Salesman defense alleges racism in undercover FBI investigation

Former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman leaves the federal courthouse with his attorney Jamie Benjamin in Nov. 2009. (Susan Stocker, file)

Former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman's attorney came out with legal guns blazing Friday, accusing federal authorities of racism in the selection of targets during a years-long undercover public corruption investigation in Broward County.

Salesman's defense team also identified three other black politicians whom they said the undercover FBI agents tried to rope into the investigation.

"The government sought out to blemish the record of several of the most prestigious African-American elected officials in Broward County," Salesman's attorney Jamie Benjamin wrote in court documents filed Friday.

Agents attended the annual Black Elected Officials gala, where Salesman alleges they "sought out African-American office holders to corrupt."

"It might be coincidental that this approximately four-year investigation involved mostly African-American elected officials but given the small number of African-American elected officials in Broward County and the methods used by the United States government to try and bring the honest elected officials … into corruption, one must wonder and give this Court concern," Benjamin wrote.

Prosecutors and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office have said in the past that they could not comment on pending cases and did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment Friday. The defense's allegations are scheduled to be argued before U.S. District Judge James Cohn on Tuesday.

Two of the three elected officials charged in September in the undercover sting — Salesman and former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, who has pleaded guilty — are black. Salesman has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial March 22 on charges he took money in exchange for steering city work to the agents.

Former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion has pleaded guilty to taking part in a plan to launder what he thought was dirty money and faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced next week.

Suspended Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher, who is white, has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, extortion and honest services fraud. She is still negotiating a possible plea deal but is scheduled for trial in April.

Salesman's attorney also named in court documents three other black politicians whom he said the undercover agents tried to lure into the sting — without success in two of the cases, according to Benjamin's filing. The officials were Lauderhill City Commissioner Dale Holness; state Rep. Hazelle "Hazel" P. Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes, who was a city commissioner at the time; and former Miramar City Commissioner George Pedlar, who was out of office but running for re-election at the time.

Salesman introduced the undercover agents to Holness and, Benjamin wrote, "For whatever reason, apparently Commissioner Holness decided that he really didn't want anything to do with facilitating work for this construction company." The defense alleges that the government agents continued to try to get Salesman to involve Holness and explain to him that he would be financially rewarded.

Holness said he took no money from Salesman or the agents and found the incident so suspicious that he considered reporting it to police. "They tested me but that's not the kind of person I am," Holness said. "I really distanced myself from Salesman after that and I think I talked to him maybe one time since that. I found the approach very distasteful."

Rogers was approached in a similar way, and the "government reached out to try to put money in her pocket so that she would be guilty of a crime," Benjamin wrote. He did not respond to a request for further details. Rogers told the Sun Sentinel that she was not aware of any improper approach that was made to her. "Thank God, I do things the way they should be done," Rogers said.

Pedlar told the Sun Sentinel on Friday that he accepted a $5,000 check from two men whose names he never learned. He said Salesman introduced him to them in 2007 and they said they were contractors who wanted to start working for the city of Miramar. Pedlar, who was elected to the City Commission in 2003 and was unseated in 2005, ran unsuccessfully for election in 2007.

Pedlar said he accepted the $5,000 check, which was made out to him, and deposited it in his petty cash account and then transferred it to his election campaign account and listed it as a loan from himself. According to election finance laws, campaign contributions are not supposed to exceed $500 and the source of all funds must be accurately reported.

"I told them they'd have to see the city manager about any contracts. I was not on the commission and I didn't award contracts," Pedlar said.

He said he didn't know the men, met them twice for a total of maybe 45 minutes and accepted the check written on the account of a company whose name he said he didn't remember. Federal agents questioned him for less than an hour in November or December but gave him no indication that he would face any charges, Pedlar said.