Dale Holness Endorsement, Hallandale Beach Censorship Signal End Of Sun-Sentinel?

Bill Julian, left. Rosemary O’Hara & Dale Holness

To borrow a line from the Bard of Avon, “I come to bury the Sun-Sentinel, not to praise it.” Over the last week, the paper of record for Broward county has abandoned its duty, to its readers and its reporters, to stand up to politicians and their cronies. Last Saturday, the Sun-Sentinel endorsed the re-election of highly controversial Broward County Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness. A few days later, the newspaper made national headlines when POLITICO revealed the Sun-Sentinel pulled a story regarding alleged corruption in Hallandale Beach.

On Wednesday, WPLG investigative reporter Bob Norman exposed a recording of Hallandale Beach vice mayor Bill Julian admitting his vote for a condo development in exchange for a favor. “What they don’t know is they’re buying the food bank a frigging van that I couldn’t tell anybody,” Julian said. Norman said an attorney for the developer “secretly promised him that they would buy the Hallandale Food Pantry, Julian’s pet project in the city, a new van.”

According to Julian, the attorney, Debbie Orshefsky promised to back his re-election campaign. “Orshefsky tells me, before this, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll have 300 people out in the street for you when you run for office,'” the vice mayor said on the phone.

After listening to recording, Julian admitted to accepting favors in return for his vote. Norman reported, “Julian immediately admitted that he had agreed to accept those gifts during negotiations in a meeting with one of the project developers, Michael Meyers, and Orshefsky, a partner in the Holland & Knight law firm and one of the most prolific development attorneys in South Florida.” Julian admitted he asked for the van to be given to the food pantry.

“People are going to think that I’m taking bribes,” Julian said. “They are going to say, ‘Wow, Bill, after all these years, he turned out to be another criminal.'”

One would assume the South Florida Sun-Sentinel would be all over this story. Normally, local television reporters don’t cover the Hallandale Beach beat. These local government stories are covered by Sun-Sentinel reporters and Hallandale Beach bloggers like David Smith.

SUN-SENTINEL KEEPS REPORTERS AWAY FROM HALLANDALE BEACH MEETING

As it turned out, the Sun-Sentinel did not want to cover the Hallandale Beach scandal. First, Buddy Nevins of Broward Beat reported the paper pulled a Hallandale Beach story from its website. Then, the story made national headlines. POLITICO reported the paper “killed” the story. Marc Caputo said killing the story was “A move by the newspaper’s leadership that appears to be part of a pattern of censoring controversial stories, according to multiple sources inside and outside the Fort Lauderdale newsroom.”

Sources told Caputo that reporters were forbidden to attend Thursday’s Hallandale Beach Commission meeting by publisher Howard Saltz. At this meeting, two commissioners were threatened with arrest for speaking about the Julian scandal. Mayor Joy Cooper ended up cutting the meeting short. Bob Norman and Channel 10 got the whole mess on video.

“Saltz kills stories in the classic way: He nitpicks them to death,” said one source familiar with the newsroom discussions of the story. “So here he was saying, ‘oh, this is just an allegation. We don’t have all the facts. It’s not responsible to put this out there. We don’t have comment from Julian.’ And then what happens? They stop [reporter] Susannah [Bryan] from covering the meeting the next day and getting comment from Julian.”

Buddy Nevins told Caputo, “I keep hearing that stories are being killed from time to time and no one knows why….The reporters feel they shouldn’t rock the boat.”

Shouldn’t the Sun-Sentinel reporters “rock the boat” when an elected politician admits on audio and video to accepting gifts in exchange for his vote? Isn’t this the duty of a public watchdog? Why didn’t Saltz send every single reporter to Hallandale Beach to cover this story?

“AND ABSENT A BETTER CASE TO FIRE THE INCUMBENT–WE ENDORSE HOLNESS”

In its surprising endorsement in the Broward County Commission, District 9 race, the Sun-Sentinel editorial board actually wrote the following: “and absent a better case to fire the incumbent — we endorse [Dale] Holness. What? Is this a joke?

We know times are tough at TRONC and the Sun-Sentinel, but we’re pretty sure they have access to the internet. Plus, they should have access to old copies of their own newspaper. Hell, the editorial board could just call up their own reporters.

They needed a “better case” to fire Dale Holness?!?

The editorial board wrote, “But Holness, a real estate broker, is not without controversy. In recent years, he has faced foreclosures, delinquent taxes and code violations on properties he owns. He largely blames the recession.” They said he made the “mistake” of meddling in other Broward county races. A mistake?!? As in, oops I didn’t mean to do that?

Come on Rosemary O’Hara, that’s it? That’s your due diligence? You could make a better case to give Holness the boot?

What about the Sun-Sentinel story two weeks ago showing Dale Holness used taxpayer money to send campaign newsletters? Brittany Wallman wrote, “Holness read from the piece at the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board candidate interviews. At the interview, Smith referred to the newsletter as ‘that sheet that he uses at every campaign rally … paid for by the county.”’ Wallman reported Broward taxapyers spent more than $5,000 on the newsletter.

Let’s get this straight, Holness admits to using public funds to bolster his campaign AT HIS MEETING WITH THE SUN-SENTINEL EDITORIAL BOARD and you still endorse him? In the endorsement you said, “In the end, we decided to endorse the incumbent because he’s been in the trenches fighting, with some success.” Yeah, he’s been fighting with the public money.

Did you talk to Sun-Sentinel reporter Lisa Huriash? In 2013, she reported Dale Holness was not paying his property taxes. Huriash reported, “Broward Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness owes almost $13,000 in unpaid property taxes on five apartments he owns in Lauderhill, records show.” Holness blamed the economy and this reporter for breaking the story.

“I believe we ought to be good stewards,” he said. “And I’m very conservative in my expenditures. In my personal life I don’t spend unless it’s important for my children.” Yeah, but he’s not a great steward of neighborhoods in District 9.

For that story you should have called up Sun-Sentinel reporter Megan O’Matz. In 2012, she reported how Holness treated his tenants. She wrote, “But for years Holness held title to a Fort Lauderdale rental property that became an unattractive wreck. He did not repair it. The house fell into foreclosure and city code violation fines began mounting — totaling $6,425 currently and still growing.”

“At the Fort Lauderdale house, it was Holness, one of the county’s top elected officials, who was owner for eight years. White boards now cover the windows. Bottles and other trash are scattered around the lawn. A screen enclosure over the backyard patio is shredded. Public notices from the city and bank representatives are taped to the front door and garage.”

This is the guy you said was in the trenches fighting for his district?

What about the questions surrounding whether Holness even lived in the district? This reporter found ample evidence Holness was lying about his residency.

In 2013 we reported Holness appeared to be thumbing his nose at residency laws regarding Broward County Commissioners. Very strong evidence indicated Holness lived outside the district he represents, though Article II, Section 2.01 A(3) of the Broward County Charter clearly states each commissioner “must be a resident of the particular district upon election.”

According to records from the Broward County Supervisor of Elections (SOE), Holness registered to vote within District 9 by claiming to live in a small, older 940-square foot townhome in the Royal Oaks townhome development at 2630 N.W. 52nd Avenue in Lauderhill. Property records from the Broward County Property Appraiser (BCPA) show Holmes owns the small home but does not list it as his primary residence for his homestead tax exemption. Broward tax collector records show Holness owes $2,586.86 in delinquent taxes.

A visit to the townhome showed it was being used as storage facility. When confronted by Bob Norman, Holness continued the charade. “My home … is at 2630,” said Holness, referring to the unit 2630 NW 52nd Avenue, one of several homes Holness, a landlord, owns in the neighborhood.” The property handyman told Norman that nobody lived in the unit. Norman described Holness’ home as “a small run-down housing unit in Lauderhill stacked to the ceiling with furniture and boxes. A realtor’s locked box hangs from the door knob. The refrigerator isn’t plugged in and its door is wide open.”

Don’t these stories make a compelling case NOT to endorse Dale Holness? Shouldn’t the residents of District 9 expect better from their public servants? Don’t they deserve better from their politicians and their newspaper?

2014 ENDORSEMENTS JUST AS BAD

Sadly, Rosemary O’Hara and the Sun-Sentinel editorial board have a poor track record when it comes to endorsements. Instead of acting as public watchdogs, they have tended to protect insiders and the status quo. In 2014, we exposed their shameful endorsement of then Judge Steven Feren.

We wrote, “As evidenced by their endorsements this week, the Sun-Sentinel editorial board has given up. And they want you to wave the white flag of surrender too. Instead of fighting the corruption, the lazy politicians and slimy consultants, the Sun-Sentinel editorial board wants you to ‘hold your nose’ and vote to keep things the same.”

In their endorsement of Feren, they called Feren the “underwhelming favorite.” They spoke about his reputation of being lazy and leaving working early. When asked if he takes Fridays off, Feren told them he’s just as likely to leave early on a Monday. “I’m just as likely to leave at 4 o’clock on a Monday or Tuesday as I am on a Friday,” Feren said. “Judges aren’t elected to punch the clock.”

Once again, the editorial board ignored the evidence showing Feren was not fit to remain on the bench.

RED BROWARD reported on Feren’s removal from juvenile court after the Fourth District Court Of Appeals ruled he was being unfair to juvenile defendants. The appellate judges feared Feren was pushing Broward’s youth, assuming the charges against them proved their guilt. Feren was punishing minors for proclaiming their innocence.

Then, there was the case of little Lilly Baumann. Two-year old Lilly went missing in May 2014 when she disappeared with her racist, conspiracy theory-loving, gun-toting mother. Lilly’s dad, Robert Baumann, begged for full custody of Lilly. He brought pictures of Lilly playing with boxes of bullets to Feren, hoping he would protect Lilly from her mother and her boyfriend. He showed racist YouTube videos posted by the boyfriend. Baumann gave Feren pictures of Lilly clad in Confederate gear among strangers.

Feren ignored Baumann’s plea. He told Lilly’s mom to buy gun locks. Two months after awarding joint custody to Megan Everett, she vanished with Lilly. She left a rambling letter discussing the evils of vaccinations, black history and Abraham Lincoln.

When Robert Baumann was at his most vulnerable, when he feared for the safety of his little girl, he believed Judge Steven B. Feren would protect him.

Broward voters ingored the Sun-Sentinel and Feren was defeated. Luckily, one year later,  the FBI found Lilly Baumann.

WHO IS MAKING THE DECISION?

During this year’s Sun-Sentinel editorial board interviews, REDBROWARD received troubling phone calls about the process. Candidates complained that non-employees were attending the interviews. Others were told reporters sitting in on the interviews were not allowed to ask questions.

On August 16, editor Rosemary O’Hara responded to our questions about the interview process. She wrote, “I’m not sure I understand your question about who attended interviews? But the answer is depending on the race, it was myself, Gary Stein, Andrew Abramson, my husband Tom O’Hara (an FAU visiting professor, former newspaper editor and freelance journalist), and/or Randy Schultz, a former newspaper editor and freelance journalist. We also had reporters and editors attend some meetings, although they are not involved in deciding our endorsements.”

Did we miss “Bring Your Spouse To Work” day? Why are former editors sitting in on meetings? Do they have any frame of reference when it comes to Broward politics? Why are you ignoring the wisdom and first hand knowledge of your reporters? And what’s up with Randy Schultz?

Last we heard, he was wrapped up in political scandal in Palm Beach. Ace investigative reporter Jose Lambiet reported Schultz and one of his top lieutenants had a cozy relationship with the Palm Beach State Attorney. In 2011, emails obtained by Lambiet revealed an ultra-cozy relationship between State Attorney Michael McAuliffe and at least two of the newspaper’s figureheads.

“In one email dated Nov. 2, 2011, Rhonda Swan, one of the newspapers’ editorial writers, bypassed the proper channels and asked McAuliffe to get involved in a criminal investigation where she was named,” Lambiet reported.

In other emails, Randy Schultz, the newspaper’s Editorial Page Editor, “appeared to coach McAuliffe on how to write op-ed pieces published in the Post,editorials where McAuliffe refuted criticisms of his administration or advanced his political agenda.” Two years later, Schultz opted for a buyout from the paper.

So why is this guy involved in Broward politics?

Does anyone at the Sun-Sentinel have a cozy relationship with Dale Holness or Bill Julian?

Broward voters deserve editors that will empower reporters to ask tough questions. Reporters deserve editors that will back them up when they “speak truth to power.”

We deserve answers. We deserve better.

Dan Lewis Endorses His Client AND His Personal Attorney In Same Race On “Fake” Blue Card

In his latest “blue card” mailer, Democrat consultant Dan Lewis endorsed a paying client and his own personal attorney in a Broward County Court race. Released over the weekend, the card endorsed both Samuel Lopez and Kim Mollica in the Group 14 judicial race. Local Democrats were quick to label Lewis’ card as a “fake” and a “fraud.” Some singled out Mollica, a Republican, for appearing on a Democrat endorsement card.

According to Broward Supervisor of elections records, Mollica paid nearly $48,000 to Dan Lewis’ JNAC Communications & Management, LLC. This included a $45, 331.83 payment on July 26 for “postage and brochure.” In defending his latest campaign ploy, Lewis was quick to say no candidate paid to appear on the card.

“Nobody can buy their way onto The Blue Card. I’m paid to do what I do.  The Blue Card isn’t part of that and it is not for sale,” Lewis said. “You can’t hire me to get on The Blue Card.”

LOPEZ IS LEWIS’ ATTORNEY IN LEGAL DISPUTE WITH BUILDER

A prominent Mollica supporter told REDBROWARD he was surprised to see Lewis’ co-endorsement of Samuel Lopez.

Did Mollica know Samuel Lopez represents Dan Lewis and his wife in an ongoing legal battle in Broward County courts? Supervisor of Elections records show Lopez has spent just $10,000 in his campaign. There are no payments to Lewis or his companies.

Perhaps Lewis was aware this issue would come back to sting him. Lewis told the Miami Herald, “People hire me for specific purposes.” Lewis said, “Just because I sell data or sell some advisory things to campaigns doesn’t exclude me from offering or doing what I think.”

Sorry Kim, you paid Dan Lewis for consulting, postage and brochures. Obviously that did not include his loyalty.

Dan Lewis’ Pattern Of Elections Law Violations Goes Beyond “Blue Card”

you_doodle_2016-04-25t20_33_51z-1Over the weekend, Broward Democrats loudly complained about the latest version of the”phony” blue endorsement card. As REDBROWARD previously reported, the card is the handiwork of the long-winded Democrat consultant Dan Lewis.  On Sunday, Broward Democrat officials denounced, “the deplorable campaign tactics of political operative Dan Lewis, Florida Democracy Project, and the attempt to mislead voters with the “Blue Card” slate.” Acting Broward Democrat Chair Cynthia Busch said, ““I want to make it very clear to voters that the Democratic Party is in no way connected to the “Blue Card”. This is an underhanded tactic that tarnishes the Democratic process.” Busch added, ” “I have no knowledge that anyone who appears on the card is responsible for the actions of Mr. Lewis. Candidates should not be unfairly associated with this type of behavior.”

Delighted with the modicum of publicity, Lewis claimed there was nothing wrong with his card. “We are in compliance with all rules,” Lewis told Buddy Nevins of Browardbeat.com. “I’m into transparency,” Lewis said. “Everything will be disclosed.”

However, State investigations dating back to the year 2000 show Lewis has not always complied with the law.

MIRAMAR LOCAL

Eleven years ago, a Broward/Palm Beach New Times story detailed Lewis’ flouting of Florida elections law. Reporter Trevor Aaronson wrote, “[S]ince leaving the Miramar City Commission in 1997, Lewis has dodged complaints of unethical behavior, moved to Fort Lauderdale, and refashioned himself as the go-to techie for Broward’s political machines, both Democratic and Republican.” According to Miramar resident Sherry Abdin, “Dan Lewis was the puppet master of Miramar.”

During the election of 2000, Lewis composed a mailer entitled “Miramar Local.” The mail piece promoted his favored candidates while attacking their opponents, Mayor Lori Moseley and Marjorie Conlan. Lewis’ wrote, “Heaven help us all if [Moseley] is elected….We suggest Moseley is putting her political campaign and personal agenda above the need for excellent legal representation for all of our taxpayers, as usual.”

Lewis described Conlan as a “do nothing” crony of Moseley. He had glowing words for Conlan’s opponent, Fitzroy Salesman. Lewis wrote, “[N]ewcomer Fitzroy Salesman who has little or no governmental experience, is fiercely independent and will represent an important diversity on the city commission.. Most people believe the city suffered with Conlan for six years, its time for a fresh new voice.”

Just days after he was elected, Salesman was hit with elections violations. He was fined $2,566.62 for not submitting his campaign treasury report on time. Salesman claimed the notice to file from the City Clerk was, “buried in junk mail and other pieces of mail.”

(FUN FACT: In 2010, Fitzroy Salesman was arrested in a public corruption sting. He spent three years in prison. So much for Lewis’ “fresh voice.”)

One month earlier, the Florida Elections Commission [FEC] found probable cause to believe Lori Moseley’s opponent, former Commissioner Jim Cundiff violated election laws. Cundiff faced a $115,215 fine.The commission also found basis for two of six campaign violation complaints against Dan Lewis, who was Cundiff’s campaign manager.

The FEC found probable cause Dan Lewis “violated Sections 106.143(1) and 106.19(1 )(c), Florida Statutes, when [Lewis] ‘ published and distributed the ‘Miramar Local’.” FEC investigators determined Lewis failed ‘to mark all political advertisements as a ‘pd. pol adv’ or a ‘paid political advertisement’ and to identify the sponsor.”  Investigators also found “probable cause to believe that [Lewis] violated Section 106.19(J)(c), Florida Statutes, prohibiting a person or organization from falsely reporting or failing to report information required by this chapter.”

According to the Miami Herald, “Political consultant Dan Lewis failed to label as a political
advertisement a 1999 newsletter that criticized Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley and promoted her opponent, Jim Cundiff. He also failed to report the $1,693 he spent on 5,000 newsletters as an independent expenditure with the city clerk.”

In March 2001, Lewis told the Sun-Sentinel, “I believe there is no probable cause. They will not find that I broke any law….I think these laws on technical infractions have to be revisited sometime.”

LEWIS ADMISSIONS TO FEC

In his response to the FEC, Lewis appeared to admit his guilt. His lawyer submitted this statement:

On or about February 25, 1999, Dan Lewis published a direct mail piece identified as the “Miramar Local” which was mailed to registered voters in the City of Miiamar. The publication supported the candidacy of Jim Cundiff~ who was a candidate for the office of Mayor of Miramar at the election of March 9, 1999. The publication also opposed the candidacy of Lori Moseley, who was also running for mayor at that election A copy of the “Miramar Local” is attached as exhibit.

The FEC determined candidate Cundiff had made numerous payments to Lewis and his company, even though Lewis claimed he paid for the publication and distribution of the pamphlet with his own money.

While neither denying or admitting guilt, Dan Lewis signed a consent order with the FEC on April 23, 2002. No fine was levied and Lewis paid his own legal costs.

Lewis moved on from the Miramar Local pamphlet when he came up with his blue endorsement card. A comment on a BrowardBeat story signed by Dan Lewis states, “‘The Blue Card’ by design and purpose is to advance democratic progressive candidates, and has been distributed in each of the last 3 election cycles including five (5) elections, including this one. It is neither illegal, nor ‘fake’ as the Sheriff Israel political machine would suggest.”

However State investigators may feel differently about Lewis’ “blue card.”

BLUE CARD 2014

Last May, the Florida Elections Commission (FEC) once again dealt with an investigation into Dan Lewis’ campaign tactics. The FEC unanimously voted to fine a company owned by Lewis for violations of Florida election law. The FEC investigation focused upon “blue cards” and “red cards” produced for the 2014 election by The Democracy Project, a fictitious entity created by Lewis’ STAR, Inc. In a 5-0 vote, the FEC determined Strategic Technologies & Research, Inc (STAR, Inc.) violated Florida Statutes sections 106.071(1) and 106.19(1)(c). Investigators determined failed to file expenditure reports and “deliberately failed” to include required information on expenditure reports.

REDBROWARD reported STAR, Inc claimed they solicited no funds to pay for the “blue cards.” The state believed they listed expenditures for $399 (just below a $400 threshold) instead of the actual cost.

In October 2014, Dan Lewis bragged about his “blue card” scheme to BrowardBeat.com. He said he was using the cards to oppose the Broward School Board bond issue. Lewis said, “It comes down to trust, and I just don’t trust the School Board to act in either a responsible or professional manner or neither should you.” Lewis claimed he printed one million cards, with 500,000 to be mailed to Broward voters. Lewis told BrowardBeat he would send the card to 750,000 email address as well.

THE ONE MILLION BLUE CARD MYTH

But State investigators found Lewis did not print one million “blue cards.” Investigators obtained invoices from Lewis’ printer, The Printer’s Printer, and cancelled checks. Robert Zelinka of The Printer’s Printer told investigators he had printed just 200,000 cards for Lewis. Zelinka said just 117,000 cards were mailed to Broward voters. On October 9, 2014, the company submitted an invoice for $12,499 to Lewis’ Strategic Technologies & Research, Inc. Lewis was billed $10,126 for 3 versions of “postcards’ and $2,373 for three different mail “drops.” This invoice was received one week before Lewis told BrowardBeat he had printed one million cards.

“COUNTERFEIT” UNION LABEL ON BLUE CARDS

State investigators also determined the “blue cards” were stamped with a phony union label. Many Democrat candidates display a union label on their mailers out of respect to unions’ longtime support of Democrat causes. In July 2015, State investigator Keith Smith spoke with Tom Schatz, a chief investigator for the Teamsters Union in Washington, D.C.

Smith had faxed a copy of the mailer to Schatz to determine the validity of the union label on the “blue cards.” According to Smith’s notes, Schatz said, “that after reviewing the copy of the union-label and asking around, it was determined that the union-label was definitely not theirs and was a ‘counterfeit’ union-label. He said it appears that someone ‘made up’ the union-label and ‘stuck it on’ the mailer.”

ATTEMPT TO FOOL VOTERS?

Did Dan Lewis hope to fool voters with a fake union bug on the “blue cards?” While that’s not clear, many local Democrats believed Lewis’ “blue cards” were indeed a dirty trick meant to fool Democrat voters. In early November 2014, Palm Beach Democrat officials warned voters about the cards. The Palm beach Post reported, “The palm card, called ‘The Blue Card 2014 Voting Slate,’ appears to target Maria Sachs, the Democratic candidate for State Senator (District 34) and Andy O’Brien, the party’s choice for County Commissioner (District 4), wrote the county’s party chair Terrie Rizzo, in a party email alert. The Blue Card lists legitimate Democratic candidates in other races, but for Sachs’ and O’Brien’s districts, it lists their Republican opponents instead — Ellyn Bogdanoff and Steven Abrams.”

“The cards are blue in color, sent by something called ‘The Democracy Project.’ The Democracy Project is the brainchild of a Broward County-based political strategist who has used the same technique in prior years to influence voters,” Rizzo wrote. “The purpose of these Palm Cards seems to be to confuse Democratic voters into voting for Republican candidates. Please don’t be fooled.”

In Broward County, the Lewis “blue card” listed Republican Chip LaMarca instead of his Democrat challenger Ken Keechl. Sources told REDBROWARD Broward Democrat leaders were incensed when party chairman Mitch Ceasar failed to rebuke the Lewis “blue card.” Now, Dan Lewis is the main consultant for Ceasar’s campaign to be Broward County Clerk of Courts.

LEWIS ATTACKS THE MESSENGER

Attorney Colleen O’Loughlin represented STAR, Inc in the FEC matter. She used many legal tactics to stop the investigation, including a claim that STAR, Inc’s relationship with The Printer’s Printer involved “trade secrets” which were confidential. O’Loughlin even urged the FEC to seek criminal charges against the Broward resident who filed the complaint.

BLUE CARD 2016

Dan Lewis continues to attack the critics of his campaign tactics. On BrowardBeat Lewis arrogantly boasts, ““I’m upset that these (critics) view the voters as being that easy influenced….I am overjoyed that The Blue Card added some excitement into the primary.”

NEXT: BUZZ SURROUNDING BLUE CARD STINGS CANDIDATES