FORT LAUDERDALE — Former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion has reached a deal with state prosecutors in which he will plead guilty to taking bribes and testify against the owners of the development firm that allegedly bribed him, according to sources.
The revelation comes less than a week after Eggelletion pleaded guilty Dec. 10 to a federal money-laundering charge, and resigned from office.
By entering into a plea agreement, Eggelletion seeks to serve his state prison sentence at the same time he is in a federal penitentiary on the money-laundering charge.
Officials at the Broward State Attorney’s Office neither confirmed nor denied that they have reached an agreement with Eggelletion.
“We’re not commenting,” Broward State Attorney’s Office spokesperson Ron Ishoy said in an email sent to the newspaper on Monday, Dec. 14.
Yet information that Eggelletion provided to prosecutors has already led to the arrest of the father and son team that owns Prestige Homes of South Florida, Inc.
Bruce Chait, president of Prestige Homes, and his son, Shawn, were arrested Dec. 11. Each man was charged with one count of bribery and one count of unlawful compensation.
Shawn Chait was also charged with one count of perjury for denying that he paid $3,200 toward Eggelletion’s golf club membership. The payment was among others that the Chaits allegedly gave to Eggelletion in exchange for his support on Prestige Homes projects that came before the Broward County Commission.
The arrest of the Chaits was based largely on Eggelletion’s statements and his agreement to testify against the father and son in November 2009.
The bribery case could spur new investigations, and more arrests could be on the way in other cases.
State prosecutors on Nov. 5 charged Eggelletion with one count of unlawful compensation. He followed through on a pre-arranged surrender to authorities that same day. Eggelletion gave his first statement to prosecutors on Nov. 23, detailing the alleged bribes he took. He also detailed his work and votes he cast on behalf of Prestige Homes’ projects that were pending before the county commission, sources said.
In lieu of having Eggelletion appear at his scheduled arraignment hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 16 on the unlawful compensation charge, his attorney filed a written not-guilty plea on his behalf.
Although Eggelletion made the plea weeks ago, it was not entered into court records until Wednesday’s hearing.
“We did file a written not guilty plea several weeks ago, and that’s why there was no need for me, or my client to show up,” said one of Eggelletion’s attorneys, Johnny McCray Jr.
The written not guilty plea is a prelude to Eggelletion’s plan to change the plea to guilty, sources said. That will likely happen some time in February; after his sentencing on the federal money-laundering charges, which is scheduled for Feb. 17.
“I don’t have any comment at all on that at this time. None whatsoever,” McCray said when pressed to confirm if an agreement has been reached with state prosecutors.
As part of the deal, the Broward State Attorney’s Office, which filed the corruption charge against Eggelletion on Nov. 5, has agreed not to pursue numerous other potential charges against him, sources said.
Eggelletion will be adjudicated guilty, which increases the likelihood that he will lose his state pension, which is estimated at over $6,000 per month, for life.
The plea agreement has set off a chain of events that may impact several other state and federal investigations into public corruption in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
One of those investigations is the case surrounding Broward School Board Member Stephanie Kraft, whose husband worked for Prestige Homes while the company had projects pending before the school board.
The immediate impact of Eggelletion’s state plea agreement pits Eggelletion against the Chaits. Calls to both men at their company’s corporate office in Coral Springs were not returned, nor were messages left at the offices of their attorney, J. David Bogenschutz.
After Eggelletion cut the deal with prosecutors in November, he gave them a detailed statement, admitting that he accepted bribes from the developer, and that he accepted a payment that went toward his golf/country club membership.
According to those statements, Bruce Chait allegedly agreed to pay Eggelletion for his votes and influence on the company’s projects. On Aug. 22, 2006, Shawn Chait paid $3,200 in cash to the Parkland Golf & Country Club that went toward an $8,400 annual membership for Eggelletion, investigators say.
In December 2006, at the country club, the Chaits stuffed another $25,000 in cash inside Eggelletion’s golf bag, according to investigators. The South Florida Times reported the membership-dues payment in 2007.
Country club staffers were subpoenaed, and they confirmed the membership and payment.
After Chait paid $3,200 to the country club, Eggelletion paid the remaining $5,200 balance of the membership dues from the $25,000 he had already received from Prestige Homes, according to prosecutors.
On July 23, 2008, prosecutors subpoenaed Shawn Chait, who allegedly denied under oath that his company made the payment, and testified that it was Eggelletion’s money. Shawn Chait also said that he only took the money inside and paid it as a favor to Eggelletion, who was in a hurry and couldn’t do so himself because he had to leave the golf course quickly, according to prosecutors.
Shawn Chait was subpoenaed again on Sept. 11, 2008, and gave similar answers, investigators say.
Photo: Top to bottom, Josephus Eggelletion, Bruce Chait and Shawn Chait.