DEERFIELD BEACH — A community activist has filed a complaint with the Broward State Attorney’s office, alleging public corruption by a former city commissioner.
The complaint stems from a 2009 vote that former Deerfield Beach City Commissioner Gloria Battle cast in favor of a $12,206 city grant that she herself prepared for a non-profit organization. At the time, Battle also served on the organization’s board, and allegedly received compensation from the same board.
“I hereby file a complaint with your office alleging former Commissioner Gloria Battle of Deerfield Beach, Florida has willfully and corruptly violated Florida Statute 838.016 Unlawful Compensation for Official Behavior and Florida Statute 112.3143 Voting Conflicts,” reads a March 7 complaint filed with the Broward State Attorney’s Office by community watchdog Timothy “Chaz” Stevens.
“Additionally, I allege a conspiratorial enterprise exists between Vice Mayor Sylvia Poitier, former Commissioner Gloria Battle, and others to defraud the citizens of Deerfield Beach and the United States Taxpayer at large,” the complaint reads.
Broward State Attorney Michael Satz did not respond to emails or messages left at his office about the complaint, but a spokesperson confirmed that his office has received it.
“We have recently received the complaint,” State Attorney’s Office spokesperson Ron Ishoy confirmed in a March 9 email sent to the newspaper. “That's our comment for now.”
Battle, 59, said she received a one-time payment of $250 from the organization to reimburse her for expenses, and that she voted on the measure by mistake.
“When this issue came before the board, it was a package and they never broke out exactly what we were voting on,” Battle explained. “When I realized that I had voted on it, I announced the conflict and told the city attorney I needed to recuse myself, but he said state law required me to vote.”
Poitier, who was serving as mayor at time, remembered the vote.
“Yes, she worked with them, and she did the grant for them and voted for it,” Poitier said. “But I didn’t know they were paying her any money, and I don’t know anything about that.”
The non-profit’s president said that the organization paid Battle at least $250 for expenses.
“They gave me one check for $250 to reimburse me for my expenses over a two-year or more period of time,” Battle explained.
Battle has made headlines in the past. In 2000, she sued Broward County government for firing her as its human rights division director. The county had accused Battle of failing to properly investigate discrimination complaints while she was in that position.
Battle claimed she was fired as retaliation for filing her own racial discrimination complaint against the county with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Battle and the county reached a settlement. The details of the settlement were not disclosed.
Stevens, 45, a city resident who operates the MyActsofSedition.com blog, said he does not know Battle, and that he simply is seeking honest government.
“It’s very straight forward, unless I’m somehow misreading the facts. She voted on money to go to an organization that she received pay from,” Stevens alleged.
The issue began unfolding on Dec. 12, 2008 when former Deerfield Beach Mayor Al Capellini was arrested and charged with unlawful compensation. State prosecutors allege that Capellini voted in favor of a city contract that was awarded to a firm that was also paying his engineering company to work on the same project.
After he was charged, Capellini refused to resign from his seat. Gov. Charlie Crist suspended him from office on Dec. 15 of that year, pending the outcome of the case, which has yet to go to trial.
As per the city’s charter, Poitier, the vice mayor, vacated her District 2 seat and assumed the mayor’s post. Battle, who is also Poitier’s cousin, was selected by the city clerk via a lottery drawing from among three finalists to fill Poitier’s unexpired term on Jan. 13. 2009.
Battle served in that capacity until the March 10, 2009 municipal elections, when she did not seek a full term. At that time, a new mayor was elected, and Poitier was reelected to her District 2 seat.
During her time on the city commission, Battle voted to award city funds to the Haitian American Consortium, Inc. (HAC), even while she served on the organization’s board. She also allegedly received payment associated with her work for the organization, according to city records and the non-profit’s financial records.
The specific allegations center on a $12,206 grant that Battle and other city commissioners unanimously approved on March 3, 2009. The grant went to the non-profit organization, a social services agency with a mostly Haitian constituency.
Battle and city of Deerfield Beach employee Eddy Sarazin, who serves as the organization’s president, formed the group along with other people.
“We help people get food stamps, Medicaid, welfare and anything they may need,” Sarazin said. “We try to help the community, even paying their rent and light bills.”
The grant awarded to HAC on March 3, 2009 was part of a $110,835 package that also awarded grants to seven other organizations. It was part of the consent agenda, which only required a voice vote to approve the entire package, and commissioners did not discuss the specific grant awarded to HAC.
When it was incorporated in 2007, HAC’s principal place of business was listed as Deerfield Cleaners, a dry cleaning business owned by Poitier, who also voted to approve the grant.
Sarazin, 49, is a 16-year city employee who works as an equipment operator in the Public Works Department, earning $50,945.16 annually.
Records with the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations show that Battle is a founding board member of HAC, and has served as its secretary since its inception. She has also received payments from the organization for unspecified purposes.
“We have all the records and we never paid her for her work,” Sarazin said. “She helped us set up the corporation and was at our office all the time, so we wanted to pay her, but she said, ‘no.’ She told us to just pay her expenses.”
Sarazin said HAC paid Battle $250 each month or so, for less than a year. He also said it was Battle who wrote and prepared the grant application that resulted in the $12,206 from the city, which she later cast her vote to approve.
Deerfield Beach city hall has been consumed with mismanagement and other scandals that have felled two city managers in the last four years. There have also been continuous public corruption investigations, including those which led to criminal charges against Capellini and Commissioner Steve Gonot, in separate and unrelated events in 2008.
Stevens said he feels that there is a culture in Deerfield Beach that accepts mismanagement and corruption, and that the issues now confronting Battle fit that mold.
“The timing of it is suspicious,” he said. “What were the checks for? Was she just being paid for nothing? I want to see an honest and ethical government, that’s transparent. As far as Gloria Battle, if it is determined she broke the law, I want to see her punished.”
Battle disagreed, “My whole life has been in public service. I am well aware of the responsibilities and have authored ethics rules,” she said. I am not about to betray my own ethics for a job or any position.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Gloria Battle