By: Sharon Aron Baron
A former Broward County bigwig is in trouble with the law again.
Russell Barakat, former head of the Broward Democratic Party and executive director of the Broward Housing Authority who served time in federal prison for tax evasion and threatening a government official, is now accused of slashing his neighbor’s tires.
On April 2, at 7:20 p.m. the Broward Sheriff’s Office was called after Barakat, 79, took a sharp object and slashed the tires of two of his neighbors in the Bonaire at Woodmont condominiums at the 7600 block of NW 79th Ave in Tamarac.
Both driver’s side tires on the victim’s cars were punctured with damages estimated up to $1,000 each.
Barakat was identified after one of the victim’s home surveillance cameras captured the incident which positively identified him to police.
In 1996, a federal grand jury charged Barakat with income tax evasion and for conspiring to accept illegal payments through the mail with his job with the Broward County Housing Authority.
Jurors acquitted Barakat of the kickback charge, but convicted him of tax evasion. In May 1996. Barakat lost both his $104,750-a-year job as the executive director of the housing authority that he had held since 1972, and the party chair position he held since 1988. This ended his 24-year public career as one of South Florida’s most powerful political insiders.
In 1998, Barakat was indicted on charges of mailing anonymous threats and personal attacks to dozens of people – including, then Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Herzog, who won a conviction against him on tax evasion, and three former colleagues at the Broward County Housing Authority.
According to the Sun Sentinel, Prosecutor Debra Herzog was the target of several of the demeaning and threatening letters Barakat anonymously sent threatening to ruin her career.
“One day I just walk up to you and stick my foot up your a—,” he wrote.
FBI forensic experts were able to re-create several of the letters from the particular typewriter ribbons he used, and FBI agents and Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies retrieved the white gloves used while typing along with other evidence when they arrested him. They also captured him typing the letters on videotape and 35 mm film.
In 1998, Barakat was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and then two years of supervised probation.
One of the victims of the tire slashing said Barakat currently serves on the board at Bonaire and was surprised to find out he was a convicted felon. “Convicted felons aren’t allowed to serve on the board,” the victim said.
Both victims said they wished to prosecute.