Commissioner Marlon Bolton’s “probe” to derail the sale of property owned by disgraced developers Bruce and Shawn Chait cost Tamarac taxpayers $7,070 in legal fees. REDBROWARD obtained the invoice submitted by John Herin, Bolton’s handpicked attorney, to conduct a review the settlement of a lawsuit between the Chaits’ Prestige Homes, the City of Tamarac and Rock Island Storage Partners. Bolton wanted this “probe” to deal the closing on the sale of the property located on Rock Island Road and Commercial Boulevard across from The Woodlands community.
During the December 9, 2020 City Commission meeting, Marlon Bolton stated he did not trust the legal advice of then City Attorney Sam Goren. Even though it was “odd and irregular” for a single commissioner to hire a personal attorney at city expense, Bolton’s fellow commissioners gave him permission. Only Mayor Michelle Gomez opposed the move.
According to the invoice, Herin spoke to Bolton about the “probe” on December 14, 2020.
On December 16th and 17th, Herin spent 3.7 hours discussing the matter with City Attorney Sam Goren.
On December 18th, Herin spent 2.7 hours researching what would happen if the City took Marlon Bolton’s advice and violated the court-approved settlement deal.
On December 22nd, Herin began drafting his report.
Herin spent December 23rd and 24th discussing the matter with City Manager Michael Cernech.
Herin submitted his written report on December 28, 2020.
On December 29, 2020 John Herin presented his report to a special City Commission meeting via Zoom.
Herin stated he spent 20.2 hours working on the Bolton “probe.”
As REDBROWARD reported yesterday, John Herin included a lengthy discussion of arsenic contamination in his report. Marlon Bolton and Elberg Mike Gelin seized on the arsenic contamination issue during the special meeting. Yet, there is no mention of soil contamination on Herin’s invoice. In fact, soil contamination was not a major factor in the lawsuit or settlement.
Soil contamination came up during the closing process. Rock Island Storage Partners’ plan to clean up the contaminated soil received the necessary approval from Broward County.
Yet, Herin, Bolton and Gelin made arsenic contamination in the soil of the former golf courses surrounding the Woodlands into a major issue.
Bolton even urged homeowners to sue the City of Tamarac over the contamination issue.
Herin billed the City of Tamarac $7,070 for his Bolton “probe.” Tamarac residents paid the bill.
A five months later, John Herin was named the new City Attorney. Herin’s new position comes with a generous six-figure salary.
Between December 2020 and May 2021, Tamarac taxpayers paid the salary of three different city attorneys: Sam Goren, Hans Ottinot and Sam Goren.
Now, residents have to pay an outside attorney to represent the City in matters related to development in The Woodlands. Herin has a conflict of interest. Even though he lives in Lauderhill, John Herin repeatedly spoke against 13th Floor Homes development plans. Herin lives in a gated Lauderhill neighborhood bordering the west side of The Woodlands.
Earlier this week, REDBROWARD revealed how John Herin publicly attacked City of Tamarac staffers for “shirking their responsibility” by allowing the County planning council to review the development plans.
Does anyone care about the amount of money Tamarac residents have spent over the last decade over the mess in The Woodlands?
Commissioner Marlon Bolton used his taxpayer-funded “probe” of a public storage facility development to urge fellow commissioners to break a court ordered settlement by making a sweetheart deal with disgraced developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. Bolton even used the “probe” to urge homeowners to sue the City of Tamarac over arsenic “contamination.” REDBROWARD reported on a December 9, 2020 meeting where Bolton made the “odd and irregular” request to hire his handpicked attorney to investigate a court ordered settlement agreement between the Chaits’ Prestige Homes, the City of Tamarac and Rock Island Public Storage Partners. Bolton was opposed to Rock Island Public Storage Partners’ plan to build a storage facility on the corner of Rock Island Road and Commercial Boulevard. Bolton said he did not trust the legal advice of then City Attorney.
Bolton quickly selected attorney John Herin to act as his taxpayer-funded personal counsel.
On December 29, 2020, John Herin presented the findings of his “probe” to the City Commisison via a Zoom call.
Herin’s four page written report echoes the advice given on December 9, 2020 by City Attorney Sam Goren and attorney Michael Burke: in 2018, the City of Tamarac legally entered into a settlement agreement with Prestige Homes to sell the former golf driving range property to Rock Island Storage. Tamarac and Prestige would split the purchase price 50/50 (about $875,000 each). The court approved the settlement. Tamarac lived up to the terms of the settlement and closing would be a mere formality.
Again, echoing the advice of Sam Goren, Herin said Tamarac backing out of the deal to purchase the property entirely from the Chaits would come with a heavy cost. Tamarac would need to pay the Chaits millions of dollars to buy the land. Then, Tamarac would likely need to settle eventual legal claims by Rock Island Storage Partners. Finally, Tamarac could face legal sanctions and fines by the Court for violated the settlement agreement.
Marlon Bolton did not think a million dollar price tag paid by Tamarac residents was a big deal. Bolton repeatedly called it a “business decision.” Bolton hypothesized that the Chaits would want $2 million dollars for the property. Bolton assumed a “Wawa, Shell or Morton’s” would pay $1.9 million to build a gas station or restaurant on the land. Bolton believed a $100,000 loss was a good “business deal” for the City of Tamarac.
Bolton was so fixated on giving the Chaits millions of taxpayer dollars that he ignored simple facts like gas stations and restaurants were not interested in the property due to proximity of power lines and other logistical concerns.
These same concerns lead City officials to reject the property for uses such as a Fire Station, linear park or a “pocket” park. Bolton even suggested placing statues of Tamarac historical figures on the land.
“CONTAMINATION ON THE PROPERTY”
In his written report, John Herin noted the closing had been delayed when Rock Island Storage Partners took legal action regarding soil issues. On December 9th, Sam Goren stated the closing process discovered higher than allowed levels of arsenic on the Rock Island site. (Due to heavy use of fertilizer, levels of arsenic on former golf courses is a common occurrence.)
Herin wrote the matter was resolved when County environmental officials approved a soil remediation plan for commercial use.
So case closed. Crisis averted. Rock Island Storage Partners were back on track for closing on the property.
So, why did John Herin include an entire paragraph dedicated to “Environmental Contamination of the Property?”
Claiming it was “another significant point warranting consideration,” Herin wrote, “all of the parties became aware of historical arsenic contamination on the Property associated with its past use as part of the Golf Courses.” Herin said that going forward any use of the Property “will necessarily include the remediation of the existing on-site environmental contamination.” Here, Herin is repeated himself. Rock Island Storage Partners had a County-approved soil remediation plan. Of course, they would execute the plan before building their storage facility.
“[R]emediation of this type of contamination is more easily and cost effectively implemented if the Property is commercially developed, as opposed to its development for public’s use (e.g. a park),” Herin wrote.
Herin stated a public use requires the removal and replacement of the soil, “an expensive proposition.” He stated the solution for a commercial use is “much less costly than removal.”
Bolton and fellow Commissioner Elberg Mike Gelin focused on the “arsenic contamination.” In fact, Gelin had no questions other than those regarding the arsenic issue.
Bolton repeatedly mentioned “arsenic contamination” in a super serious voice. He urged homeowners in new developments near the Woodlands to sue the City since the arsenic contamination was a known problem.
Once again, why was “arsenic contamination” such an important topic in John Herin’s “probe” of a settlement deal with Bruce and Shawn Chait? Rock Island Storage Partners was satisfied with the soil remediation plan and were ready to close the deal. Why was Bolton urging residents to sue his City over “arsenic contamination” when it would have zero effect on the Rock Island Storage” deal?
Bruce and Shawn Chait used to own the golf courses in the nearby Woodlands community. After their arrests nearly twelve years ago, Bruce and Shawn Chait cooperated with law enforcement to bring down numerous local elected officials on bribery charges. Legal and financial issues lead to the Chaits defaulting on bank loans for their Woodlands property. And the end of their development dreams for the former golf course left the Chaits bitter.
￼The Woodlands property was sold to 13th Floor Investments.
ARSENIC CONTAMINATION PART OF CHAITS’ 2021 EXTORTION SCHEME
In March 2021, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents arrested Bruce and Shawn Chait on racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, organized scheme to defraud and multiple counts of extortion. The Chaits were accused of extorting money from the owner of 13th Floor Investments. Court documents claim the Chaits were angry over losing profits in the sale of the Woodlands property to 13th Floor. FDLE agents detailed how the victim initially agreed to the extortion with a a series of payments over several years.
According to the FDLE, in 2012, an attorney for the Chaits drafted a lawsuit which claimed the Woodlands property was “environmentally hazardous.” The FDLE stated the Chaits never produced any proof of this claim. The Chaits wanted $1 million dollars to “go away never to be heard from again.” Hoping to end the blackmail and harassment, the victim agreed to a bogus “consulting agreement” with the Chaits for $500,000 paid over two years.
As part of the deal, the Chaits admitted they had “no information concerning the environmental condition of the land that had not been previously disclosed.”
A month after the last blackmail payment was made, another Chait associate sued the victim.
The September 2015 lawsuit claimed the associate was under contact to buy a home in the victim’s development. He claimed he was owed millions of dollars in damages since the “land he was purchasing contained dangerous amounts of arsenic.” FDLE determined the associate obtained the money for the down payment on the home from the Chaits.
FDLE determined the Chaits also “engaged in a campaign of libelous letters to top city and county officials, alleging the victim’s development was a ‘Toxic Landfill.’”
At an August 17, 2016 meeting with the victim, the Chaits asked for $8 million dollars to stop the latest lawsuit. The victim said no. In 2019, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the victim.
But the Chaits were not finished.
In May 2019, yet another Chait associate filed a lawsuit against 13th Floor claiming “environmental contamination on his property.” According to the FDLE, the associate “threatened to a send a notice to all homeowners in the community falsely insinuating the land may have high levels of arsenic” in the hopes of damaging the victim’s future projects.
In January 2021, the FDLE recorded a meeting between the Chaits and the victim. The Chaits wanted $3 million dollars to make the new lawsuit disappear. Shawn Chait told the victim, he “wouldn’t want bad publicity while trying to get a new project approved.” 13th Floor has been trying to get the approval of a new project in the Woodlands.
On February 15, 2021 the FDLE recorded another meeting with the Chaits. Shawn Chait “stated he knew the victim was attempting to get approvals for his Woodlands development from the City of Tamarac Commissioners.” Shawn offered to “assist [the victim] in obtaining the votes necessary from the city commissioners once the victim agreed to pay the Chaits….”
In August 2021, Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech was arrested for his role in the Chaits’ extortion conspiracy. An FDLE affidavit revealed how agents found text messages between Cernech and the Chaits on Cernech’s phone. The FDLE believe the text messages “constitute probable cause to believe that Michael Cernech conspired with the Chaits in furtherance of the conspiracy.
The FDLE included a portion of the text messages in Cernech’s charging documents. The texts were from February 23, 2021 to February 2021.
On February 23rd Bruce Chait asked Cernech about 13th Floor’s development coming before the Broward County Planning Council later in the week. On February 24th, Bruce Chait said, “A lot to talk about I got two days to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
Cernech and Chait exchanged numerous text messages on Thursday, February 25th, 2021. This was the day the 13th Floor’s Woodlands development came before the Broward Planning Council. Bruce repeatedly stated how much they need Cernech to perform “magic” before Friday.
On February 25th, Cernech told Bruce Chait that he left a message for the victim’s attorney. FDLE learned that Cernech met with attorney Scott Backman following a planning council meeting on February 25th. That same day, the victim told FDLE “Bruce [Chait] told City Manager that he is filing class action lawsuit tomorrow.”
Earlier this week, REDBROWARD revealed John Herin attacked city staff over the 13th Floor proposal at a February 25, 2021 meeting of the Broward County Planning Council. Herin opposes 13th Floor’s plans for The Woodlands.
Christopher Hodgkins of “Save The Woodlands” also spoke at the Planning Council meeting. Hodgkins said his neighborhood contained “arsenic laden soil.”
Steven Meza, a Commission aide for Elberg Mike Gelin, also voiced his opposition to the Woodlands meeting.
The men were part of 18 people speaking against the development. Only one resident supported the 13th Floor development.
On February 26th, the Chaits told Cernech the victim wanted to meet them at a Coconut Creek restaurant. “I think you have his attention. It should be very interesting,” Cernech responded.
The Chaits met with the victim on Monday, March 1, 2021. Once again, the FDLE recorded the meeting.
The Chaits wanted $3.4 million from the victim. If he refused, the Chaits would file a class action lawsuit. If victim asked how a class action lawsuit would benefit them financially. Shawn Chait said, “they knew this would cost the victim the Woodlands project which they (the Chaits) claim is worth $25 million, and this will make Bruce [Chait] happy.”
The next day, Bruce Chait told Cernech, “Shawn said you are totally amazing you’re a total game changer.”
“Surprised?” Cernech responded.
On March 3rd, Bruce Chait asked Cernech if it was “time to let the genie out of the bottle.” Cernech said, “He’s stalling…wait until they get a call from Bolton…he’s their 3rd vote, they need him or it’s over for them.”
Chait was still worried about his plan succeeding. “We still have the Bolton card to play,” Cernech said.
Later that day, Bruce Chait texted Cernech again. “Any thoughts how we can get to douche bags attention without dropping the [atom] bomb.”
Cernech replied, “Bolton.”
While it’s never mentioned, one could reasonably assume the Chaits’ class action lawsuit would involve accusations of arsenic contamination in the Woodlands.
After Cernech’s arrest, REDBROWARD asked Marlon Bolton about the “Bolton Card.” Bolton refused to answer any questions.
This week, Tamarac City Attorney John Herin refused to answer our questions about how Marlon Bolton handpicked him to lead his “probe” into the Rock Island Storage deal.
A City Attorney who publicly attacked City staffers at a Broward County meeting.
A City Commissioner who wants the City to violate a court order to make a multi-million dollar deal with men like Bruce and Shawn Chait.
A City Commissioner who urges City residents to sue his City over arsenic contamination.