A big stink is happening in Broward County-
HOLLYWOOD -- Hollywood City Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom secretly cut a deal with a sludge-processing contractor and launched a lobbying blitz to help the company secure an $18 million city contract, prosecutors charged Tuesday.Trot out the wife and family excuse. What's next for Wasserstrom's defense, the abuse excuse or will he go to drug or alcohol rehab?
Wasserstrom, 39, turned himself in to face four felony counts of official misconduct and one felony count of unlawful compensation for his role in helping Schwing Bioset win the lucrative contract two years ago.
Wasserstrom "did corruptly request, solicit, accept or agree to accept" money from Bioset in exchange for pressuring fellow commissioners to vote for Bioset, the Broward State Attorney's Office said.
He also filed two state conflict of interest forms in 2004 saying he wasn't working for the company, even though he had already reached agreements with Bioset, affiliate Bio-native Technologies, and another company owned by his uncle, prosecutors said. The deals called for him and his uncle's company to lobby on behalf of Bioset in exchange for a hefty commission on future deals, according to court documents.
Wasserstrom's attorney, Larry Davis, said his client did nothing wrong.
"He's an attorney with a wife and with young children, and you can imagine it's something very difficult," Davis said. "I am completely confident that he will be vindicated."
If Abbott said Wasserstrom was in the clear after knowing all the facts, the city attorney shouldn't be practicing law. Wasserstrom financially benefited from the deal, it was just done through a third party. Much like in this recent story.
The charges come more than two years after Wasserstrom's role in the contract was first disclosed at a full City Commission meeting. Even after Wasserstrom -- who initially said he wasn't under contract with Bioset -- publicly admitted to having a financial interest in the company, no elected officials objected to him working for both the city and Bioset.
The Minnesota-based company was hired to turn hazardous sewage sludge into fertilizer pellets and truck them out of the county.
Mayor Mara Giulianti and Wasserstrom spent weeks lobbying fellow commissioners before abstaining from a final vote because they had conflicts of interest. Giulianti's son Stacey was Wasserstrom's law partner at the time and the firm stood to gain money from the deal, prosecutors said in court documents.
Prosecutors said that before voting Giulianti filed two conflict of interest forms that contained false information, but that she was misled by Wasserstrom and wouldn't be charged. They did not say what false information Giulianti provided.
Wasserstrom walked out of the Broward County main jail with his wife and attorney Tuesday after posting $5,000 bond. He faces up to five years in prison on each count.
Davis said his client was up front from the beginning.
"Dan Abbott [the city attorney] advised him on how to handle the potential conflict, and he was following Dan Abbott's advice," said Davis.
Abbott also said Tuesday that Wasserstrom followed the law.
"I filled out the form on the basis of what he told me, and I know for sure that he disclosed his relationship ..." Abbott said. "Based on everything I know, there has been no criminal conduct here."
Remember this is the city of Hollywood, where eminent domain was being used to seize private property to be given to a developer. Those deals looked shady a year ago, and look even more so after this news.
Bob Norman at The Daily Pulp has two excellent posts on this scandal, here and here. I suggest you read both of them, plus this 2004 column also written by Bob which first brought the Schwing Bioset deal to light.
Now its time for the Broward State Attorney to clean up the mess in Hollywood. It would be even nicer if voters there brought some fresh faces to the city council. I think it is long overdue.
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