Readers: After the 2000 election, it was about confused voters. But in a four-year stretch that started in earnest 10 years ago this week, Palm Beach County earned a new nickname: “Corruption County.”
Liberti. Masilotti. Exline. Newell. McCarty. Koons.
On Oct. 19, 2006, former West Palm Beach City Commissioner Ray Liberti was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The West Palm Beach city commissioner had stepped down in May 2006, accused of accepting $66,000 plus a $2,000 watch from a businessman who wanted to use code enforcement to force a massage parlor operator to sell low.
A week later, on Oct. 27, Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti would resign amid federal felony charges that he earned millions of dollars in secret land deals. The Palm Beach Post had reported on a series of tangled deals that showed Masilotti used his elected office to gain financial reward. His take from one Everglades-related public land buy was $1.3 million.
Masilotti later would be sentenced to five years in prison. Local lawyer William R. Boose III and Wellington businessman Dan Miteff also pleaded guilty to conspiring with Masilotti.
Weeks after Masilotti’s resignation, the next shoe would drop. On Jan. 19, 2007, Liberti’s colleague, West Palm Beach commissioner Jim Exline, would resign and make plans to plead guilty to a charge that he did not report $60,000 in income after he helped a developer subdivide a property in 2004, avoiding a payment of $18,000 in taxes. Six months later, he’d be sentenced to 10 months in prison for tax evasion.
The parade continued. Palm County Commissioner Warren Newell resigned July 17, 2007 while under federal investigation for personally profiting from matters on which he voted. One had the county help pay for a study on whether a rock quarry could be used as a public reservoir. Newell didn’t disclose that his engineering firm would collect a $2.4 million “success fee.” The quarry sale went through and the public paid $217 million. Newell was sentenced to five years in federal prison in January 2008.
The scandals weren’t over.
Next week: a quarry, a convention center, a mangrove preserve.