FORT LAUDERDALE — Lawyers for embattled former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman said this week that their client tried to dissuade undercover agents from paying off politicians.
They also said that Salesman acted legitimately as a consultant.
“He got paid for things he legitimately and above board did while he was not a commissioner,” Salesman attorney James Benjamin told the jury in opening arguments on Tuesday, March 23rd.
Federal prosecutors, however, have a different perspective.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey N. Kaplan told jurors that Salesman “sold his office, knowingly associated with purported criminals, and never once shied from taking a bribe.”
Kaplan added that Salesman never offered to return any of the money and instead “put it in his pocket” when he brokered two construction jobs for undercover FBI agents who were posing as morally challenged developers between April 2005 and October 2007.
Earlier in the day, Benjamin told reporters that he “won’t strike a plea deal with prosecutors” because Salesman has won previous criminal charges in court.
Salesman, 53, is charged with two counts each of bribery in a program that receives federal funds; two counts each 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.
He has entered a plea of not guilty.
If found guilty, Salesman faces a maximum penalty of 10 years for each charge, in addition to a $250,000 fine for the bribery charges, according to court documents. The other charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn is presiding over the trial, which was expected to continue for two weeks.
FBI Special Agent Anthony Velazquez was the first to testify for the prosecution. He said he met Salesman in March 2005 at Diamonds, a North Miami Beach strip club.
At that time Velazquez, who was working undercover, not only represented himself to Salesman as a criminal figure who dealt in stolen property, but also posed as a representative of a potential real estate investor referred to as “the old man” who wanted to “do some construction business in Florida.”
In a recorded conversation entered as evidence between Salesman and Velazquez about investing in Broward County real estate, Velazquez said, as the two drove on U.S. 441/State Road 7 to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood, “I think the old man is looking at this like it’s one deal.”
Salesman replied, “If the old man’s got some money, this is the time. All this sh– here will be gone. It will be a beautiful f–ing road.”
Salesman continued in the recording: “If the old man wants to move a construction business here, he’s gonna pay a high f–ing price. Here’s where he’s ahead of the game, he’s already got the money.”
Salesman also said in the recording that he was “not f–ing going to prison. I will introduce him [the old man] to some people. I can set up a meeting. You explain your ideas. I don’t want to be in it. I ain’t going to prison for this f–ing sh–. I’m only going to show you where the opportunities are.”
When Salesman told Velazquez that there were “good investment opportunities in Miramar,” Velazquez responded, “I got some ideas for some other people.”
Salesman responded in the recording: “All the people I deal with, we stay friends. I’m not going to jail for 10 or 20 thousand.”
Velazquez also told Salesman that he had friends in Europe who wanted to launder $1.5 million.
According to Velazquez’s testimony, Salesman suggested that his friends would be able to “launder the money by investing in Miramar real estate,” and that he would “receive payment for his role.”
The FBI initiated the long-term undercover operation in 2005 to investigate public corruption in South Florida.
File Photo: Fitzroy Salesman