Official: Supt. James Notter Made Call for Dirty Developers

Categories: Crime

In a sworn statement with state prosecutors, late Broward Superintendent Michael Garretson gave a downright creepy description of the telltale sign of when "cunning" former School Board Member Stephanie Kraft, who is facing corruption charges, was lying.   

kraftsmug1.jpg
Watch out for the whites of her eyes.
"She's a very demanding lady, she's very smart and very demanding but very cunning, and I don't know how else to say that," he told prosecutors. "And as a matter of fact, Lois Wexler, the county commissioner, told me long ago when [Kraft] looks at you and she rolls her eyes back in her head and all you can see are the whites of her eyes, she's lying, and I've seen that time and time and time again."

That's one of the highlights of the discovery released by the State Attorney's Office on the Kraft corruption case, according to a report by Paula McMahon  this morning in the Sun-Sentinel. When first questioned about the matter by the Pulp last October, Garretson said he was "shocked" when he learned that Kraft's husband, Mitch Kraft, had been paid by dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. Kraft is charged with bribery, unlawful compensation, and official misconduct for using her office to help the Chaits' Prestige Homes firm get a half-million dollar discount on school mitigation fees.    

Apparently when prosecutors got to Garretson three months before his death, he was still feeling the same way. He detailed how Kraft hounded him to help get the fee reduction, calling him on the phone and pressuring him in other ways to hurry the process for the developers, whom she said were "big supporters" of hers.  

Also calling on behalf of the Chaits -- who are key witnesses in several corruption cases -- was Broward County Superintendent Jim Notter. Garretson said he assumed Kraft had asked Notter to make the call. Notter, however, testified under oath that he didn't recall making any such call.

See other key -- and incriminating -- details inside.

Bruce Chait himself told prosecutors that Mitch Kraft wanted far more than the $10,000 he paid him in 2007 for helping him get the work, according to the Sentinel.

Mitch Kraft was working with former school official Chuck Fink, who received 5 percent of the $500,000 fee reduction, or $25,000. Apparently Mitch Kraft wanted the same fee even though he did little work. "He had no concept of what the stuff was," Fink told prosecutors. "I'm not sure what his actual job is with the developer. I'm still not sure what he actually does."

The fact that Mitch Kraft basically had no role in the process, other than apparently playing middleman for the developers with his own wife and Fink, didn't keep Mitch Kraft from wanting the big money. "He started yelling and screaming like a banshee that he thought he was going to get [$25,000]," Chait testified.

Stephanie Kraft has always been known to be vindictive. When former School Board official Lee Stepanchek determined that a piece of land bought by the board from one of Kraft's biggest supporters, Ron Bergeron, was overpriced, Kraft went on a veritable jihad against Stepanchek and auditor Pat Reilly. Garretson's testimony gives an inside view of how Kraft tried to get rid of School Board officials who crossed her.

In this case, it was the late Thomas Coates, who served as Broward schools' director of growth management, and growth management employee Chris Akagbosu. When I first broke the story about Kraft and the Chaits, I was stunned when Coates spoke with me honestly about what had happened. He was clearly disturbed by Kraft's obvious corruption and told me as much.

Coates and Akagbosu documented that corruption, and Coates steered me to the documents when I contacted him on the matter after receiving a tip. He was clearly concerned about retribution from Kraft against both himself and Akagbosu, making his help that much more admirable.

The documents show that, sure enough, Kraft tried to exact revenge on Coates for trying to do the right thing. Garretson testified that Kraft called Akagbosu a "rogue employee" -- which is ironic considering that it was coming from a rogue School Board member. "[Kraft] snarled at me sometime fairly recently that she's furious at Coates and Akagbosu and I should do something about them," Garretson testified, according to the Sentinel article. "I thought to myself, 'Yeah, I'm doing something about them: I'm getting the hell out of here.'" 

Coates died this past June. They should put a plaque up in his honor in the lobby of the K.C. Wright building.

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