By Kevin Deutsch
Former Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech has entered a written plea of not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering in his public corruption case, court records show.
In a Sept. 17 filing in Broward Circuit Court, attorney Larry Davis submitted the plea to Judge Edward H. Merrigan, Jr., marking Cernech’s first official denial of the state’s criminal allegations.
“Michael Cernech, by and through the undersigned attorney…hereby files this Written Plea of Not Guilty to the charges…and demands a trial by jury.”
Cernech is due in court for arraignment on Sept. 21.
According to court records, the not guilty plea was filed the same day Cernech asked Merrigan to take him off of house arrest so that the longtime public official could begin two new jobs.
“Mr. Cernech has secured possible employment at both a manufacturing company and a staffing agency,” Davis wrote in his motion to amend the conditions of Cernech’s pretrial release. “At these companies, he would serve as a consultant assisting in operations and recruitment, respectively.”
Both opportunities would require “tri-county travel for day-to-day work purposes such as meetings, and depending on the businesses’ needs, possible out-of-state travel if permitted by the Court,” the motion states.
Cernech, 52, was fired by the Tamarac City Commission during an emergency meeting on Sept. 2, days after his arrest, for allegedly helping extort more than $3 million from a local developer.
The Commission voted 4-1 to terminate Cernech with cause, with multiple members stating they wanted to make a clean break with their longtime city manager. Prosecutors said Cernech conspired to commit racketeering with several others, including father-and-son developer duo Bruce and Shawn Chait.
Cernech is currently free on a $200,000 bond, for which his house was used as collateral, courts records show.
Cernech, Tamarac’s city manager since 2011, was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering under the RICO statutes, which resulted from the Chaits and Cernech attempting to pressure Arnaud Karsenti, the Managing Principal of 13th Floor Investments, into coughing up $3.4 million in extortion money, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
In exchange for the payoff, the Chaits’ vowed to cease a years-long harassment and intimidation campaign they and their allies waged against Karsenti by publicizing false evidence—including lawsuits— claiming the Sabal Palm and Monterrey golf courses on which 13th Floor built the Manor Parc and Central Parc developments were environmentally tainted, records show.
Other co-conspirators in the case include John Colonel and Harris Shapiro, records show.
The Chaits have a history of criminal corruption in Tamarac and Broward County, partaking in an earlier bribery scandal. Multiple Tamarac officials were implicated and arrested, and a county commissioner was sent to prison.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.