Hollywood City Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom has been indicted on several felony counts for his involvement with Schwing Bioset, a waste treatment company that does business with his city, according to several sources.
The State Attorney's Office's investigation of Wasserstrom was sparked by an April 15, 2004 New Times column of mine headlined "Ooh That Smell" (with apologies to the Lynyrd Skynyrd band). From the top of the story:
"A deal to treat the city's raw sewage is fraught with millions of wasted dollars, conflicts of interest, and very likely illegal conduct on the part of Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom, who, along with Mayor Mara Giulianti's son, stands to personally profit from the entire stinking mess."
Mayor Mara *[amended] was named in two of the counts as having participated in the criminal
conduct, but she wasn't charged because prosecutors determined that Wasserstrom duped her into filing false conflict-of-interest forms.*
The key reporting moment was an interview I had with Wasserstrom, who, bless his heart, tried to tell the truth. And he told just enough of it during the course of our talk to royally incriminate himself. Here's the key passage:
The commissioner told me he so adored the company that he got his 62-year-old uncle, Arnold Goldman, a sales job at Schwing Bioset. Wasserstrom also agreed to represent the company before other governments -- including his own. In February 2003, he brought Wakinyan and Schwing Bioset executive Ed Voss to Hollywood City Hall for a meeting with Whit Van Cott, the city's utilities director. "I introduced these guys to Whit and... truly, Whit fell in love with the process just as I did," Wasserstrom said.
Wasserstrom said he also contacted the City of Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade County on behalf of Schwing Bioset and that Stacey Giulianti had assisted with the work for the firm.
How much has the law firm been paid?
"Zero, zero, no money," Wasserstrom responded. "But I honestly intend to make money down the line if it's successful and if they need a lawyer in other jurisdictions. But to date, I've spent a lot of time and effort because I think it's a great thing for the city."
After more questioning, he admitted that he's actually billing his Uncle Arnold for the Schwing Bioset work. "I have been employed by my uncle to help him negotiate his contract with Bioset and have helped him with introductions in other municipalities," Wasserstrom concedes. His uncle "pays hourly attorney's fees to my firm... But he hasn't paid us yet."
Why hasn't his uncle paid the firm?
"Because Bioset hasn't paid him yet."
So Wasserstrom simply uses his uncle as the middleman in his financial arrangement with Schwing Bioset. And that is why the mayor also has a conflict of interest, Wasserstrom says. "Her son is involved," the commissioner admitted. "The problem is that anything that inures to my benefit also inures to his benefit. So, since they are family, she has the same conflict."
Interviews like that don't happen everyday (just every other week or so in Broward County; see "Gallagher, Bev"). The investigation was also pushed relentlessly by Hollywood activists Howard Sher and Pete Brewer. There's a lot more reporting to be done on this indictment, but the historic significance of this develop0ment should be noted here. This is the first public corruption case to be prosecuted by State Attorney Michael Satz's office since 1998 (when former county commissioner Scott Cowan was hit with election violations). That case, however, was largely investigated by the state elections commission. This is the first case to be both investigated and prosecuted by Satz's office in ... oh lord, years and years and years. I'll figure it out.
It's a good sign for Satz. If he cleans up Broward County in the next few years, he might be able to save himself in the eyes of history.