LAUDERDALE LAKES — Broward's latest public corruption sting has all the elements of a made-for-TV crime drama.
A county commissioner allegedly helps undercover agents hide nearly $1 million of fake Ponzi scheme money in Bahamian bank accounts, in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks.
A school board member allegedly agrees to accept thousands of dollars from a contractor in exchange for steering construction work on a high school to the company. She tucks some of the money into a doggie bag at a restaurant.
A former city commissioner removed from office first for alleged drunken driving, then again for allegedly pulling a gun on a teenager in a grocery store, is freshly accused of taking a bribe for steering construction work to a city contractor, while he was still in office.
But this drama required no screen writer. It is a true script, as detailed in federal complaints from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, Broward school board member Beverly Gallagher, former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman, two South Florida businessmen, and a Bahamian national were charged Wednesday, Sept. 23 in an ongoing federal corruption probe.
Gov. Charlie Crist has suspended Eggelletion and Gallagher from office because of the arrests.
Eggelletion, 60, along with local businessmen Ronald Owens, 62, of Hallandale Beach — who once owned a chain of Church's Fried Chicken restaurants in Miami-Dade and Broward — Joel "Jody" Williams, 54, of North Miami, and Sidney Cambridge, 45, of the Bahamas, were all charged with fraud and money laundering, according to the complaints.
The complaints allege that Eggelletion — in exchange for more than $23,000 — and his cohorts laundered money through offshore Bahamian and St. Croix bank accounts.
All the defendants accepted money from undercover agents posing as shady businessmen, the complaints allege.
Gallagher, 51, is accused of fraud, extortion and bribery for allegedly accepting payments totaling $12,500 from undercover agents who posed as businessmen seeking construction contracts with the school district.
Salesman, 52, faces federal fraud, extortion and bribery charges for allegedly accepting bribes totaling $5,840 for his support of construction projects in Miramar, when he was a city commissioner.
Salesman, first elected to the Miramar City Commission in 2001, and re-elected in 2005, was suspended from June 2005 until March 2007 after he was charged with drunken driving. He was acquitted.
He was suspended again in 2007 after he was charged with improper display of a firearm in a checkout aisle at a Miramar Winn-Dixie. He served two weeks in jail earlier this year for that misdemeanor conviction, and lost a re-election bid.
While the cases in the latest sting are all separate, they are part of an ongoing federal public corruption probe in Broward County that is titled Operation Flat Screen.
"Hopefully, this will send a message that this activity will not be tolerated," acting U.S. Attorney Jeff Sloman said at a press conference on Wednesday. "Eventually you will be caught."
Cambridge is a partner in the influential Callenders and Co. law firm based in Nassau, Bahamas. He is an attorney and treasurer for the island nation's opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP).
Cambridge was charged in absentia.
The other defendants made appearances in federal court on Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana S. Snow. Snow set Eggelletion's and Salesman's bail at $200,000 each, and $100,000 for Gallagher. All of them were released after posting bail and agreeing to surrender their passports.
None of the suspects made statements when leaving the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Only
Eggelletion's attorney, Johnny McCray Jr., has spoken to the media.
"My client asserts his innocence and remains confident he will be exonerated," McCray said.
McCray said Eggelletion would enter a plea of not guilty at a future court hearing. He also said he was not sure how many counts could be levied against his client.
"The counts will be added later, so I'm not in any position to comment on that," McCray explained.
Eggelletion could face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines if convicted on all of the current charges.
When asked if he plans to enter into any plea negotiations on his client's behalf, McCray said, "My client has read the complaint and is firm about his innocence and denies the allegations."
Eggelletion was taken into custody by federal agents at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 at his Lauderdale Lakes home. The agents swept through Broward County all day, collecting records and interviewing people.
Some of the information contained in the complaint only identifies certain individuals by their initials.
Here's how the investigation unfolded, according to the criminal complaint:
Federal agents posing as shady businessmen in February 2006 said they were looking to hide profits from a fraudulent investment scheme. They said they were willing to pay for help in laundering the proceeds, and approached a local politician, identified only as "F.S."
According to sources close to the investigation, "F.S." is former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman.
The agents secretly recorded all of the conversations, and "F.S." arranged meetings between the agents and Eggelletion.
For a price, Eggelletion agreed to assist the men, and even boasted about his connections with influential people and the prime minister in the Bahamas. He scheduled additional meetings with the agents, the complaint states.
"On or about November 15, 2006, defendant Eggelletion again told A.I., a hotelier with connections in the Bahamas, that an undercover agent and a cooperating witness needed help setting up a Bahamian company and bank account for their client," the 11-page federal complaint states.
"On or about December 6, 2006, defendant Eggelletion told the an [sic] undercover agent and a cooperating witness that, if A.I. didn't come through in the next few days, they should call 'my man,' E.D., who has 'very good connections in the Bahamas.' Defendant Eggelletion acknowledged that he (Eggelletion) would be compensated for his help," the complaint further alleges.
The exact extent of A.I.'s involvement has not been disclosed, but by January 2007, Eggelletion informed the agents that A.I. had gotten cold feet and was no longer cooperating.
According to sources, A.I. became suspicious because he thought it was odd that one of the two agents who posed as shady businessmen reportedly had a southern drawl, while the other spoke with an Irish accent.
He finally backed off after one of the agents offered to put up money so he could open a Bahamian bank account in his name.
Sources have identified "A.I." as Bahamian native and South Florida businessman Andrew "Andy" Ingraham.
Ingraham is president of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers (NABHOOD), and owner of Horizons Marketing, Inc, a consulting firm that is operated out of the same Fort Lauderdale office as NABHOOD.
Ingraham did not return calls seeking comment, but staff members said he was traveling. His staff acknowledged that he is "A.I.," and that he had been contacted by federal agents.
Prosecutors allege that between March and December 2007, Eggelletion collected $23,300 for his role in laundering nearly $900,000 from a Miami bank account, through the Bahamas, and then to an account in St. Croix.
He offered to create "consulting agreements" to make the transactions appear as though they were legitimate business operations. He eventually introduced the agents to Owens and Williams, who in turn brought in the attorney Cambridge, who, according to the complaint, told the agents he was aware he was participating in a money-laundering scheme.
More arrests are expected from Operation Flat Screen, as federal agents continued this week visiting witnesses and possible targets of the investigation.
"Our work will continue in Broward County," Sloman said at Wednesday's press conference.
Pictured above are Josephus Eggelletion, Beverly Gallagher and Fitzroy Salesman.