FORT LAUDERDALE — After weeks of denial, a captain in the Broward Sheriff’s Office has admitted a secretive off-duty work program operated out of BSO’s headquarters. In violation of policy, the program provided deputies to work as personal armed chauffeurs and more for NFL officials, players and celebrities during the weeks leading up to the 2010 Super Bowl played at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
In response to public records requests from South Florida Times for documents related to the program, BSO repeatedly denied such records existed and said the program was a National Football League operation in which BSO had no direct involvement. That turns out not to have been the case.
Sheriff Al Lamberti has not responded to questions e-mailed to him by South Florida Times or to interview requests made through the BSO media relations office.
Nonetheless, Capt. Robert Schnakenberg, who heads BSO’s Criminal Investigations Division, contradicted the department’s denials and admitted BSO’s involvement. The revelation came during a Jan. 20 interview with the Broward/Palm Beach New Times. According to their report, Schnakenberg also acknowledged the department has the documents related to the program.
Contacted by South Florida Times, Schnakenberg referred questions to the media relations office but his admission to Broward/Palm Beach New Times –which is not affiliated with South Florida Times– prompted BSO to reverse itself.
“This was largely a misunderstanding. The document was created by BSO for the NFL, so it was viewed by some to be NFL property,” Jim Leljedal, BSO director of media relations, said in a Jan. 21 e-mail to South Florida Times. “I have confirmed that Capt. Schnakenberg is correct in saying that we created the document and that would make it a public record.”
Despite that acknowledgment, BSO has not yet produced any of the public records requested by South Florida Times.
The program in question was called the NFL VIP Detail. It included senior department officials, including Lamberti, who provided game-day security for the American Football Conference champion Indianapolis Colts.
The official game day security matrix falsely listed Lamberti’s teenage son Nick as being part of the BSO security contingent. It even provided a BSO employee number that gave the indication the minor was a sheriff’s department employee.
“There are no public records relating to the people listed. Those people took time off and worked for the NFL for a few days,” Leljedal had said in Jan. 12 e-mail. “It is not clear who listed Nick Lamberti.”
However, Schnakenberg also told Broward/Palm Beach New Times the NFL agreed to give Lamberti’s son the credentials and that the FBI, one of dozens of law enforcement agencies involved in Super Bowl security operations, was aware that Nick Lamberti would have unrestricted access to the stadium.
Putting false information in official documents, particularly those related to security issues, could have serious consequences. BSO maintains it does not know specifically who compiled the document with the incorrect information. Following Schnakenberg admission, the South Florida Times again asked Leljedal about the source of the information but he declined further discussions on the matter.
Credentials are usually provided to law enforcement, NFL officials and corporate sponsors, giving them access to players, locker rooms and the sidelines.
The NFL did not respond to questions from South Florida Times and it remains unclear if the credentialing was authorized or a breach of NFL security. A spokesman at the FBI’s North Miami office said he was attempting to get clarification about the issue.
BSO’s off-duty detail operation is already the target of a Broward State Attorney’s Office investigation. An internal audit finalized last October found the program was mired in mismanagement, abuse and possible theft.
In alleged violation of several BSO department policies, the NFL VIP Detail was run outside of the Special Detail Office. Chief among the policies that were allegedly violated are prohibitions on deputies being paid directly by outside agencies or private companies and failing to submit the required forms that authorize outside employment. BSO policies also prohibit deputies from working as personal security guards or chauffeurs.
“Employees completing an Off-Duty Employment Request Form will send it to their immediate supervisor. Forms must be reviewed by the employee’s chain of command up to the Departmental Director level or as determined by the Sheriff or designee,” states a section of the BSO Policy Manual.
“It is incumbent upon the employee’s chain of command to review the appropriateness of the request, along with ensuring the employee is not engaged in an employment or business involving: Private security to include acting as a security officer, bodyguard, chauffeur, theft prevention, armored car personnel, transporting prisoners, etc.,” the manual further states.
Besides not saying who authorized the NFL VIP detail program, the BSO has not said if approval was obtained to operate it outside of established policy rules.
The South Florida Times requested copies of the off-duty employment forms but BSO says they were not required and did not exist.
“By form 45 I assume you mean the off-duty employment form. I thought I explained to you that the forms were not required in this instance,” Leljedal has said. “The purpose of the form is to keep our command staff informed of which deputies or employees are working side jobs and what sort of work they are doing.”
“If the command staff disapproves of the off-duty employment it can be denied,” he said. ”The command staff was well aware of the complex demands of the Super Bowl and they knew who was working off-duty for the NFL during those few days a year ago.”
Elgin Jones may be reached at EJones@SFLTimes.com.
Pictured: Capt. Robert Schnakenberg