By Kevin Deutsch
Tamarac city commissioners on Wednesday approved a forensic audit examining past transactions involving former City Manager Michael Cernech, who prosecutors say conspired to extort more than $3 million from a local developer.
Among the transactions auditors are expected to look into are Cernech’s dealings involving the redevelopment of Colony West, which began after the city purchased the 262-acre golf course in 2011.
Florida prosecutors are waging the criminal case against Cernech, 53. The case does not involve Colony West, and Tamarac city officials said there was no evidence suggesting Cernech committed any fraud related to Colony West.
Cernech played a central role in the project and should have his involvement scrutinized in the wake of his 2021 arrest, argued Tamarac Vice Mayor Mike Gelin, who put the issue up for discussion.
“It is our fiduciary responsibility to ensure that our tax dollars have not been misappropriated,” argued Gelin, who said Cernech “lied to the highest levels of government.”
The decision to pursue an audit of Cernech’s dealings was not brought up for a vote but moved forward by consensus under commission rules.
Before the audit can officially get underway, city officials must determine the scope of the forensic investigation and get a cost estimate for the work from RSM, the financial forensics firm that audits the city.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the city or RSM provided no cost estimate or time frame for the audit.
Last August, the commission voted during an emergency meeting to fire Cernech, who was arrested days earlier for alleged criminal activity with several co-conspirators, including corrupt father-and-son developer duo Bruce and Shawn Chait.
Cernech, of Parkland, 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.
Records show that other co-conspirators in the case include John Colonel and Harris Shapiro.
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.
Records show Cernech is currently free on a $2oo,ooo bond.
- 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.