Apparently, accepting responsibility was not a condition of the plea deal to which former Boynton Beach Mayor Jose Rodriguez agreed.
Gov. Rick Scott suspended Rodriguez in January 2012 after his arrest on three public corruption charges — a felony and two misdemeanors. Rodriguez was accused of misusing his office, through conversations with then-Interim City Manager Lori LaVerriere and Police Chief Matt Immler, to get the police department to back off an investigation into whether Rodriguez abused his stepdaughter.
Rodriguez maintained his innocence, and vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the Palm Beach County ethics ordinance, which led to one of the charges. Later, though, he was charged separately with financial fraud. Rodriguez asked for a deal to cover both cases, and 11 days ago he pleaded guilty to two charges related to the fraud. More important, he pleaded guilty to one charge of “corrupt misuse of official position.”
While that charge is only a misdemeanor, prosecutors correctly insisted that Rodriguez not skate on the case that embarrassed Palm Beach County’s third-largest city. The plea validates Ms. LaVerriere, which matters now that she is the permanent manager. She had claimed that Rodriguez offered help in getting her that job if she intervened with the police department.
The plea also leaves intact the ordinance, which is part of the reform effort that began in 2009. From a grand jury report on corruption came the commission on ethics and the Office of Inspector General. The commission can investigate criminal charges against public officials, though it hasn’t. The inspector general can refer criminal issues to the state attorney’s office.
Resistance to that reform effort has been stubborn in some pockets. Fourteen cities, led by West Palm Beach, continue their lawsuit against paying for the inspector general’s office. Add to that resistance Rodriguez’s denial. He pleaded guilty to the corruption charge, he said, only because he “had to admit to something I did not do in exchange for not suffering unacceptable consequences for what I did do” — the bank fraud.
Indeed, Rodriguez cast himself as a victim, “the citizens of Boynton Beach electing a results-oriented, business mayor, and then that mayor running smack into $150,000+ salaried bureaucrats who have spent their entire careers on the hamster wheel — wasting our tax dollars.” He challenged the police department, Rodriguez said, and the department retaliated.
It does remain unclear why the department closed, then reopened its investigation of Rodriguez. The allegation was personal and embarrassing. Still, there is no excuse for the actions that led to the corruption charges, actions that typify Rodriguez’s history of impulsive, damaging behavior. He should have thought twice before popping off after the plea deal, which speaks much louder than his self-serving rant.
for The Post Editorial