FORT LAUDERDALE – A little-known off-duty work program that was operated out of the Broward Sheriff’s Office netted an exclusive circle of deputies and supervisors thousands of dollars in extra pay during last year’s Super Bowl, a South Florida Times investigation has found.
BSO provided hundreds of deputies for the Super Bowl, but the NFL Super Bowl VIP Detail, as it was called internally, was operated separately from the normal off-duty work program and it was not managed by the Office of Special Detail. No one is saying who authorized it.
BSO has not released the required forms that will show who knew about it. A Sheriff’s spokesman acknowledged that BSO personnel worked the Super Bowl VIP detail last February and defended the operation.
“The operation I believe you are referring to was to provide drivers for NFL executives unfamiliar with the area,” Jim Leljedal, BSO’s director of media relations, said in an e-mail responding to questions about the program.
“The NFL provided the vehicles and covered all related expenses,” Leljedal said. “Deputies took vacation time to participate. This was requested by the NFL and is something they expect at every Super Bowl location. They asked BSO to provide people who were willing to spend their vacation time handling these chores.”
NFL officials did not return several phone calls or respond to e-mails seeking comment. Edward L. DuBois III, president of Miami-based Investigators Inc., a private investigative firm that provides security services to the NFL, referred e-mailed questions to Milt Ahlerich, head of NFL Security. He did not respond to e-mailed questions.
Detail assignments involve off-duty deputies who earn extra money for working at private firms or governmental agencies to provide a law enforcement presence. The Super Bowl VIP detail was organized and managed by Col. Rick Frey, executive director of BSO’s Department of Law Enforcement.
“The operations were administered by the Super Bowl committee and the public safety committee and me, in keeping with the way that the NFL manages Super Bowls every year in every city they select,” Frey said in an e-mailed response to questions about the program.
Rodney Barreto, who served as chairman of the Super Bowl Host Committee, said the committee had no such involvement.
“It was BSO,” Barreto said. “We didn’t arrange it or pay them. Everything we did was in-kind, where no money changed hands.”
The lucrative NFL detail opportunities were not disclosed or offered to most rank-and-file deputies. The operation also allowed at least one person, Sheriff Al Lamberti’s teenage son, to gain access to the Super Bowl by giving him security credentials and listing him as part of the security operation, the investigation found.
Deputies were required to be in uniform, wear their service weapons and carry radios. BSO had no signed contract with the NFL for the operation and some deputies drove their squad cars during the assignments. BSO was not reimbursed for any of it.
Because BSO has not released any records related to the VIP operation, it remains unclear how much the operation cost taxpayers. In violation of BSO policies, deputies were paid directly by the NFL. They earned as much as $1,000 per day, according to an estimate by a source closely affiliated with the NFL and the Super Bowl.
Some also received tips, Super Bowl access and signed NFL memorabilia, according to sources. Frey neither confirmed nor denied the $1,000 a day estimate, but said no BSO personnel received any Super Bowl passes or keepsakes.
Broward County conducted an audit last March of the BSO’s Office of Special Detail which normally handles off-duty work assignments for deputies. That office was not informed of the VIP detail operation.
“During our interviews, they talked about the Super Bowl but never mentioned that any of that detail work was done as part of any separate operation. It was our understanding that everything was done through their detail office,” said Broward County Auditor Evan A. Lukic.
“It would have been appropriate for them to make us aware of it but, without knowing how they were paid or what was done with the money, there is no way to determine what impact that information would have had on our audit.”
BSO conducted its own internal audit of the regular off-duty work program last October and that audit uncovered numerous problems. There were instances of some deputies working details while they were supposed to be on their regular jobs. Some did so while on sick leave and some while they were off work due to on-the-job injuries and receiving worker’s compensation pay.
The practice is termed double-dipping.
That audit’s findings prompted an ongoing criminal investigation by the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Also, the Florida Retirement System is reviewing pension contributions made in conjunction with the questionable detail pay. If fraud is discovered, it could lead to the employee losing pension benefits.
It is unclear if the program was shut down after the Super Bowl, but the fact that it was not made public or disclosed to auditors has raised concern in some quarters.
“My impression of the sheriff is that he is a straight shooter but if this was a clandestine operation that was kept from auditors, then he needs to request an investigation by an outside agency,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
Elgin Jones may be reached at EJones@SFLTimes.com