business Mayor, and then that Mayor running smack into $150,000+ salaried life bureaucrats who have spent their entire careers on the hamster wheel - wasting our tax dollars. The fact remains that one week after I was critical of how we handled the arrest of several police officers and requested a comprehensive review of the police department, that same department coincidentally reopened a closed incident report from three months prior and turned it into an investigation of me…all with no new information.
Two investigations by the Boynton Beach Police Department, and one from an outside agency, all concluded that the questions raised were unfounded. Then, when I questioned why it took three months to make the decision to investigate, I was charged with multiple crimes related to asking the basic question of “WHY?” This was clearly retaliation and misuse of power by the Boynton Beach Police Department. Why has FDLE or the FBI not looked into these actions? Unfortunately, this was clearly a situation of the fox guarding the hen house.
BOYNTON BEACH: A TIMELINE OF TURMOIL
November 2003: José Rodriguez makes failed city commission bid. Three years later, he is elected without opposition.
March 2010: Rodriguez wins seven-person race for mayor.
March 2011: Former CRA Executive Director Lisa Bright sues the city, alleging Rodriguez forced her out for rejecting his advances.
June 30, 2011: Long-time city manager Kurt Bressner steps down. Assistant manager Lori LaVerriere named interim. During the next 18 months, three votes to make her manager outright end in stalemate. A national manager search also is conducted, then shelved.
Aug. 4, 2011: Rodriguez’ wife, Sarah Marquez, meets with Boynton Beach detectives about problems with her marriage. During the talk, she suggests Rodriguez might have abused Marquez’ then-11-year-old daughter. Police look into the issue and declared it unfounded.
Dec. 8, 2011: Rodriguez sues longtime critic David Floering for defamation, saying he spread lies suggesting Rodriguez was a crook. Rodriguez later drops suit.
Jan. 26, 2012: Rodriguez is arrested on charges he pressured Police Chief Matt Immler and City Manager Lori LaVerriere to stop the investigation. Gov. Rick Scott suspends Rodriguez the following day. Commissioner Woodrow Hay is named interim mayor.
July 13, 2012: Commissioner Bill Orlove resigns. During the next several months, three attempts to select an interim end in stalemate.
July 16, 2012: Rodriguez is charged in a separate bank fraud case.
Oct. 2, 2012: The Palm Beach Post reveals Ross admitted to Palm Beach County State Attorney’s investigators she feared lobbyist and former Commissioner David Katz was blackmailing her because he knew about pictures she had sent to her first cousin, with whom she’d had a romantic relationship.
Oct. 2, 2012: Judge Burton tosses one of four corruption counts, the one that alleged Rodriguez resisted, obstructed or opposed a law-enforcement officer. Rodriguez’ lawyers go to 4th District Court of Appeal. In February, it throws case back to Palm Beach County.
Oct. 10, 2012: Marquez files for divorce in Phoenix, Ariz.
Dec. 6: Ross resigns, the same day the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics hands down two ethics violation charges.
Dec. 18, 2012: The commission names former Mayor Jerry Taylor as interim to fill Orlove’s seat; and retired city press officer Wayne Segal to fill Ross’ seat. The newly-seated commission votes to make LaVerriere manager outright.
March 12, 2013: Four of five city commission seats change in election. Hay returns to commission seat.
March 29, 2013: Arizona judge finalizes Rodriguez-Marquez divorce.
April 26, 2013: Rodriguez pleads guilty to some of the charges in the two criminal cases.
SOURCE: Palm Beach Post archives
JOSE RODRIGUEZ’S PLEA DEAL
Political corruption charges filed in January 2012:
1. Offering interim City Manager Lori LaVerriere ‘protection’ in exchange for her help — a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Dropped in plea deal.
2. Soliciting LaVerriere to provide confidential criminal information about the investigation — a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Dropped in plea deal.
3. Trying to obstruct the efforts of Police Chief Matt Immler and Detective Ray de los Rios in their investigation — a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail. Thrown out by judge in October.
4. Violating a Palm Beach County ethics ordinance by trying to get special treatment because of his position — a first-degree misdemeanor. Rodriguez pleaded guilty Friday.
Bank fraud charges filed in July 2012:
Rodriguez was charged with defrauding a bank by “short selling” a Palm Beach condominium to a relative:
1. “Willful false statement or report to a financial institution for the purpose of unlawful influence.” Second- degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Rodriguez pleaded guilty Friday; adjudication was withheld.
2. “Fraudulent use of personal identification information.” Also a second-degree felony. Dropped in plea deal.
3. Money laundering, a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Dropped in plea deal.