Like almost every city in South Florida, Hallandale Beach is not immune to corruption and political drama. Lately, though, the city has had more than its fair share of scandal. The recent commission election, which was one of the nastiest in Broward County’s history, only served to publicly air the city’s dirty laundry.
At the center of the storm was none other than North Miami’s perennial parasite, Shady Boy-Lobbyist Evan Ross.
Wow, who saw that coming?
Just kidding. Who didn’t?
Apparently no city is safe from Evan’s smarmy, opportunist ways.
Here’s how it all went down.
Fresh from their electoral victories, incumbent Commissioner Michelle Lazarow and her newly elected colleague, political newbie Anabelle Taub, congratulated themselves for clutching the City of Hallandale Beach from the jaws of eternal damnation.
Lazarow told the Sun Sentinel, “Tonight, we turned the page to a new chapter for Hallandale Beach.”
Taub, who ousted embattled incumbent Bill Julian, chimed in, “The residents of Hallandale Beach struck corruption with a fatal blow tonight.”
Julian had been under investigation since August when he was caught on tape agreeing to vote for an upcoming development deal in exchange for help with his re-election campaign, among other goodies. Days later, he followed through and voted in favor of the “$450 million condo and hotel project at the Diplomat Golf and Tennis Club,” according to an August 26, 2016 Sun Sentinel article.
Channel 10’s Bob Norman broke the story of the alleged bribery scheme, adding that “Julian voted with the majority to approve the development and voted against a measure to force the developers to provide $700,000 toward a park, purchase a fire truck for the city and give $25,000 for historical preservation.” When the reporter confronted Julien about the recording, he claimed he didn’t know if he had broken the law or not.
As soon as the scandal broke, Commissioners Keith London and Michelle Lazarow publicly chastised Julian at the August 25, 2016 meeting. Mayor Joy Cooper, an ally of Julian, and who’s contended with ethical challenges of her own, ordered the police chief to remove London and Lazarow from the meeting. Mayor Cooper and Commissioner Anthony Sanders quickly “jumped to Julian’s defense, chalking it all up to election season,” according to the Sun Sentinel.
“I think nothing will come of this,” Cooper said.
She was wrong.
The story gets even more twisted.
On September 20, 2016, the Sun Sentinel reported that two months earlier Mayor Joy Cooper had filed a complaint with the Broward State Attorney’s Office against London and Lazarow, accusing “her two political rivals” of violating Sunshine Laws. (Note: Broward County does have an Ethics Commission, but for some reason Cooper didn’t file her complaint with them.)
At that point, with three out of five Hallandale Beach commissioners under investigation, you’d think things couldn’t get any worse.
You’d be wrong.
On October 21, 2016, Channel 10’s Bob Norman (again) broke the story that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement opened a criminal investigation into claims made by Keith London, Michelle Lazarow and then-commission candidate Anabelle Taub that “illegal tracking devices” were secretly installed under their cars, and alleging that they were being “followed by private investigators.” They also “publicly accused Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper of being involved in the espionage.” Cooper denied any involvement. Her buddy on the dais, Bill Julian, refused to take the reporter’s calls.
Three days later, London, Lazarow and Taub held a press conference, pointing a collective finger directly at Julian.
Lazarow told Channel 10, “A shady PAC funded by prominent lobbyists and the same developers who are accused of bribing Bill Julian is running a TV commercial using footage that was obtained illegally by private investigators that placed tracking devices on all of our cars.” Lazarow claimed that this PAC was “funded with about $100,000 provided by companies tied to the city’s Diplomat Golf & Tennis Course.”
Oh, yeah. This just keeps getting better and better.
At this point, you might be tempted to think that Cooper and Julian are the only villains in this story, and that London, Lazaro and Taub are the heroes of Hallandale Beach.
Think again. It’s not that simple.
Anabelle Taub had the good fortune to run against an incumbent who was drowning in self-inflicted legal troubles and being dogged by bad press. She also appealed to voters who were weary of the status quo. Like most naive political virgins, the fresh-faced Taub seemed filled with sweetness and light and good intentions. Give her time. This will pass.
Commissioners London and Lazarow, however, are seasoned career politicians. They’ve also accumulated plenty of baggage – and criticism – along the way.
In March of this year, self-professed Professional Trouble Maker/World-Famous Activist (and my first mentor) Chaz Stevens accused Michelle Lazarow of “strong-arming citizens around South Florida, making sure that they donate (cash please) to her campaign.” He also claimed she desperately needed to get re-elected because “without the seat on the dais, Lazarow would be back to the forever unemployed line.” Lazarow is known to be an ardent animal activist, which in my opinion, is a good thing. Stevens, however wrote, “Lazarow’s white dress isn’t so white, while she has ostensibly good intentions, this former coke-user has limited means to support herself, and may be drawing upon the heartfelt good nature of folks who truly care about dogs to make it a go.”
That was not Chaz’s first blog about Lazarow. It’s clear there’s no love lost between them. You can check all his columns about her out by clicking >>> here. (Caveat emptor: Chaz’s language is quite, um, colorful, to say the least.)
Although at one time Chaz supported Keith London, he is no longer enamored with the commissioner. In his May, 2015 blog, What happened to Hallandale Beach Commissioner Keith London?, Stevens wrote, “London, once a loyal fan of this blog, no longer responds to our emails, and we’re not alone, as his ‘erratic behavior and unwillingness to publicly discuss what he did to make money really rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and his caginess about lobbying has made things worse.'”
(More about the “lobbying” problem in a bit.)
In June, Commissioner Keith London had to answer to the Broward County Inspector General after a complaint was filed by Mayor Joy Cooper (again bypassing the Ethics Commission) claiming that he abused the public trust for “using city resources to allegedly do political campaign work.”
Cooper told Channel 10’s Bob Norman, “You’re entrusted by the residents of this city to use your office to the benefits of the residents, not to use your office for your own gain or the political gain of someone else. That’s not what you’re elected for. This isn’t a campaign office.”
He made copies of campaign checks using the copier at City Hall. <GASP!>
Although he said he would “reimburse the city for the sheets of paper [he] used,” London certainly should have known better.
The bigger “crime,” however, was Mayor Cooper’s abuse of Broward taxpayer resources by asking the Inspector General, instead of the Ethics Commission, to investigate this ridiculous charge.
But let’s talk about shady lobbying and political committees … yeah, you knew I’d get to that.
In two columns published on December 13, 2016, Red Broward blogger Tom Lauder clearly exposed the hypocrisy of the “three musketeers,” Keith London, Michelle Lazarow and Anabelle Taub … and their direct link to none other than Shady Boy-Lobbyist Evan Ross.
Lauder pulled no punches in the opening paragraph of his first column, Shadowy PACs Funded By Gaming Industry Backed Hallandale Candidates. Lauder wrote:
“Despite being dubbed as corruption-busting reform candidates, several Hallandale Beach candidates were backed by shadowy political committees funded by local and out of state gaming interests. In the final weeks of the November campaign, Commissioner Michele Lazarow railed against the Diplomat Hotel for spending money to defeat her. On Facebook, Lazarow said, “The Diplomat is funding a 125k PAC to run me out of office. It isn’t going to help and they are going to lose 125k.” But campaign financial reports show Lazarow and her ally Anabelle Taub received money from groups associated with the Gulfstream Park racetrack and casino.”
According to the article, Lazarow and Taub received thousands of dollars in donations from entities associated with Gulfstream Park and Mardi Gras casinos, as well as other gaming organizations. In addition, in the weeks leading up to the November 8th election, both of them “received maximum contributions of $1,000 from four shadowy political committees.”
The article notes, “Most of the contributions to these political committees were made by gambling businesses and associated interests.”
Lauder rightfully questioned:
“Is taking money from Gulfstream Park and other gaming interests better than taking money from the Diplomat Hotel?
Lazarow and Taub said they wanted to bring back “honesty” to the Hallandale Beach City Commission. Is taking money from shadowy political committees their definition of ‘honesty?'”
Dethroned Commissioner Bill Julian was lambasted for accepting donations from a “shadowy PAC” representing Big Development, but the hypocrisy of his critics, who took money from not one, but four “shadowy PACs” representing Big Gaming, is astounding!
The best part, however, is that three of the four “shadowy PACs” were “formed by Evan Ross of Miami.”
Isn’t that special?
(Brownie Points to those who correctly guessed that the Ethics Matter PAC is not Evan’s.)
Wait. It gets better.
Remember the conveniently timed press conference held by Keith London, Michelle Lazarow and Anabelle Taub, decrying the “shady PAC funded by prominent lobbyists?”
As it turns out, the presser was organized by none other than Shady Boy-Lobbyist (a/k/a Shady PAC-Man) Evan Ross!
In his second column, Shadowy PAC Founder Orchestrated Hallandale Beach “Illegal Surveillance” Press Conference, blogger Tom Lauder noted that Evan issued the press release and “announced documents and video evidence would be provided at the press conference. At no time did Evan Ross mention he operated political committees funded by Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Casino, an inter-city rival of The Diplomat Golf and Tennis Club.”
The article continued:
In the November 5, 2016 “Dirtiest Election In Broward County“ editorial, the Sun-Sentinel noted the gaming interests’ role in the Hallandale Beach elections. The editors said the Diplomat Hotel and Gulfstream had competing interests in the city. While the newspaper noted the large contributions to the Diplomat-backed committee, they never mentioned the political committees controlled by Evan Ross.“
This column pointed out Evan’s conflict of interest by representing both Gulfstream Park and commissioners of the very city in which the casino is located.
In fact, Lauder posited, “Most importantly, was Evan Ross lobbying Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow and Anabelle Taub on behalf of Gulfstream Park? According to the City of Hallandale Beach website, Evan Ross is not a registered lobbyist.”
And, as I’ve already mentioned in previous blogs, Tom Lauder reiterated Evan Ross’ long history of allegedly engaging in the illegal practice of unregistered lobbying.
Much to my surprise, Lauder even referenced one of my blogs about the Shady Boy-Lobbyist. He wrote:
“According to published reports, Evan Ross is no stranger to controversy over lobbying local government officials. A Probable Cause Memorandum issued by the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, details Evan Ross’ role as a paid consultant for a garbage company. The complaint filed with the Commission alleged Ross acted as an “unregistered lobbyist” in the City of North Miami Beach. While he was cleared by the Commission, Ross was shown to be on the garbage company’s payroll. Stephanie Kienzle of VotersOpinion.com wrote, ‘Even more disturbing, although Evan Ross never registered as a lobbyist for any garbage company, he was secretly working as a ‘paid consultant’ for the current top-ranked bidder, Waste Management of Florida, Inc. How do I know this? Jason P. Neal, the company’s top in-house lobbyist, who is registered in North Miami Beach, told me so in a phone interview.'”
In closing, Tom Lauder wrote:
“In her own October 21 Facebook post, Michelle Lazarow wrote, “If Anabelle Taub and I are elected, the culture of corruption will quickly become a thing of the past.” Residents of Hallandale Beach who believed Lazarow deserve answers regarding her ties to Evan Ross, shadowy political committees and the gaming industry.”
Hopefully, someone has already filed a complaint against the Shady Boy Lobbyist and all his shady PACs.
These new revelations should be of great concern to every politician in South Florida who still has dealings with Evan Ross.
Especially those running for re-election.