It began with a bold plan to build more than 700 homes on two old golf courses, making millions for the developers and boosting the tax coffers for Tamarac, a city that hadn't seen such a big proposal in years.
Now the father-and-son team of homebuilders who dreamed up the plan to develop the Sabal Palm and Monterey courses have become the common thread in some recent public corruption arrests and ongoing investigations by the Broward State Attorney's Office that have shaken the county.
Former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion is serving a prison term after confessing he took $28,200 worth of bribes from the Chaits. And Patricia Atkins-Grad was suspended from the Tamarac City Commission last month after state prosecutors charged her with accepting $6,300 from the Chaits for a party to celebrate her election and to lease a BMW. She disputes the charges against her.
Other city and county officials are under scrutiny because of alleged interactions with the Chaits, including Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco, former city Vice Mayor Marc Sultanof, county Commissioners Ilene Lieberman and Stacy Ritter and School Board member Stephanie Kraft, according to several sources with knowledge of the investigations. These officials, with the exception of Kraft, voted on the Chaits' proposals.
According to the sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified:
Prosecutors are looking into allegations that Flansbaum-Talabisco secretly received indirect help from the Chaits to attack her election opponents and that, in return, she voted in favor of their development. She is not accused of pocketing any cash or gifts for herself.
Prosecutors have subpoenaed records from the Transplant Foundation Inc., a nonprofit group that provides support services to liver transplant patients and their families. Lieberman is a board member for the organization and investigators are reportedly examining who donated to it, and why. Lieberman is not accused of taking any cash or gifts for herself.
The State Attorney's Office is investigating allegations that the Chaits paid for at least some of the cost of a personal vehicle for Sultanof.
None of these officials has been charged with a crime, and in some of the cases, the investigations are said to be in the early stages. Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, said he had no comment.
Efforts to contact Sultanof this week were unsuccessful despite phone messages left at his home. His attorney, Lewis Fishman, declined to comment.
Lieberman was out of state and had temporarily lost her voice due to illness. She responded by e-mail to some questions posed by the Sun Sentinel but did not answer all queries.
Lieberman wrote: "I have not been contacted by the state attorney's office, nor informed by the state attorney's office of any investigation relating to the Transplant Foundation … Should the state attorney have any question concerning any of my service on the Transplant Foundation or the County Commission, I will be more than happy to respond."
Lieberman said her work for the foundation is voluntary and that she receives no compensation. She is a strong supporter of the group and has spoken frequently about her son's liver transplants. Lieberman has hosted annual golf fundraisers for the organization for the past five years.
Donations to the foundation are not public record and charity officials contested the subpoena to turn them over, but a judge ordered them in April to hand over the records, sources told the Sun Sentinel. Jon Polenberg, president-elect of the foundation's executive board and also the attorney who attended the court challenge to the subpoena, said, "The foundation's policy is they can't comment on pending legal matters."
Regarding the investigation of Flansbaum-Talabisco, the Tamarac mayor told the Sun Sentinel on Thursday that "on the advice of my counsel, I can't comment." Her attorney, Larry S. Davis, declined to comment.
Flansbaum-Talabisco returned $2,000 of $2,500 in campaign donations the Chaits and their associates made to her campaign in 2006 when some residents complained political donations might influence later votes. But sources say prosecutors believe she secretly benefited from much larger sums from the Chaits that were used to smear her opponents, former Commissioner Karen Roberts and former mayoral candidate Mae Schreiber.
The mailings were sent out days before the March 14, 2006, election by an electioneering communications organization called Tamarac Residents for Good Government.
City, county and state campaign finance records reviewed by the Sun Sentinel show the committee was formed March 9, 2006, by Democratic activist Barry Harris. It reported receiving $21,000 in donations, $10,500 each from AllStar Electric Inc., of Miami, and Wholesale Flooring Center, of Coconut Creek.