The Knucklehead of the Day award
Today's winner is Warren Newell. He gets the award for the following.
WEST PALM BEACH — Under threat of a public corruption indictment, Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell resigned Tuesday, telling Gov. Charlie Crist he intends to plead guilty to an unspecified federal offense.Newell will become the second Palm Beach County Commissioner to plead guilty to federal corruption charges. Two down, five to go eh?
The abrupt resignation ended Newell's 15-year political career as he was seeking reelection to a fifth term in 2008. The governor will appoint his successor.
Newell is the fourth target to face public corruption charges since federal authorities launched an investigation of county government last year. His resignation came a day after federal prosecutors announced that zoning lawyer William R. Boose had agreed to plead guilty to a felony for helping former County Commissioner Tony Masilotti hide his profits from a government land deal.
To see my previous Newell posts, click here, here here, and here. Warren got a Knucklehead award in this post.(In a unrelated story)
In resigning and apologizing, Newell was following a federal protocol for public officials in negotiations for a plea agreement. He and prosecutors will be working against a deadline. The grand jury that has been investigating public corruption is due to disband early next month, and prosecutors will want to work out a deal before that happens, law enforcement experts said.The Post deserves a lot of credit for bringing down both Masilotti and Newell. It also tells you how useless Palm Beach County's State Attorney Barry Krischer is. Barry is too busy prosecuting people who kill in self defense to worry about catching corrupt politicians.
Newell, 52, has been under investigation since February for his undisclosed personal interests in two real estate deals that required commission votes. Until now, he had maintained his innocence while declining to elaborate on his role in the transactions.
Like Masilotti, Newell drew the attention of federal investigators after The Palm Beach Post published a series of stories about him. The stories concerned Newell's connection to two land deals that required commission approvals.
On Feb. 4, The Post reported that Newell, while spearheading a $50 million taxpayer initiative to protect public access to the waterfront, steered $14 million to the Palm Beach Yacht Center, a private Hypoluxo marina where he docked Long Shot, his personal yacht. While pushing the deal in 2005, Newell owed the marina $35,900 in dockage and maintenance fees, financial filings in his divorce showed.
The lengths dishonest politicians to go to not get caught. For being a disgrace to the people of Palm Beach County, Warren Newell is today's Knucklehead of the Day.
At the time, Newell also was an investor with one of the marina owners in Legacy Bank of Florida, a start-up venture. His engineering and surveying firm also did work at the marina, county records showed.
Newell met privately with the marina's owners and county staff, then voted with other commissioners to pay $14 million for development rights for the marina to keep it a working boat yard. County administrators said they never were told of Newell's connections to the marina. Records show he never publicly disclosed his ties before voting on the issue.
The day after the story was published, Newell stepped down as chairman of the county's Value Adjustment Board, avoiding a conflict. The marina needed his signature as chairman for a $340,000-a-year property tax cut from selling its development rights to the county. Later, his ties with Legacy Bank were severed and he stepped aside at SFRN, the engineering partnership he joined in 1986.
On March 25, The Post documented Newell's secretive role in a lucrative real estate flip. Newell worked the deal while voting three times in 2004 and 2005 on matters that enhanced the property's value without disclosing his interest in the property. In little more than a year, a company Newell co-founded more than doubled its money, buying the land for $1.9 million, then selling it to a hospital chain for $4.4 million.
Newell and his partners signed a contract to buy the property that stipulated that the terms not be placed in the public record. In May 2005, Newell's name was deleted from the company's public registration forms, and no mention of the deal was made on the commissioner's annual financial disclosure forms. The land deal closed in October 2005, and he would not say whether he made a profit.
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