FORT LAUDERDALE — Former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Daniel Salesman’s public corruption trial will begin on Monday, March 22.
Salesman is charged with two counts of bribery in a program receiving federal funds; two counts of extortion under color of official right; one count of wire fraud, deprivation of honest services; and one count of mail fraud, deprivation of honest services.
Salesman has pleaded not guilty.
The bribery charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years for each charge plus a $250,000 fine, according to Alicia Valle, special counsel to the U.S. Attorney, and court documents. The other charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years, and a $250,000 fine.
According to prosecutors, Salesman accepted money from undercover FBI agents posing as shady contractors in order to steer Miramar city business to the “contractors.” He received seven cash payments totaling $7,840, prosecutors say.
Investigators say Salesman steered contracts for the construction of two city gazebos to the undercover agents posing as contractors, in exchange for money.
James Benjamin, Salesman’s defense attorney, told the South Florida Times that Salesman “maintains his innocence. He feels he is absolutely not guilty of the crimes he’s been charged with.”
Without commenting on his planned defense, Benjamin offered that “it’s pre-trial” and that “the situation is just complicated. We are doing everything that we know how to get ready for a trial that is starting way too early.”
U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn will preside over the trial, which is scheduled to last one month.
In January, Salesman asked that the court dismiss the two honest services fraud counts because the law is “so vague” as to be unconstitutional. Those charges stem from money that was sent via U.S. mail in connection with the case, and email communication between the city and the undercover agents in connection with the case.
A judge rejected that request.
Investigators say Salesman never returned or offered to return any of the money. He never came back and told the agents that he did not deserve any of the money or that it was unlawful for him to accept the money.
Salesman is no stranger to the law. He has twice been removed from office for pulling a gun on a customer at a local supermarket, and for DUI.
In a document filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida, Salesman stated that while he was on suspension from office due to his criminal offenses, he was “free to earn, as a consultant, money from this undercover construction company.”
Investigators say that even while Salesman was on suspension from office while awaiting trial on the previous criminal charges, he was able to influence Miramar city officials to steer business to the undercover FBI agents.
Government agents said that Salesman knew that the undercover agents wanted to obtain government contracts and would “grease the palms” of government officials in order to obtain them. So Salesman introduced the government agents to his friends – other black elected officials – who were contacted by the undercover agents.
Salesman alleges in court papers that the government “targeted African-American elected officials.”
Investigators have another perspective, stating that the undercover agents only contacted the other black elected officials because Salesman introduced them to the agents.
“This case is not about black or white,” the prosecution wrote. “It is about another color: green. It is about a corrupt public official, the defendant, who used his influence and sold his office.”
Salesman, in a recorded meeting with an undercover agent, said, “There ain’t nothing in this world that is f—king free… whether you pay the lobbyist or the consultant, or you pay somebody you have to take to the well to drink, somebody’s got… that’s what makes America so f—king great.”
Prosecutors say that Salesman began introducing the government agents to elected public officials at a Broward Black Elected Officials gala so that he could “introduce them to the people that make the whole damn country run.”
The long-term undercover operation was initiated by the FBI in 2005 to investigate public corruption in South Florida.
Salesman was arrested in September.