Another “Trantalis Tower” Supporter Wants To Reshape Fort Lauderdale, But Her Neighborhood Is Off-Limits

Marie Huntley is featured prominently in an AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) commercial attacking Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorenson over a sixteen story monolith planned near downtown which would house homeless and at-risk citizens. After residents complained at a townhall meeting, Sorenson and other Commissioners grew concerned about the size and scope of the project dubbed “Trantalis Tower.”

Since that meeting, AHF CEO Michael Weinstein and supporters tried to demonize opponents. At his disastrous December press conference, Weinstein threatened reporters and residents who questioned his claims that race played a large role in the opposition. Other Trantalis Tower proponents have claimed residents who question the project may be homophobic or anti-poor. Even those residents who actively support affordable housing initiatives are said to be suffering from NIMBY (NOT IN MY BACKYARD) syndrome.

AHF is running commercials on local television urging voters to contact Sorenson. In the latest commercial, Fort Lauderdale resident Marie Huntley discusses the affordable housing crisis. Huntley says, “We do have a problem with people being pushed out of neighborhoods…the solution to this is affordable housing.”

Huntley does not live in the area where Trantalis Tower is planned. New developments in the area were built with affordable housing components.

Like other AHF shills and supporters, Huntley talks a good game when it comes to other peoples’ neighborhoods.

This week, Huntley, better known as “Miss Peaches,” sang a different tune about a new project in her neighborhood.

“RESISTANCE” AGAINST ALL DEVELOPERS (EXCEPT AHF)

As REDBROWARD exposed last month, AHF and its Healthy Housing Foundation continue to support “resistance” against California developers seeking to build projects around Los Angeles. This ideological battle is nothing new to AHF CEO Michael Weinstein.

In the 1960s, a teenaged Michael Weinstein joined a “group of activists occupying” a New York high-rise development to protest the gentrification of their Brooklyn neighborhoods. According to an April 2017 exposé in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Weinstein’s an “ex-Trotskyite” would create one of California’s first gay communist organizations.

In 2016, Weinstein supported California activists who likened housing and office developments to racism and ethnic cleansing.

One left-wing activist described his fight to stop a new shopping mall from being built in Leimert Park, a predominantly African-American neighborhood near Los Angeles. He claimed the Leimert Park “gentrification is basically cultural erasure, urban cleansing, a reduction of people and land into dollar signs.” The activist claims the “perpetrators of gentrification” are not limited to “global capitalists.” This activist even attacks “flippers looking to make a buck.” He says, “there is a target on every tenant” in Leimert Park.

This week, Miss Peaches echoed this anti-gentrification sentiment.

The Fuse Group wants to put an office building and parking garage on the corner of Sistrunk Blvd and Powerline Road, a historic African-American neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale. The land is currently occupied by a small neighborhood market.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, a neighborhood meeting about the project quickly centered on race and gentrification.

“The dream of the city is to change the tenor of the neighborhood, period. I don’t like the word gentrification, but basically, that’s what it is,” said Sydney London, who lives in the Durrs neighborhood off Sistrunk. “There are white folks that moved into the neighborhood, and we all know once that starts happening, you know what’s next.

The story quoted an e-mail sent to developers and elected officials by Miss Peaches.

Neighborhood leader Marie “Miss Peaches” Huntley said the Home Beautiful Park Civic Association doesn’t support it. In an email to elected officials and Peretz last fall, she said the idea of a new building sounds attractive, but no one knows what will be in it. And there’s more:

“We are deeply concerned about being displaced by gentrification,” she wrote. “Your plan appears to be geared towards drawing customers from outside our community to create profits for you and your investors.”

Sounds like a classic case of NIMBY.

At his December press conference, Michael Weinstein filled his remarks with the political language of an experienced communist activist. He asked, “Will Fort Lauderdale…and these other communities of great wealth, continue to be places that are hospitable to people of low income or will these cities become, in essence, rich ghettos.”

Who elected Michael Weinstein? Why should we let Weinstein and his shills force change on neighborhoods when they fight change in their own backyards? Who put AHF in charge of Fort Lauderdale development and social policy?

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Hanging Out With Group Attacking Commissioner Ben Sorensen Over “Trantalis Tower”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis was all smiles when he recently visited the activists attacking Commissioner Ben Sorenson in television commercials. In a series of commercials airing on WTVJ/NBC6, Sorenson is attacked over his opposition over plans by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to build a sixteen story building dubbed “Trantalis Tower.” The massive project, featuring more than 600 micro-units, is located in Fort Lauderdale District 2 which Sorenson represents.

The latest commercial urges residents to contact Sorenson in order to stop an affordable housing crisis. Even though Sorenson is a leading advocate for the homeless, he drew the ire of AHF after he listened to the concerns of nearby residents. In addition to complaints over the size of the development and traffic issues, local residents are concerned over AHF’s lack of transparency over potential residents of “Trantalis Tower.”

The ominous sounding “Meet The Faces Of Fort Lauderdale” ad claims Ben Sorenson “turned his back on those who need his help the most.” Yet, the people in ad are not the ones “who need his help the most.”

One of the “Faces Of Fort Lauderdale” we meet is local attorney Sean Ford. In his free time, Sean Ford is the Broward co-director of New Leaders Council (NLC). Another “face” belongs to local paralegal/law student Vanessa Villaverde. According to the NLC website, Villaverde is a member of the 2019 NLC Fellows class.

IS NLC THE POLITICAL ARM OF AHF?

Last month, REDBROWARD exposed the role NLC played in a meeting held at Fort Lauderdale City Hall. For a candlelight vigil at City Hall, AHF filled two buses with employees of AHF, members of affiliated groups and even young Democrat Party leaders. The made-for-television vigil was orchestrated by AHF legislative affairs director Ebonni Bryant. In a post-meeting Facebook message, Bryant thanked several fellow members of the New Leaders Council (NLC) for their support.

Bryant is a former NLC official.

Stephanie Rosendorf, another NLC member, used her official Broward County e-mail address to spread word about the candlelight vigil. Rosendorf is the aide for Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, a supporter of the AHF tower project.

According to the NLC website, the group is “the hub for progressive Millennial thought leadership.” NLC claims its training program “equips our leaders with the skills to run for office, manage campaigns, create start-ups and networks of thought leaders. NLC leaders take their activism back into their communities and workplaces to impact progressive change.”

Following the vigil, Ben Sorensen held a meeting to discuss the AHF project. Chadwick Maxey, the director of the NLC Broward chapter, spoke at this meeting. Claiming he was troubled by the lack of affordable housing south of the New River, Maxey gave alleged information on rental properties from the Apartments.com website. Even though he never revealed his affiliation with NLC, Maxey sat with Ebonni Bryant, Sean Ford, Vanessa Villaverde and other NLC members at the meeting.

During his failed January 2018 campaign for Fort Lauderdale City Commission, Chadwick Maxey received two campaign contributions from Jason King, the former AHF lobbyist/legislative affairs director. In a January interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Mayor Dean Trantalis called Jason King his “plus 1” and said King introduced him to AHF CEO Michael Weinstein.

Despite strict Federal regulations prohibiting political activity, it appears AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) forged close ties to NLC over several years. REDBROWARD obtained photographs showing numerous NLC events being held at AHF headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

According to the Council of Non-Profits, “In return for its favored tax-status, a charitable nonprofit promises the federal government that it will not engage in ‘political campaign activity’ and if it does, IRS regulations mandate that the charitable nonprofit will lose its tax-exempt status.” The IRS does allow a 501 (c)(3) to engage in issue advocacy and voter education measures. According to the IRS, “certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.”

Questions regarding Michael Weinstein using AHF funds for political gain have been raised in California.

In 2016, The LA Weekly reported AHF “spent more than $22 million on a pair of statewide ballot measures it authored — as well as more than $1 million on local ballot measures.” Experts claimed such expenditures by charitable groups were not the norm. “It is unusual for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to spend multiple millions of dollars,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. “Even large organizations like the ACLU don’t have funds set aside for campaign purposes that can match the money major corporations or unions put into a campaign.”

Garry South, a political consultant working for AHF, told the LA Weekly there was nothing odd about the group spending millions of dollars on laws forcing porn actors to wear condoms.

“I don’t think it’s unprecedented,” South said. “501(c)(3)s have the ability, under federal law, to spend money on advocacy, and many of them do. This is not unusual or unprecedented at all.”

While AHF support of condom laws, drug price legislation and housing initiatives may fall squarely under the “voter education” exemption of Federal tax code, the group’s ties to NLC may drag the group into partisan politics.

TRANTALIS ALL SMILES AT RECENT NLC VISIT

Despite the controversy over the AHF project, his close ties to the former AHF lobbyist and the role the NLC is playing in attacks on a fellow Commissioner, Trantalis attended last month’s NLC meeting. In pictures posted on Facebook, Dean Trantalis is all smiles as he receives an official NLC coffee mug from Chadwick Maxey and Sean Ford. Vanessa Villaverde watches the presentation from the front row.

Did Dean Trantalis discuss the AHF project with NLC? Did Trantalis defend Ben Sorenson from the NLC-aided attacks? Why is Dean Trantalis playing politics when the City faces so many pressing issues?

Commissioner Chip LaMarca Co-Hosted Fundraiser With Lawyer Conducting Broward Health Investigation

David DiPietro, left, with Chip LaMarca, attending a Judge Nina Weatherly DiPietro fundraiser at Zimmerman Advertising
David DiPietro, left, with Chip LaMarca attending Judge Nina Weatherly DiPietro fundraiser at Zimmerman Advertising
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