By: Patti Lynn
This is the final story in a series of reports from Patti Lynn, who covered Patte Atkins-Grad’s trial, the suspended Tamarac City Commissioner charged with eight felony charges for allegedly taking cash or gifts from father and son developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. Lynn ran against Atkins-Grad two times for the City Commission seat.
Atkins-Grad was arrested as a Commissioner back in 2010 because she failed to disclose payments for a $2,300 BMW lease and $4,000 for her victory party back in 2006 for her election as state law required. She was charged with two counts of bribery and unlawful compensation, three counts of official misconduct, and one count of conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation.
Not Guilty – But Not Innocent
The last day of the trial of the suspended Tamarac City Commissioner began at 2:10 PM. Judge Bernard Bober advised the jury that they would hear closing arguments from each side, prosecution and defense. He reminded the jurors that what the lawyers said would not be considered evidence.
Prosecutor Deborah Zimet did a credible job of explaining what the charges meant and what Patte had done. She reiterated that, besides the testimony of the Chaits, she had corroborating testimony from individuals who were not indicted or convicted felons.
Regarding the Unlawful Compensation, Bribery, and Official Misconduct charges, Zimet reminded the jurors:
- As to the money for the car, a sales professional from Brahman BMW testified that Shawn Chait had paid the down payment for Atkins-Grad to be able .only to pay $505 a month on her car lease.
- As to the Diamante’s Victory Party, the former sales manager of the banquet center testified that Shawn Chait paid all but $500 for the event.
- Regarding her campaign finances, her neighbor and campaign treasurer said no money came out of campaign funds for the party.
- Marian Swenson, Tamarac’s former City Clerk and interim commissioner, presented minutes of Tamarac City Commission meetings regarding the golf course development where Atkins-Grad never declared a conflict. She never advised that she had received any gift from the Chaits, nor did she refrain from voting.
All the evidence appeared to be overwhelming as to misdeeds, malfeasance, and really gross misconduct.
That’s not the way the jury saw it. Although newspaper reports indicated that the jurors found her incompetent rather than criminal, they also indicated that jurors did not speak to reporters. So, perhaps, there is speculation as to her reported incompetence. We do, however, have her attorneys and her own words.
Several months ago, on behalf of Ms. Atkins-Grad, Attorney Melnick filed a motion to have his client declared incompetent to stand trial. Throughout the trial, he has stressed her naïveté, political inexperience, and general inability to “see-through” those trying to manipulate her: She was manipulated by the Chaits, by Diane Glasser, by everyone around her who were smarter than she was.
Prosecutor Zimet advised the jurors that Atkins-Grad was making more than $80,000 a year as a realtor, and in the credit application for her BMW, wrote that she had completed 2 years of college. Atkins-Grad, herself, stated on the last day of testimony that she “Could not testify.” She indicated that the stress might cause her to have another stroke. Perhaps there is a competence issue.
Due to being found “Not Guilty” by a jury, another set of dominoes has been set in motion. If Governor Rick Scott reinstates Atkins-Grad to her District Two Commission seat, then the people of the City of Tamarac should be concerned about their municipal government.
Michelle Gomez, who was appointed to fill her slot, will be relieved of her temporary position. She is an attorney, she is capable, and she has functioned well in that position. She has always been prepared and able and willing to speak about any item on the agenda. She has asked pertinent questions to clarify issues before the commission: bye Bye, Michelle.
Welcome back to an elected official who casts doubt on her own abilities. One could not see any wrong in accepting gifts and/or cash from those applying for relief from the city commission—one known to be vindictive.
She joins another commissioner who has stated that she has lost her long-term memory, Diane Glasser.
Glasser says this is not a problem as a seated commissioner, as only short-term memory is needed as a Tamarac Commissioner. Glasser doesn’t remember when or why she met the Chaits. She was the campaign manager but never looked at the campaign finances or, as the Chaits said, she just called them when she wanted more money. For some reason, I would remember how I met the man who gave me a check for $15,000. Lost long-term memory or not, that should be etched somewhere in one’s brain.
True, Glasser was not an elected official of the City of Tamarac when managing Atkins-Grad’s first campaign. She was, however, an elected official of the Broward County Democratic Party, the Florida Democratic Party, and the National Democratic Committee. Do they not require some semblance of ethics and conduct? Do they require some long-term memory?
So, it appears that the City of Tamarac may have a commission minority that may not function as the citizenry might want. Perhaps these two will do the correct and noble thing, and resign or the power they seem to crave will overcome their oaths of office, and they will remain in their seats.
Only time will tell.