Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief and Commissioner Chip LaMarca attended a lavish gala with a real estate developer who needed their votes on a crucial project. Published reports claimed Commissioners at the May 13, 2014 meeting would “decide fate of three projects” including the Chieftain Pembroke project in Pembroke Pines. Dev Motwani, the developer behind Chieftain Pembroke, needs a zoning change to construct 262 residences on 10.5 acres at the southeast corner of University Drive. The property is currently zoned for office use. Sharief, LaMarca and the seven other commissioners voted to approve the Chieftain Pembroke agenda item. A public hearing is set for June 10, 2014. None of the commissioners mentioned any possibility of a conflict of interest before voting.
Mayor Sharief and Commissioner LaMarca never mentioned they sat with Dev Motwani at the April 16, 2014 Excellence In Education Gala in Fort Lauderdale. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association(FRLA) event at the Hilton Marina honors local culinary students and teachers. Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was the main speaker and helped hand out nearly $17,000 in scholarships to Broward students. One of the event’s sponsors was Merrimac Ventures. State of Florida corporate records indicate Merrimac Ventures is owned by Dev Motwani.
Oblivious to the perception of a conflict of interest, Mayor Sharief posted a picture from the event on Twitter. The picture showed Sharief, LaMarca, Runice and Motwani sitting at the table purchased by Merrimac Ventures. FRLA executive director Anne Sallee told RED BROWARD the politicians paid for their tickets.
Motwani is no stranger to LaMarca and Sharief. Last May, RED BROWARD revealed Motwani was the deputy treasurer of LaMarca’s re-election campaign. Some questioned why LaMarca picked Motwani, given his longtime financial support of Democrats like Congressman Patrick Murphy. Since August 2013, Motwani and his companies have contributed $8,000 to LaMarca’s campaign. On March 31, 2014, LaMarca received a $1000 contribution from Chieftain Pembroke.
Barbara Sharief has received Motwani campaign cash as well. Just five days after sitting at the Merrimac Ventures education gala table, Sharief received $500 from Chieftain Holdings LP, $1000 from Las Olas Riverfront LP and $1000 from MW Lauderdale LP. In March, she received $500 from Chieftain Holdings LP, $500 from MW Tropic Cay LP and $50 from Ramola Motwani.
This is not the first time social media has exposed Sharief and LaMarca’s meetings with lobbyists and others with business before the county commission. Last January, Commissioner Martin David Kiar posted a picture on his Facebook page of Sharief and LaMarca presenting Joel with a ceremonial “Key to the County.” Kiar wrote, “Just had a great time hanging out with the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel. Mayor Sharief, Commissioner LaMarka [sic] and I gave him the Key to Broward County.” The meeting,which took place before Joel’s concert at the BB&T Center, came during a series of meetings where the Florida Panthers were asking for $80 million dollars from taxapayers. The county-owned BB&T Center is operated by the Florida Panthers.
Sharief was pictured with then Panthers CEO Michael Yormark and Panthers lobbyist John Milledge. LaMarca admitted he was invited by Michael Yormark “to present Billy Joel with the Key to Broward County in part of a formal welcome ceremony. There were refreshments, that I did not partake in, but you would have to ask others what they chose to do. As for the photo, it is most unfortunate that it was taken for the simple reason that there was an explicit request that we do not take personal photos with the entertainer. Clearly this direction was not followed and is embarrassing.”
Other published investigations uncovered “troubling conflicts” regarding LaMarca’s relationship with Panthers lobbyists. LaMarca is facing foreclosure on his Broward County home, court records show. In May of 2012, Wells Fargo Bank hired a law firm headed by Michael Moskowitz to initiate court proceedings in an attempt to collect more than $385,000 from LaMarca. According to the Broward County government website, Michael Moskowitz is the registered lobbyist for Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, the Panthers’ company which operates the BB&T Center.
In May 2013, Sharief and LaMarca voted to spend $4.2 million from tourist taxes to purchase a new high-definition scoreboard for the Panthers. There is no record of Sharief and LaMarca discussing the matter with Moskowitz, but neither commissioner mentioned a potential conflict of interest.