In a shocking admission on Monday, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes told a Federal Court that illegal votes had been cast in Broward County. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “Snipes acknowledged the processes her office have been using aren’t perfect and that some non-citizens and felons have voted despite not being eligible — especially right before major elections when groups are actively registering new voters.” Snipes testified in a Federal lawsuit brought by Broward resident Andrea Bellitto and the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) for violations of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
As first reported by REDBROWARD in June 2016, Bellitto and the ACRU claimed Snipes, “has a federal obligation to maintain accurate and current voter rolls which contain the names of only eligible voters residing in Broward County.” The ACRU alleged Snipes allowed Broward voter rolls to contain more names than the number of eligible residents. The Plaintiffs claimed US Census data proves their case.
Snipes’ attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks said the changes Snipes is making in light of the lawsuit are “no admission of guilt.” Instead, it shows that Snipes is open to changes, Norris-Weeks told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Once again, Snipes and Norris-Weeks tried to blame State law for mistakes at the Broward Supervisor of Elections. Since 2015, REDBROWARD had documented the highly-politicized nature of the Broward SOE under the leadership of Brenda Snipes and her top adviser, Burnadette Norris-Weeks.
POLITICS AS USUAL AT BROWARD ELECTIONS OFFICE?
In June 2015, Broward County Commissioners questioned the political activities of Snipes’ office. REDBROWARD reported Norris-Weeks, the private contract attorney for Broward Supervisor of Elections (SOE), hosted candidate forums since at least 2006. Snipes rebuffed requests from Broward County Commissioners to keep her employees and vendors from dealing with elections issues involving candidates they have supported and/or endorsed.
REDBROWARD revealed Burnadette Norris-Weeks operated “The Right Group” political committee from 2003 to 2013. Her committee gave campaign contributions to many local politicians including Joe Eggelletion and Brenda Snipes. REDBROWARD reported the treasurer of Norris-Weeks’ committee is the wife of former South Florida Sun-Sentinel senior editorial writer Douglas C. Lyons.
In March 2006, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel announced a forum for Fort Lauderdale City Commission candidates at the African American Research Library. According to the Sun-Sentinel, “The Council of Civic Associations, which sponsored an earlier forum, is also sponsoring this one. This time, the forum is co-sponsored by The Right Group, a nonprofit political committee formed to educate and empower African-American voters in Broward County.” All political committees are “non-profit.”
Days later, the Sun-Sentinel reported how organizers were upset some candidates skipped the forum. “City Commission candidate Charlotte Rodstrom shunned the only official citywide election forum Thursday, one specifically aimed at black voters,” the newspaper reported. “At the forum, candidates were to take turns responding to questions, including one about whether Sistrunk Boulevard should be narrowed to two lanes. That plan is stalled, because Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom, the candidate’s husband, has blocked it.”
In 2012, The Sun-Sentinel announced another Right Group sponsored candidate forum, “Candidates Forum,6 p.m. at 2520 NW Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. Free. Call 954-345-7745.” This number is connected to a business owned by Burnadette Norris-Weeks. No further information on the forum is available.
The Right Group spent $34,000 over the ten years. Norris Weeks’ committee made contributions to the political campaigns of Perry Thurston, Joe Eggelletion, Joe Gibbons, Alain Jean, Eric Jones, Margaret Bates, Chris Smith, Carlton Moore, Albert Jones, Brenda Snipes and even Stacy Ritter.
In September 2014, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Senior Editorial Writer Douglas Lyons wrote an article comparing Norris Weeks to civil rights hero Florynce Kennedy. He wrote about Norris Weeks’ plan to build a non-profit center on Sistrunk Boulevard. Lyons wrote, “To many, it’s a gamble. Launching a research facility isn’t easy, particularly in an area too many people associate with crime, poverty and urban decay. Norris-Weeks wants to prove all the skeptics wrong, something that would make ‘Flo’ Kennedy smile.”
Lyons never disclosed to readers his wife’s ties to Burnadette Norris Weeks.
In 2015, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial supported a Broward County Commission proposal (originally submitted by Commissioner Mark Bogen) which called on Snipes to, “Apply the highest ethical standards, integrity and professionalism, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” The editorial described Norris Weeks’ actions in the legal dispute over the County Commission District 2 race; “Norris-Weeks guided and defended the supervisor’s response to his lawsuit, in a case that began over the residency of a write-in candidate. With Norris-Week’s support, Snipes decided not to count the votes of the August primary that showed Bogen had won — effectively giving his opponents more time to campaign.”
Three days after the editorial was published, Lyons announced he was no longer with the Sun-Sentinel.
The Broward County Commission District 2 Race Controversy
In June 2014, REDBROWARD revealed District 2 write-in candidate Tyron Francois did not live in that North Broward district a violation of Florida election laws. Florida Statute 99.0615 states, “At the time of qualification, all write-in candidates must reside within the district represented by the office sought.” In campaign paperwork, the 25 year-old Democrat listed his address as 4019 NW 37th Terrace in Lauderdale Lakes. This address is not within the boundaries of District 2.
Francois’ entry into the District 2 race as a write-in candidate prevented Republicans and Independents from voting in the August 26, 2014 primary. If Francois was removed, all Broward voters would choose a commissioner from the current crop of Democrat candidates.
Less than one month later, Snipes’ attorney was in a Broward County courtroom fighting to keep Francois on the ballot.
REDBROWARD reported Burnadette Norris-Weeks fought mightily to keep non-Democrats from voting in the Broward Commission District 2 primary. Norris-Weeks gave Judge Sandra Perlman a myriad of excuses of why it was too late to open the August 26 primary to Republican and Independent voters. On June 20th, the final day of qualifying, a write-in candidate filed for the District 2 race closing the primary to non-Democrats.
Norris-Weeks took the lead role in fighting to keep the primary closed. She continually interrupted William Scherer, attorney for the plaintiffs. Robert Vaughan, Francois’ attorney, repeatedly deferred to Norris-Weeks.
Norris-Weeks told the court she was unprepared to present any legal argument or evidence at Thursday’s hearing. She claimed the hearing was simply a hearing to schedule a future hearing. Judge Perlman stated she was prepared to hear evidence and offered to give Norris-Weeks time to confer with Snipes. Norris-Weeks said Snipes was out of town. When asked if she discussed case with Snipes, Norris-Weeks claimed that was privileged information.
During the court proceedings, evidence showed Tyron Francois was involved in a romantic relationship with the daughter of controversial Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness. In court testimony, Francois admitted he did not live in District 2. Francois testified he knew he lived in Broward County Commission District 9 when he filed his campaign paperwork on June 20th, 2014. District 9 is represented by Commissioner Dale Holness.
Francois’ testimony confirmed what many Broward political insiders had believed, that Dale Holness played a role in Francois’ write-in candidacy. Broward superlawyer William Scherer, representing the plaintiff, asked if Francois knew Commissioner Holness. Francois said he had voted for Holness in 2012 but did not really know him.
Francois’ story began to fall apart after Scherer asked who lived with him at his Lauderdale Lakes home. At first, Francois claimed he lived with his brother. He admitted his mother owned the house. Francois testified no one else lived at that address. Scherer asked if he knew the daughter of Commissioner Holness had used his address as legal residence.
Francois’ attorney Robert Vaughan strongly objected to the mention of Holness’ daughter. Francois denied any relationship with Damara Holness but admitted he knew her. He said he had met her a few times, but “not often.” Francois stated he never discussed his candidacy with Ms. Holness.
After the lunch recess, Francois was recalled to the witness stand to explain a picture from Damara Holness’ Twitter account. Scherer obtained a picture of Francois and Holness posted to Twitter on March 14, 2014. The picture showed Francois and Holness straing into each other’s eyes in the front seat of an automobile. The picture was captioned, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The caption included an animated emoticon of heart with an arrow through it.
Scherer asked Francois what the animated heart meant to him. The courtroom observers snickered when Francois said it could mean just about anything.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, Burnadette Norris-Weeks tried desperately to delay any decision in the Francois matter. Norris-Weeks claimed it was too late to open the primary. She repeatedly told Judge Perlman that ballots were already printed and “coded.” Judge Perlman asked Norris-Weeks why Snipes did not testify at hearing. She claimed Snipes was out of town. Perlman asked why no SOE employee testified about the ballots. Norris-Weeks tried to blame Scherer for not calling any employee to testify.
Norris-Weeks stated Snipes’ office was working on with a skeleton crew. Perlman asked how many employees worked at the Supervisor of Elections office. While she did not know the exact number, Norris-Weeks believed the number to be less than 50 employees.
In a stunning decision, Judge Perlman ordered that the District 2 primary be opened to all voters. (A decision later overturned by a Leon County judge.)
BROWARD SOE LEADER CLUELESS ABOUT CLOSE TIES TO DALE HOLNESS & ALCEE HASTINGS
One year later, Brenda Snipes said she was clueless about her lawyer’s political activities. Under tough questioning from County Commissioner Mark Bogen, Snipes admitted she was unaware her “right hand lawyer” gave money to candidates with legal matters involving her office. REDBROWARD reported Snipes’ attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks is a supporter of Dale Holness. In October 2012, she made a $500 contribution to Holness’ re-election campaign. Weeks later, Holness was a guest at Norris-Weeks “holiday party.” REDBROWARD obtained pictures of the party Norris-Weeks posted on Facebook. Norris-Weeks took exception to the reporting of her support for Holness. In a conversation with a REDBROWARD contributor, she questioned why we did not report her recent contribution to another Broward Commissioner or William Scherer’s support of other candidates. Norris-Weeks said, “Last time I checked, there was no prohibition on giving a contribution and I fail to understand the link between the contribution and my responsibilities to my client as an attorney.”
Commissioner Bogen asked Snipes if she familiar with Right Consulting LLC. Snipes said she was aware of the company which is managed by Burnadette Norris Weeks. Bogen asked Snipes if she knew Norris Weeks gave money to District 2 candidate Lisa Aronson. Snipes said, “We did not have that discussion.”
Last year, REDBROWARD reported Norris Weeks gave $300 to Miramar Vice Mayor Alexandra Davis for her 2012 re-election. In 2014, Davis ran against Broward Commissioner Barbara Sharief. Davis was backed by Dale Holness. On May 22, 2014 Right Consulting LLC gave $300 to Alexandra Davis’ campaign. On February 4, 2014, Right Consulting LLC gave $500 to District 2 candidate Lisa Aronson. On Lisa Aronson’s campaign reports, she writes Right Consulting LLC is in the “airport concessions” business.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program is supposed to increase opportunities for minority and women-owned small businesses to operate as concessionaires in airports around the country. Locally, Broward County Office of Economic and Small Business Development (OESBD) “works to certify local firms as ACDBEs and to establish annual ACDBE participation goals for the County’s airport projects.” In order to qualify, a business must be “51% owned, controlled and managed by socially and economically disadvantaged U.S. citizen or legal resident who belongs to one or more of the following categories: African-American, Asian-Pacific, Hispanic, Native, Sub-continent Asian, or female.” An individual owner’s Personal Net Worth (PNW) must not exceed $1.32 million excluding personal residence.
In order to retain its food and concession contracts at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, TheParadies Shops needed to comply with the ACDBE guidelines. In 2006, Paradies formed Paradies-Broward LLC. According to State of Florida corporate records, Paradies-Broward LLC was comprised of four members: The Paradies Shops, JD Ruffin Associates Inc., Maria Soldani Consulting LLC and Right Consulting LLC. Burnadette Norris-Weeks is listed as a member of Paradies-Broward LLC.
In December 2013, Broward Commissioners approved the latest agreement with Paradies-Broward LLC. Records show Right Consulting LLC owns a 9% share of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport concession business.
In 2006, Norris-Weeks added a member with airport experience to Right Consulting LLC. State documents show Judith DeBourg joined Right Consulting in September 2006. DeBourg had experience landing Broward county government contracts. In May 1999, Buddy Nevins wrote DeBourg used political connections to secure airport business. He wrote, “Broward County commissioners this week handed an airport contract to Judith Debourg. Debourg got her work the old-fashioned way at the governmental center. She was Commissioner Kristin Jacobs’ campaign manager.” DeBourg had no shame. “It didn’t hurt to know the right people,” Debourg said.
REDBROWARD exposed fact that Dale Holness and Burnadette Norris-Weeks attended the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) conference in Denver just weeks before the July 2014 court hearing. Norris-Weeks and Holness were listed on the official roster of AMAC conference attendees. RED BROWARD obtained photographs of Norris-Weeks and Holness at the June 6-10 conference. Several photographs show Norris-Weeks and Holness smiling and dancing together. Another shows them wearing novelty Sunny.org sunglasses. Sunny.org is the Fort Lauderdale Tourism Council.
Snipes tried to deflect further questions regarding Burnadette Norris Weeks political activities. She told Bogen, “I think you are bringing things from District 2 to the table.” Snipes said these questions should be addressed to Norris Weeks. Bogen asked, “Who runs the office, you or Burnadette?” She replied, “I run the office.”
Bogen revealed Norris Weeks threatened to file a Florida Bar complaint against him if he attempted to speak with Snipes. Dr. Snipes said, “You were threatening me….you keep bringing up District 2.”
Burnadette Norris-Weeks has deep political ties to Congressman Alcee Hastings. REDBROWARD reported Norris-Weeks teamed up with Congressman Hastings, Rev. Al Sharpton, convicted Commissioner Joe Eggelletion and other Democrats in 2012 for a get out the vote (GOTV) program dubbed “Operation: Big Vote.” REDBROWARD reported how Congressman Hastings and a former South Florida Sun-Sentinel senior editorial writer touted Norris-Weeks’ 2012 rally.
In an October 2012 Westside Gazette article, Hastings wrote, “I tried to get a current list of all of the African American organizations in Broward County. Nobody, I mean nobody, is working from a list that has all the names and leaders of every organization in Broward. That’s ridiculous people.”
Hastings continued, “Enter Step Up to the Polls, the brainchild of Burnadette Norris-Weeks and her law partner. They have pulled together what I believe will be the most effective effort of an African American led effort this election season. I am following their leadership, and I encourage you to do the same.”
One week later, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Writer Douglas Lyons praised Norris Weeks’ work to get President Obama re-elected. Lyons wrote, “Even better, other black professionals and organizations have organized similar efforts. Take today’s early morning “Steps to the Polls,” a march from downtown Fort Lauderdale to one of the early voting polling sites at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center…spearheaded by prominent attorney Burnadette Norris Weeks, is just one of several last-minute attempts to rally the faithful to take advantage of early voting and tip the scales of a razor-thin race in Florida to the president’s advantage.”
ALCEE HASTINGS PAID FOR 2012 GOTV EFFORTS
Federal campaign records show Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) paid a company owned by Burnadette Norris-Weeks,the Broward Supervisor Of Elections Office Attorney, for her role in 2012 Democrat Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) efforts. On October 12, 2012, Hastings’ campaign made a $2,000 “GOTV Contribution” to Avenue Executive of Fort Lauderdale. State of Florida records show Burnadette Norris-Weeks has been the managing member of the Avenue of the Arts Executive Suites, LLC since 2010.
Federal campaign financial records show Alcee Hastings’ campaign gave $15,365 to Operation: Big Vote between September and November 2012.
According to Hastings and Operation: Big Vote leaders, the biggest event was the “Step Up To The Polls” march organized by Norris-Weeks and her Avenue Executive partner, Kathy Eggleston. Is this video produced by Hastings, he says Norris-Weeks is “spearheading” this GOTV event.
Still, Brenda Snipes claimed to be ignorant of politics in her office.
SNIPES ATTENDED POILTICAL FORUMS HOSTED BY HER SOE ATTORNEY
In June 2015, REDBROWARD exposed how Brenda Snipes headlined a Democrat panel for political candidates at a conference organized by Burnadette Norris-Weeks. Snipes was the part of the “Running for Office and Promoting Issue-Based Campaigns” session at the 2014 South Florida Women Of Color Empowerment Conference in Fort Lauderdale. As REDBROWARD previously reported, the group is the brainchild of Norris-Weeks, Snipes’ “right-hand” private contract lawyer. Snipes is a member of the group’s advisory board.
At the 2014 conference, Snipes’ panel provided an “overview of the key elements of a campaign, including assessing and establishing oneself as a candidate and voter contact. This session will also cover how to promote and support an issue-based campaign.”
Moderated by Kathy Eggleston, the panel was composed solely of Democrats: Snipes, Deirdre MacNab of the League of Women Voters, Rep. Hazelle Rogers and Palm Beach Commissioner Priscilla Taylor.
Snipes’s claim to be unaware of Norris Weeks’ partisan political actions strains credulity. In an effort to end the controversy. Snipes attacked those questioning her as bullies. Snipes called Bogen a “bully” and rejected calls for her to be a “leader in ethics.” When Bogen placed his request on the County Commission agenda, Norris Weeks claimed it was a race-based attacked on Snipes’ office. Bogen pulled the item for a later meeting.
Defenders of Brendan Snipes and Burnadette Norris-Weeks are using the same “attack the messenger” tactics in this latest lawsuit. They claim this is a mere partisan witchhunt carried out by supporters of President Donald Trump.
The trial resumes on Wednesday.