WEST PALM BEACH — Former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion Jr., one of South Florida’s craftiest politicians, pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of money laundering, and resigned from office.
To read Eggelletion’s resignation letter, CLICK HERE .
U.S. District Court Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks set sentencing for Feb. 17.
After making his guilty plea, Eggelletion on Thursday also submitted his resignation to Gov. Charlie Crist, setting up a special election for the remainder of his District 9 county commission term, which expires in 2012.
At Thursday’s court hearing, Eggelletion tried to read from a prepared statement, but broke down in tears, unable to continue. His attorneys supported him so he could remain standing.
After the hearing, Eggelletion’s lead attorney, Johnny McCray, declined comment, but released another statement from the disgraced politician.
“I am severely disappointed with my recent actions that have led to the federal case against me,’’ the statement reads. “I sincerely apologize to the community, to my many supporters, to the public at large for failing to uphold the honor and integrity of the office to which I was elected, and to my family for falling so far from the man they know me to be.”
Eggelletion made his guilty plea at the Paul G. Rogers Federal Building & U.S. Southern District Courthouse in West Palm Beach during an appearance at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Dec 10.
His written statement continued: “I dishonored myself and my office, and I have begun the process of trying to atone for my actions. I fully and completely accept responsibility for my conduct. I have learned much as a result of my misconduct, and I hope to be able to return my life toward a more forthright and honorable direction. I ask the community and all public servants to learn from my misconduct, and to hew to the right and honorable path.”
The proposed plea that Eggelletion reached with prosecutors requires him to serve no more than five years in federal prison, and to pay no more than $250,000 in fines. Middlebrooks can approve, modify, or reject the plea agreement.
Eggelletion reportedly will not be required to cooperate in any other investigations, or testify against any of his co-defendants – Broward businessmen Ron Owens, Joel Williams, and Bahamian attorney Sidney Cambridge.
In exchange for Eggelletion’s guilty plea, prosecutors will close their other investigations into his lobbying activities, and will not add more counts to the money-laundering case, including tax evasion charges.
Eggelletion was arrested in September after a five-year federal corruption probe in which FBI agents posed as investors seeking to launder proceeds from an overseas investment scheme through Bahamian banks.
Owens, who once owned a chain of Church’s chicken restaurants in South Florida, was charged in the alleged scheme along with Williams and Cambridge. Those men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Investigators say Eggelletion received multiple cash payments each time the group laundered money, with the payments totaling $18,200.
STATE CORRUPTION CASE
The Broward State Attorney’s office also arrested Eggelletion on Nov. 5, charging him in a separate case with one count of unlawful compensation. The state charge is related to another, ongoing public corruption probe into kickbacks and Eggelletion’s lobbying activities.
In the state case, prosecutors accused Eggelletion of receiving a $3,200 golf membership at the Parkland Golf and Country Club from a developer in exchange for supporting the projects that the company had before the county commission.
Charges are also expected to be filed in that case against Bruce Chait and his son, Shawn Chait, owners of Prestige Homes of South Florida, Inc., a company that allegedly paid over $50,000 in bribes to Eggelletion.
Prestige Homes is the developer of numerous projects, including two residential projects in Tamarac, consisting of townhouses and condominiums, on the former Monterey and Sabal Palm golf courses. The projects were constructed on 176 acres of the two courses, on the grounds of the Mainlands condominiums.
In the face of stiff opposition from residents, Prestige Homes received city, then county approval to change zoning and land-use laws so that construction on the residential projects could move forward. Eggelletion gave verbal support and cast several votes for the projects.
Neighbors, however, opposed the projects due to concerns about congestion and overdevelopment. The Mainlands are in the district that Eggelletion represented.
Gov. Charlie Crist suspended Eggelletion, 60, from office after his September arrest, and in November appointed Dania Beach Commissioner Albert Jones to replace him for the remainder of Eggelletion’s term, which would have expired in 2012.
Eggelletion’s resignation, however, has triggered a special election for the permanent seat. The date for the special election has not yet been determined.
Jones, a Republican, said he will run for the permanent seat in the overwhelmingly black and Democratic district. The Rev. Allen Jackson, former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carlton Moore and Lauderhill City Commissioner Margaret Bates filed to run for the seat in 2012, when Jones’ term would have expired. But now that Eggelletion has resigned, Jackson, Moore and Bates are expected to run in the special election.
Eggelletion first entered politics in March 1991 after then-Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed him to the Lauderdale Lakes City Commission to finish out the term of Commissioner Sol Rossman, who died while in office.
A year later, Eggelletion ran for the permanent job without opposition. In November 1992, Eggelletion ran unopposed for the District 94 Florida House of Representatives seat, and went on to win re-election three times; serving eight consecutive years in the state Legislature.
In 2000, he defeated the late Pompano Beach City Commissioner E. Pat Larkins in the primary election, and Moore, the former Fort Lauderdale city commissioner, in the general election, to win his seat on the county commission.
Eggelletion now stands to lose the state pension that taxpayers have been funding on his behalf for over 35 years, ever since he was a public school teacher, city commissioner, state representative and county commissioner.
Controversy and scandal have marked Eggelletion’s 20-plus years as an elected official.
Scandals include his use of a county commission-issued credit card to buy $3,300 worth of personal items in 2003. That followed revelations that he was submitting sick leave forms and receiving pay from his job at the Broward County School District when he was actually traveling on official county commission business in South America.
In 2005, the Florida Commission on Ethics fined Eggelletion $2,500 for voting on contracts for a garbage company because he was also a paid lobbyist for the firm.
Around the same time, revelations surfaced that Eggelletion fathered several children outside of his marriage. He was ordered to pay child support for a daughter with one woman. He won a child support case brought by a different woman on a technicality, and was not required to pay support for a son, even though court-ordered DNA tests confirmed he is the father.
Even with his guilty plea and a past replete with troubles, some friends and former colleagues say they still support Eggelletion. Some of them have embarked on a letter- writing campaign, asking Judge Middlebrooks for leniency when Eggelletion is sentenced.
“I’m glad he did it,” state Rep. Hazelle Rogers, a longtime friend of Eggelletion’s, said of his guilty plea. She has offered to write a letter on his behalf.
“I don’t know all the circumstances,” Rogers said, “but he must be thinking about his family. I wish him well, and I’m saddened. If he was in front of me, I would hug him.”
Levoyd Williams, another close ally and neighbor of Eggelletion’s, said he speaks with Eggelletion every day, and is encouraging others to write letters to the judge.
“Joe is my friend. He is a good man, but some of us find pleasure in seeing others fall and torn down. There is more than one side to the man. He has done more than anyone for his constituents and the community,” Williams said. “The letters will let people know he is a good family man who has taken care of his community. He has admitted his mistakes and we need to balance the scales, because he has done more good than bad.”
Oakland Park Vice Mayor Allegra Webb-Murphy was more cautious, but just as supportive.
“I think he is doing the right thing and apologizing for his mistakes, and I hope this is the end of it,” Webb-Murphy said. “I’ve known him for years, when he was just a great teacher, and had no idea about all of this. But he has accepted his mistakes, and I will be writing a letter because he will need our support now.”
Photo: Josephus Eggelletion