The Broward State Attorney who prosecuted convicted School Board member Stephanie Kraft has teamed up with Kraft’s long-time ally in a bid to change school boundaries to benefit a Fort Lauderdale neighborhood. Assistant State Attorney Catherine Maus, leader of the Victoria Park Civic Association (VPCA), wants school boundaries changed for her neighborhood. Currently, Victoria Park lies within the boundaries of Walker Elementary, a predominantly black school in Fort Lauderdale. For years, residents have tried to gain greater access to Virginia Shuman Young Elementary, the 75% white school in the Victoria Park neighborhood. When a Broward schools boundary committee unanimously rejected a proposal to give Victoria Park students more access to Virginia Shuman Young, Maus and her team enlisted the help of longtime school board activist Mary Fertig.
During the same time period, Catherine Maus prosecuted Stephanie Kraft on bribery and public corruption charges. In December, a Broward jury convicted Kraft of official misconduct. At Kraft’s sentencing hearing before Judge Matt Destry, dozens of Kraft supporters filled the courtroom. To the shock of many courthouse insiders, Destry sentenced Kraft to probation and withheld adjudication. During his sentencing, Destry mentioned the Kraft supporters in the courtroom.
“Destry said he was swayed by an outpouring of support from people who said they were helped by Kraft over the years, before, during and after her term on the school board.
‘I cannot conclude that a simple misstep in your life defines your career,’ Destry said. ‘We’re going to give you a chance to make this right, because you deserve it.’”
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the huge show of support for Kraft was orchestrated by activist Mary Fertig.
In the Sun-Sentinel’s “Broward Politics” twitter feed, reporters detailed Fertig’s efforts to bring Kraft supporters to court. On December 16, the reporter tweeted, “Bond denied for convicted ex-school board member Stephanie Kraft. Despite efforts of activist Mary Fertig to have show of support.” The reporter then tweeted, “Activist Mary Fertig email: ‘Please come if you can to sit in the courtroom and show support’ for convicted school board member.”
Stephanie Kraft and Mary Fertig have been longtime allies. In 1998, Fertig orchestrated Kraft’s election to the Broward School Board. The Sun-Sentinel reported, “Kraft’s team included longtime parent activist Mary Fertig….The group was referred to as the ‘Steel Magnolias.’” Their relationship grew while Kraft served on the school board.
In 1999, Kraft sought permission from the Florida Ethics Commission to work at a law firm which was suing the Broward County School District. Shockingly, The Commission ruled it would not be a conflict of interest. “Kraft, a lawyer in private practice, wants to research and write briefs on insurance cases for Fertig and Grambling, the Fort Lauderdale firm representing Citizens Concerned About Our Children.” Mary Fertig works with her husband Christopher Fertig, an attorney, at Fertig and Grambling.
KRAFT PROSECUTOR MEETS WITH KRAFT ALLY AT FERTIG LAW FIRM
Multiple sources say Catherine Maus met with Mary Fertig at the law offices of Fertig and Grambling to discuss the school boundary issue. Sources attended two meetings with Maus, Fertig, local attorney Carey Villeneuve and Victoria Park resident Ana Corujo. Sources say Fertig, armed with a thick binder of school documents and maps, presided over both meetings. Sources say Fertig attempted to convince concerned Harbordale Elementary parents to accept a brand new boundary proposal.
After unanimously rejecting the original Victoria Park/Virginia Shuman Young proposal on December 11, 2014, the Broward Schools boundary committee discussed a 2013 proposal which would have sent Victoria Park students to Harbordale Elementary. Committee member Robert Mayersohn stated that proposal was a non-starter due to laws requiring safe sidewalks for children walking to school. According to Mayersohn, the law mandates sidewalks be at least 48 inches in width. Since Victoria Park and Harbordale is divided by the New River, students would have to walk through the Kinney Tunnel on Federal Highway. The width of the tunnel sidewalk is just 42 inches.
The committee never voted to bring the 2013 Harbordale proposal before the Broward County School Board. Yet, at the January 13, 2015 boundary workshop, school district administrators presented the 2013 Harbordale proposal. Leslie Brown, Chief Portfolio Services Officer for Broward County Public Schools, gave a convoluted story of how this new proposal came before the board. Brown claimed Ana Corujo had amended her 2014-15 Victoria Park/Virginia Shuman Young proposal, but the boundary committee was unable to vote on it due to a loss of quorum. Later, Brown would claim a boundary committee member came up with the proposal but lack of quorum prevented a vote on the matter.
Now, according to sources who attended the meetings at Fertig and Grambling, the proposal appears to have been crafted by Catherine Maus and Mary Fertig in January and February 2015.
At the January 13th workshop, “prominent Victoria Park realtor” Charlie King confirmed Fertig, “was helping us with this.” Maus was photographed consulting with Fertig during a lunch break at the workshop.
Even though the proposal had very little vetting and public input from the affected communities, Superintendent Robert Runcie adopted the Maus/Ferting plan.
REDBROWARD has obtained an email written by Catherine Maus to the Fort Lauderdale City Commission. Maus attempted to get the commission to pass a resolution supporting Runcie’s new plan. Maus copied the February 19, 2015 email to Corujo, Villenueve and Mary Fertig.
When REDBROWARD asked when, where and how many times she met with Fertig, Maus refused comment.
Did Maus meet with Fertig during the Stephanie Kraft trial? Did Maus realize Fertig was orchestrating courtroom theatrics in a high-profile case she was prosecuting?
Did Maus disclose her meetings with Fertig at the law offices of Fertig and Grambling to Broward State Attorney Mike Satz? Does Satz or Maus see any conflict with Maus and Fertig working together?
The Broward State Attorney’s office confirmed Catherine Maus is the prosector for Mitchell Kraft’s upcoming trial in March. He faces similar public corruption charges as his wife, Stephanie Kraft faced. Will Mary Fertig gather supporters for his trial too?
Broward residents deserve answers.
(Correction: Ana Corujo was misidentified in a earlier version of the story. Corujo is a Victoria Park “resident” not a Victoria Park “realtor.” Damn autocorrect. We regret the error.)