FORT LAUDERDALE — Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti is facing an ethics complaint filed by a former deputy who is asking the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate him over an NFL credentials controversy.
The ethics complaint was filed by Russell Di Perna on Feb. 28. It centers on law enforcement credentials the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) secured for Lamberti’s son Nick so the teenager could gain entry into the 2010 Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl games played at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Di Perna, who was terminated by the sheriff’s office in 2010, claims his firing was politically motivated but he says his complaint against Lamberti has nothing to do with that situation.
“I filed it because the sheriff abused his position and that’s wrong,” Di Perna said. “BSO is falling apart and this is just one example of what’s going on and the public needs to know.”
The complaint, though, is part of a series of mounting problems BSO is facing.
FBI agents have been quietly questioning employees about BSO’s contract with Edify, an insurance company once partly owned by now convicted Ponzi scheme attorney Scott Rothstein. Also, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an investigation into the NFL credentials issue and the Broward State Attorney’s Office is probing the agency’s off-duty detail program.
Compounding those problems are the firing of purchasing director Larry Strain and the suspension of executive director John Curry, without explanation.
“A decision was made by Sheriff Al Lamberti to separate Director of Purchasing Larry Strain due to a loss of confidence. Later, some other circumstances surfaced that we are investigating,” BSO’s director of media relations Jim Leljedal said in a March 25 press release. “The Executive Director of Administration, John Curry, was temporarily suspended with pay consistent with administrative policy and pending review. Director Wiley Thompson will be interim Executive Director of the Department of Administration.”
Leljedal would not elaborate further when contacted by South Florida Times and the release was removed from BSO’s website as the unexplained suspension and termination continued to generate speculations as to why the actions were taken.
Then there is the recent resignation, effective this April, of Col. Rick Frey, the director of law enforcement. Among other things, Frey oversaw an operation that was run from BSO’s administrative offices called the NFL VIP Detail.
The detail operated outside of the normal process. Select deputies were paid directly by the NFL, which BSO policy prohibits. The handpicked cadre of deputies served as armed escorts for NFL officials during the 2010 Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, earning more than $1,000 per day, according to several sources.
That operation is under review by the Broward State Attorney’s Office, which is also investigating deputies who allegedly worked normal off-duty details at the same time they were out on sick or worker’s compensation leave.
Frey did not respond to questions from South Florida Times but, according to reports on The Daily Pulp, a New Times blog, Frey said his retirement was planned and had nothing to do with those investigations.
Frey previously started to collect payments from a state investment plan but those records are shielded from public view. He entered the Florida Retirement System’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) in January 2002. In April 2006, he retired but immediately was re-hired by BSO and received a one-time payment of $384,552.09 for the DROP. In addition to his BSO salary, he began collecting a $7,898.57 pension, plus a $125 health insurance subsidy, each month.
Capt. Robert Schnakenberg, director of BSO’s Criminal Investigations Division, reports directly to Frey and helped organize the NFL VIP Details. His name is stamped on the credentials application submitted to Miami-Dade police which was forwarded to the U.S. Secret Service for vetting for Lamberti’s son, among others.
Schnakenberg has hired attorney Jeremy Kroll of Fort Lauderdale, who did not respond to questions from South Florida Times.
Miami-Dade police processed the credentials application, which was reserved for law enforcement officers who worked security at the stadium. After receiving the application from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade police sent it to the Secret Service for processing.
That application listed the sheriff as the supervisor and indicated his son was part of the security contingent BSO provided for the Indianapolis Colts. The federal agency then issued the teenager law enforcement credentials which allowed him free access into the game and around the stadium.
“Sheriff Al Lamberti used his position to gain access for his son to the Super Bowl by allowing or participating in a fraudulent scheme identifying his 15 year old son as being employed by BSO,” the complaint filed by Di Perna alleges. “It violates ethics rules for an elected official to use their position to gain something in [sic] value for themselves or their family members.”
Neither Lamberti nor his media relations staff responded to questions from South Florida Times about the complaint. In published reports in the Sun Sentinel, Lamberti has been quoted as saying the NFL issued his son the credentials and that other agencies involved in coordinating security for the Super Bowl were aware of the arrangement.
The NFL, Miami-Dade police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have refuted that claim.
A spokesperson for the Ethics Commission would not say if Lamberti has responded to Di Perna’s complaint.
“Complaints filed in our office are confidential and exempt to public records law until the Commission rules upon them in some way or until the person against whom the complaint is filed waives confidentiality,” said Kerrie Stillman, a spokesperson with the Florida Commission of Ethics.
The complaint could be dismissed or forwarded to staff for investigation, after which the findings would be sent to the commission’s members for resolution.