FORT LAUDERDALE – Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein has filed a complaint with federal authorities accusing the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) and the Broward State Attorney’s Office of engaging in “a scenario that smacks of obstruction of justice and corruption.”
His complaint, filed June 13, centers on what he describes as “the failure” of the State Attorney’s Office “to formally investigate allegations that several sheriff deputies obtained controlled substances by fraud.”
“I assure you I do not send this letter lightly. It is only because Broward County is steeped in a culture of corruption that I reach beyond its borders for assistance,” Finkelstein wrote.
He filed the five-page complaint, along with 115 pages of exhibits, with the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The complaint’s core allegation centers on at least 26 BSO deputies who, according to an internal BSO investigation summary, allegedly obtained steroids through fraudulent means. Finkelstein’s office compiled dozens of close out memos from the state attorney’s office indicating prosecutors decided not to charge the deputies and other law enforcement officers following criminal investigations.
In the steroids case, it was pointed out that an investigation by BSO Sgt. Lisa McElhaney concluded the deputies likely engaged in criminal activities, but prosecutors opted to allow BSO to handle the matter “administratively,” as opposed to charging the deputies. Even though the investigation found some of the prescriptions used to obtain steroids were counterfeit, the deputies were never disciplined.
“Our review of the close out memos revealed a double standard of justice in Broward County – one for law enforcement and the connected, and one for everyone else,” Finkelstein said in his complaint. “It is apparent that this same dual standard of justice was at play when the state failed to open a “formal” review of the allegations contained in Sergeant McElhaney’s report.”
Finkelstein also says his office was never informed, as required, that those deputies were the targets of criminal investigations.
A 1963 U.S. States Supreme Court ruling known as the Brady Rule requires prosecutors to disclose and turn over to defense attorneys information that may be favorable to an accused person. This includes the arresting officers’ past disciplinary history and if they are the targets of any criminal investigations.
The BSO report indicated at least 26 deputies of varying ranks were targets of the steroids investigation. Finkelstein said his office was never informed they were under investigation even though they were witnesses in hundreds of criminal cases.
The complaint also states that the failure to issue Brady notices or prosecute law enforcement officers suspected of committing crimes amounted to a violates of the civil rights of defendants in criminal cases.
Neither Sheriff Al Lamberti nor Broward State Attorney Michael Satz responded to questions from the South Florida Times. However, a state attorney’s office spokesman rejected the allegations.
"We have not seen the letter. Based strictly on your characterization of it in your email, this appears to be just another one of Mr. Finkelstein’s spurious and unfounded allegations about this office as part of his effort to defend his criminal defendants,” spokesman Ron Ishoy said. “We can say that there was absolutely no impropriety at any time in the way the State Attorney’s Office handled any allegations concerning whether or not Broward Sheriff’s deputies or civilians fraudulently obtained steroids."
The Justice Department declined to comment on the matter.
“While I can’t comment on any specific allegation or letter, I can say in general that the Public Integrity Section receives numerous complaints and referrals alleging wrongdoing by public officials, and that all such matters are reviewed by career prosecutors and/or law enforcement agents,” Laura Sweeney, a public Affairs specialist with the department, said in an e-mail to South Florida Times.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights does not have enforcement authority but the agency does hold hearings and works with other governmental entities to resolve any issues -but only if such issues involve race, religion, fraud or other protected class, where it has jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, Finkelstein’s office is taking aim at more than 188 closed cases and 55 current cases in which, the office says, the 26 deputies in question have been identified as witnesses.
“We have sent out notices to defendants in cases that have already been resolved asking them if they want us to file motions seeking to have their cases re-opened,” Finkelstein said. “Then we have about 55 current cases that we are filing motions to dismiss, based on Brady violations and prosecutorial misconduct.”
***Pictured Above is Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. Below is Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti and then Broward State Attorney Michael Satz.