Corrupt Palm Beach County officials want names cleared

Palm Beach PostJanuary 6, 2013 

PALM BEACH — Six years after former Palm Beach County Commissioner Tony Masilotti led what became a conga line of county officials to federal prison on corruption charges, the majority of those who pleaded guilty and served their time are back in court, protesting their innocence. One-time influential land-use attorney Bill Boose and Kevin McCarty, husband of disgraced County Commissioner Mary McCarty and a political powerhouse in his own right, are the latest to ask federal judges to throw out their convictions. Former Commissioner Warren Newell has been waiting for nearly two years to find out whether his November 2007 conviction for honest services fraud will be overturned. Masilotti, who was the first to plead guilty in January 2007 in what became a series of unrelated transgressions by fellow commissioners and others, has repeatedly been thwarted in his quest to have his conviction reversed so he can get his hands on an estimated $10 million worth of land he forfeited as part of his plea deal. In November, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta denied his request. His ex-wife, Susan, and brother Paul are still trying to persuade the appeals court they shouldn’t have been forced to give up “ill-gotten” cash for Masilotti’s misdeeds. The only ones who haven’t joined the I-am-innocent project are Mary McCarty and Wellington bussinessman Daniel Miteff. A former member of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, Miteff angered prosecutors by refusing to accept a plea deal until his trial was under way on charges that he paid Masilotti $50,000 for helping him strong-arm the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach into selling 50 acres in Royal Palm Beach. Miteff, in March 2008, was sentenced to five years in federal prison. McCarty, meanwhile, served 21 months of a 3 1/2-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in March 2009 to charges she accepted free or discounted hotel rooms from a company that she backed to build the convention center hotel and for steering bond business to her husband. Like Masilotti, all of those who now insist they did no wrong are trying to capitalize on a 2010 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that redefined what constitutes honest services fraud. The high court ruled that prosecutors must prove that someone accepted a bribe or a kickback to be guilty of honest services fraud. Having pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony, Boose and Kevin McCarty now say their convictions can’t stand because the felonies they failed to report are no longer crimes under the new definition. They also want back the hundreds of thousands of dollars they forfeited. “McCarty pled to a crime that did not exist,” his attorney Charles Wender wrote. Federal prosecutor Stephen Carlton blasted McCarty’s request as too late and off-the-mark. Prosecutors might not have used the magic words bribe or kickback when they charged the former chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, he wrote. But, he continued, the free and deeply discounted hotel rooms he and his wife received from Ocean Properties while it was vying to build the Palm Beach County Convention Center hotel was clearly a bribe. The free rooms were taken at the same time the county and the water management district agreed to pay $23 million for a 627-acre tract owned by the family of an Ocean Properties executive. McCarty also admitted he traded bond underwriting contracts with other firms so he could retain lucrative government business while getting around a restriction that barred him from working on any county projects because of his wife’s position. “Kevin McCarty also cannot establish his actual innocence of other offenses that government forewent as part of the plea negotiation process,” Carlton wrote. Those who have looked at the various cases said Boose has the best chance of success. He pleaded guilty to helping conceal a $1.3 million payment Masilotti received from a government land deal in Martin County. After the high court redefined honest services fraud, prosecutors acknowledged that the land deal no longer constituted a crime. Prosecutors have not yet responded to Boose’s request to have his conviction tossed and recover the $400,000 he forfeited. Decisions are not expected for months. While all of those who pleaded guilty served their time and were released years ago, life as convicted felons isn’t easy, both Boose and McCarty said in court papers. Stripped of his licenses to sell securities, McCarty opened a management consulting business in Delray Beach with his wife when he got out of prison. But, he said it’s not like working as a bond underwriter. “At the age of 63, being barred from my lifetime work has been devastating,” he wrote. “Physically, I cannot do things I could do in my youth, and earning a living is problematic. This conviction is like a millstone around my neck.” Boose said his ability to earn a living has been similarly strained. While he was reinstated to the Florida Bar, he was stripped of his ability to practice law in his home state of Nebraska. He voluntarily gave up his Florida real estate and contracting licenses. Once a name partner of a local law firm and the owner of a real estate company, he said he is unable to find work. “Because of the charge and conviction, Mr. Boose is considered by those in his chosen professions to be a significant public relations liability,” his attorney Steven Malone wrote. “The reputational injury from his charge and conviction has been completely catastrophic to his profession and livelihood.” On that point Carlton, the federal prosecutor, agreed. “It is an obvious fact of life that most criminal convictions do in fact entail adverse collateral legal consequences,” he wrote. County corruption cases Tony Masilotti A former mayor of Royal Palm Beach, he served on the commission from 1998 to 2007. Now 56, he pleaded guilty to honest services fraud in January 2007 in connection with three land deals that made him and his family millions. He was sentenced to five years in prison, slapped with a $25,000 fine and forced to forfeit $175,000 in cash and land worth more than $9.5 million. He was released in February 2011, after serving 37 months. Bill Boose An influential land use lawyer and former county planning director, he pleaded guilty in November 2007 to “misprision of a felony” for helping Masilotti hide $1.3 million in profits from a land deal. Boose, 69, was sentenced to two years in prison, fined $25,000, and forfeited $400,000. Boose served 15 months of a two-year prison sentence. Warren Newell A county commissioner for 15 years, Newell, 58, pleaded guilty to honest services fraud in September 2007, admitting he collected $500,000 from three schemes in which business partners profited from his commission votes. He was sentenced in January 2008 to five years in federal prison but got two years cut off for helping prosecutors build a case against Mary McCarty. He forfeited $135,000. Mary McCarty The five-term county commissioner pleaded guilty in March 2009 to honest services fraud, admitting she took free and discounted stays from a company she helped win a contract to build a convention center hotel, and to steering bond awards that profited herself and her underwriter husband, Kevin. McCarty, 58, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in June 2009. She was released in March 2011. Kevin McCarty A former chairman of the South Florida Water Management district and Mary McCarty’s husband, pleaded guilty in January 2009 to “misprision of a felony” for failing to report his wife’s misdeeds. Now 63, he was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined $5,000. He finished his sentence in January 2010. He and his wife forfeited $272,000, and were fined $105,000. Daniel Miteff A former member of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, Miteff was sentenced to five years in prison on charges that he paid Tony Masilotti $50,000 for helping him strong-arm the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach into selling 50 acres in Royal Palm Beach. Miteff forfeited nearly $100,000 and is scheduled to be released this spring.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service