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Broward County, FL Sheriff Resigns, Pleads Guilty to Federal Corruption Charges

by David M. Reutter

Facing an imminent federal grand jury indictment, Florida?s Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne took preemptive action by agreeing to plead to lesser charges and resign as Sheriff. PLN has previously reported the state and federal investigations into Jenne?s personal corruption that was made possible by his position as head of the Broward County Sheriff?s Office (BSO). [See: PLN, June 2007, p.12].

Those investigations, which began in 2005, focused on cozy relationships between Jenne?s security consulting businesses that used BSO equipment and manpower. Federal authorities, however, were more focused on Jenne?s failure to report income from those enterprises. A federal grand jury issued subpoenas for over 20,000 BSO documents and took testimony from a dozen BSO employees.

Along the way the IRS joined the investigation. An IRS agent testified in August 2007 about Jenne?s receipt of over $100,000 from contractors with the Sheriff?s office, without reporting those funds on his income tax returns. According to court records the unreported income included $20,000 in loans from a BSO vendor paid through Jenne?s secretaries; $10,000 in consulting fees from another BSO vendor in 2002; a $8,130 gift from the same vendor, which paid to demolish a home owned by Jenne; and almost $40,000 from Jenne?s former law firm in auto loan and insurance payments on Jenne?s Mercedes-Benz convertible.

Jenne had initially refused to accept a plea bargain laid on the table by federal prosecutors in July 2007. That changed when former U.S. Attorney Thomas Scott joined Jenne?s defense team. Seeing the writing on the wall, Jenne cleaned out his office on September 2, 2007 and sent a letter of resignation to Governor Charlie Crist and BSO employees.

The next day he made an agreement with federal prosecutors. On September 4, Jenne formally pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud conspiracy and three counts of tax evasion. On November 16, 2007 he received a sentence of one year and one day in prison, a $3,000 fine, and one year on supervised release.

The plea deal is a shameful end for a man who spent his life in public service and the public eye. Jenne began his career as a Broward County prosecutor. He was a state senator for nearly 20 years, serving as the Senate?s Democratic leader from 1994 to 1998. Jenne was tapped by Gov. Lawton Chiles to serve as Broward?s Sheriff in 1998, and won reelection twice afterward. Throughout his career in public office Jenne has been dogged by allegations of corruption, including association with Italian American organized crime figures. Until now, he had prospered despite the ongoing barrage of corruption claims.

As Sheriff, Jenne earned $143,315 during his first year in office and $169,800 most recently. Those amounts, however, are a fraction of the income he earned the year before he was appointed Sheriff. As a partner in a private law firm with attorney William Scherer, Jenne had earned $907,486.

Despite accepting a lower salary with the BSO, Jenne?s financial records reveal that he was unable to accept a lesser lifestyle. State ethics documents indicate that since 1998 Jenne had dumped properties, stocks and other assets to raise money. His debt climbed by $119,000 and he cashed out more than $247,000 in assets. His bank account balance dwindled from $174,424 to $14,723 in 2002.

In court documents, federal authorities alleged that Jenne?s precarious financial situation set him on a ?scheme to personally enrich himself? by using his public office. Indeed, in his plea agreement Jenne admitted to an ?abuse of his position of public trust.? That admission will cause Jenne to forfeit his $125,000 annual Sheriff?s pension. He will also likely be disbarred.

Nonetheless, Jenne got off easy. The imminent grand jury indictment included more serious counts of fraud and money-laundering offenses that could have resulted in 10 to 20-year prison terms.

The opportunity to avoid a grand jury indictment is a benefit that is not often afforded to the non-well connected. Jenne?s plea deal came as an act of compassion from other public servants.

?The people of Broward County shouldn?t have to choose between leaders who are effective and those who are law-abiding. They are entitled to both,? stated Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Axelrod.

Jenne?s replacement as Sheriff, Al Lamberti, will have to clean up the mess that Jenne left behind. On January 6, 2008, the Miami Herald reported that the BSO had paid more than $1.3 million to a law firm approved by Jenne in 2004 to conduct an audit of the BSO?s mishandling of crime statistics. Despite the substantial payment, attorney Tom Panza?s law firm allegedly duplicated reviews done by public agencies, including the FBI, Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement and the BSO itself, and no final report was ever issued. Panza, a personal friend of Jenne?s, defended his firm?s work and has denied any wrongdoing.

Sources: Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald

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