Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca co-hosted a political fundraiser with the attorney hired to conduct an investigation into misconduct at Broward Health involving LaMarca himself. In June, attorney Mitch Berger hosted a “meet and greet” luncheon at his Berger Singerman firm for Fort Lauderdale Commission candidate Ben Sorenson. Chip LaMarca was the second name listed on the Sorenson invitation. In February, former Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro, LaMarca’s close adviser and personal attorney, hired Berger Singerman to help State investigators conduct an audit at Broward Health. Following Broward Health CEO Nabil El-Sanadi’s death in January, the State launched an investigation into a $71 million dollar contract involving Broward Health and Zimmerman Advertising. Chip LaMarca was an employee of Zimmerman.
In April, REDBROWARD reported Mitch Berger’s investigation uncovered evidence LaMarca was the driving force behind the huge Zimmerman contract.
Chip LaMarca’s role in the $71 million dollar contract for Zimmerman Advertising dominates the 132 page report from Berger Singerman. LaMarca met the late Dr. Nabil El Sanadi and Doris Peek, a Broward Health senior vice president to discuss the Zimmerman Advertising contract. While LaMarca claims Zimmerman hired him to perform “community relations,” the Berger Singerman report shows he was the main force pushing the contract. According to the report, Peek claims LaMarca threatened El Sanadi. Peek stated the purpose of the meeting “was to discuss Zimmerman’s desire to epand its contract with the District and Mr. LaMarca carried the conversation.” LaMarca told Berger Singerman lawyers that El Sanadi called for the meeting. LaMarca said El Sanadi wanted his advice on “how El Sanadi should approach Mr. Zimmerman about the maketing issue.” Peek claims LaMarca stated at this meeting that his role at Zimmerman was to develop new business for Zimmerman Advertising.
At the same meeting, Peek stated LaMarca asked Broward Health to move its marketing working group meetings to a new night. The group met on Tuesdays, the same day as Broward County Commission meetings. When she asked why he wanted to attend these meetings, Peek claims LaMarca said, “he wished to identify new opportunities which could be mutually beneficial to the District and Zimmerman.”
INTIMIDATION ON THE MENU AT WAFFLE HOUSE
During the Waffle House meeting, Peek claims Chip LaMarca leveled a direct threat at El Sanadi. Peek told investigators that LaMarca said, “I put you here, and I can take you out.” Peek believes LaMarca wanted El Sanadi to support the lucrative contract for Zimmerman Advertising. El Sanadi committed suicide earlier this year.
LaMarca told the Sun-Sentinel he never made the threat. He called Peek’s testimony, a “ridiculous, outlandish statement.” LaMarca told the newspaper he quit his job at Zimmerman so he could, “speak freely to the lawyers writing the report to protect ‘my reputation and my name.'”
In an interview with the Florida Bulldog, LaMarca said, “Having been raised by a good mother, the only way I can describe that woman [Peek] is that she was untruthful.” LaMarca told Bob Norman of WPLG Local 10 News, “This is an unfactual allegation. It’s a lie….I wouldn’t threaten a friend.”
The Berger Singerman reports states LaMarca’s ire may have been directed at Doris Peek as well. Peek was originally scheduled to deliver the Zimmerman proposal to the Broward Health board, but Berger Singerman lawyers learned El Sanadi wanted Peek “removed from the process” because “members of the Zimmerman team were complaining about her ‘interference’ and ‘obstruction.’” Peek believed Jordan Zimmerman and Chip LaMarca tried to get her fired many times between 2015 and El Sanadi’s death in 2016.
LaMarca denied her tried to get Peek fired, “Although he did concede that he believed her to be ‘skeptical’ of Zimmerman’s abilities.”
In March, the Broward Health board fired Berger Singerman. Florida Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel accused Berger Singerman of interfering with her review and recommended the suspensions of David Di Pietro, the former chairman, and Commissioner Darryl Wright. Gov. Scott suspended both men for “malfeasance” within hours of that recommendation on March 18.
Earlier this month, Broward Health debated whether to pay $200,000 in legal fees to Berger Singerman. According to POLITICO, new chairman Rocky Rodriguez said it wasn’t the “right time” to discuss the bill, and said he needed to get some answers “here and there” regarding the fees.
Several well-place sources claim former Broward Health insiders were applying pressure to board members to pay Berger Singerman. Just as this matter was coming before the board, David Di Pietro’s legal team send a threatening letter to Broward Health Commissioner Sheela Van Hoose. (At one time, Van Hoose owned the REDBROWARD domain name). Attorney Bruce Green, who represented Di Pietro in his lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott, sent a vague letter to Van Hoose ordering her to preserve emails and electronic data regarding REDBROWARD.com. Green never revealed his client and their is no current legal action against Van Hoose or REDBROWARD.com.
State investigators are still trying to gather information related to Zimmerman and LaMarca. Last week, POLITICO reported Broward Health has not turned over documents related to Chip LaMarca. “Melinda Miguel, Scott’s chief inspector general, sent a letter to Broward Health Board of Commissioners Chairman Rocky Rodriguez Monday saying she was ‘deeply troubled by what may be an intentional effort to withhold requested emails from my office’ and told him that Broward Health has until Sept. 23 to provide her office with all the emails she requested from the health care district.” According to POLITICO reporter Christine Sexton, “Miguel’s letter specifically notes that she is looking for emails from Chip LaMarca, Broward County Commissioner and Vice President of Community Relations for the Zimmerman Advertising Agency; former commissioner and board chairman David Di Pietro; and, former Chief Executive Officer Nabil El Sanadi, who commited suicide in January.”
DI PIETRO & LA MARCA AND INSIDERS
In light of the Ben Sorenson fundraiser, questions should be asked about Di Pietro and LaMarca’s relationship with Mitch Berger. Why did Di Pietro, a former operative of the local Mitt Romney and Donald Trump campaigns, hire Democrat power fundraiser Mitch Berger? Are Di Pietro, LaMarca and Berger friends? Does Berger often co-host parties with individuals he has investigated? Was Di Pietro hoping to gain Democrat support for his wife’s political campaign? Judge Nina Weatherly Di Pietro is on the November ballot.
This would not be the first time Di Pietro turned to friends for help in legal matters involving Chip LaMarca.
In 2013, this reporter covered foreclosure proceedings against Chip LaMarca. In May of 2012, Wells Fargo Bank initiated court proceedings in an attempt to collect more than $385,000 from LaMarca and his wife, Eileen LaMarca. A Media Trackers Florida review of court records revealed how lobbyists, professional sports franchises, and the proliferation of campaign cash played a role in the foreclosure case.
Court records showed LaMarca failed to make payments on a line of credit issued by Wells Fargo bank in June of 2006. Bank statements showed he stopped making payments in August of 2010, just before winning the 2010 county commissioner election.
David DiPietro represented LaMarca in the foreclosure case.
On October 2, 2013 a court order granted mediation between Wells Fargo and LaMarca, appointing a “Joy Speechler” as mediator. Local lawyers believe the court website misspelled mediator Jay Spechler’s name as “Joy Speechler.” Spechler, a former Broward County judge, is a prominent mediator who frequently works with DiPietro.
Just days later at Broward County Commission meeting, LaMarca and seven other Broward County Commissioners voted to approve a new financial arrangement with a local children’s art museum. Several years ago, the Commission gave $3 million to help build a new facility for the Young At Art Museum. In exchange for a 40-year lease, the museum promised to repay the money over 11 years.
With nearly $2 million in past due payments, Young At Art announced it would miss another payment deadline. The County Commission voted to allow Young At Art to refinance the deal and make its payments over 40 years rather than 11. In the days before the vote, Mindy Shrago, Executive Director/CEO of Young At Art, visited commissioners. The Commission visitors log shows Shrago met with LaMarca on October 21, 2013 at 4:00pm.
Mindy Shrago is the wife of former Judge Jay Spechler. LaMarca never mentioned a potential conflict of interest before casting his vote on the refinancing measure.
INTIMIDATION GAME PART DEUX
This week, REDBROWARD exposed an apparent attempt to prevent a story regarding Young At Art.
As the new chairman of the Young At Art board, David Di Pietro is trying to work out another new deal between the faltering children’s museum and the County. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Broward County invested $20.6 million into YAA, expecting $11.2 million back in 11 years. But the museum defaulted almost immediately after the museum opened in 2012. The deal was changed to allow YAA to repay the money over 37 years. Sun-Sentinel reporter Brittany Wallman wrote, “County Auditor Evan Lukic said in a recent memo the museum isn’t honoring that agreement, either. The museum was to give the county half of any pledge payments, a tab Lukic says was underpaid by $240,888. Lukic also doubted the museum’s ability to pay what it owes in the future.”
During early voting in August at the Coral Ridge Mall, Jay Spechler and Mindy Shrago were spotted campaigning for Judge Nina Weatherly Di Pietro. In a conversation with Spechler and Shrago, this reporter asked Spechler about an issue concerning Young At Art Museum. A visibly angry Spechler asked this reporter how he would “feel if somebody came after your kids.” When this reporter asked if Spechler was issuing a threat, Shrago implored her husband to calm down because, “we’re so close to a new deal” with Broward County.
Less than a month later, one of Di Pietro’s lawyers sent the legal letter to Broward Health Commissioner Sheela Van Hoose. Shortly after the letter was sent, Spechler sent an emissary to broker a “truce.” They were told to contract REDBROWARD directly. The next day, someone posted a picture of this reporter and his family on the JAABLaw website. The minor children of this reporter were clearly visible in the photograph, which included a link to a gay slur and a heavy dose of body shaming. Thankfully, the operator of JAABLaw pulled the post.
SOON: THE VIDEOS YOUNG AT ART DOES NOT WANT YOU TO SEE