Problems With Controversial Young At Art Program Were No Secret

Numerous documents obtained by REDBROWARD show Young At Art (YAA) officials and Broward County leaders were aware of problems with controversial exhibits over a year ago. Last November, REDBROWARD detailed issues surrounding a report from an independent consultant hired by the County to examine the financial situation at YAA. One of the main issues uncovered by the consultant was the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly (BLA) program operated under the guidance of Zack Spechler, the son of of YAA executive director Mindy Shrago.

Earlier this month, REDBROWARD exposed controversial exhibits displayed under the YAA/BLA banner. One exhibit, entitled “Naughty By Nature,” featured nude men and women and pornographic images. Video and photographs show children at the event. While this raunchy exhibit was not held at the children’s museum in Davie, it was clearly sponsored by Young At Art.

Another exhibit curated by Zack Spechler featured men and women brnading themselves with a “Pen15” stamp. If one looks closely, “Pen15” looks like the word “penis.” Patrons were encouraged to join Zack Spechler’s “Pen15 Club.”


Chasing Rabbits

In her report, independent consultant Louise Stevens singled out another YAABLA exhibit held at the children’s museum. Stevens worried the BLA exhibits created potential liability issues for the museum and Broward County. She singled out the “Chasing Rabbits” sound exhibit by Tina La Porta. Stevens wrote, “Chasing Rabbits…played over the PA system…and would have been heard throughout the building.”

REDBROWARD listened to Chasing Rabbits by LaPorta. According to the artist, it deals with her mental illness diagnosis. It features disturbing voices and sounds not suitable for children. Stevens wrote it would be hard for parents to prevent children from hearing it in common spaces. (A rebuttal from YAA obtained by REDBROWARD claims the performance played after hours at an adults-only event.)

Spechler Hurt YAA Staff Morale?

In addition to the nature of his exhibits, the independent consultant detailed financial and whistleblower issues caused by Zack Spechler’s role at Young At Art. Despite a conflict of interest policy at YAA, Louise Stevens reported that Zack Spechler and his sister Ali Shrago Spechler were paid by the museum. She wrote, “Yet the family conflict of interest is clearly evident on the YAA web site, has been evident in numerous news and magazine stories about Zack Spechler’s work in the museum, and is clearly evident on the BLA web site.” While Stevens argued the YAA board was unaware of the conflict, the museum rebuttal provided to REDBROWARD claims otherwise. The museum said it was “inaccurate” as Spechler was listed on the IRS Form 990. The rebuttal claims, “Board members have been aware of family involvement since the inception of YAA.”

Stevens questioned whether Young At Art’s whistle blower policy was effective. She wrote, “Senior staff members expressed fear when they requested the opportunity to speak individually to the consultant about YAABLA and about having to report to and follow the directives of the Director’s son.” Under the whistle blower policy, YAA staffers are to direct their complaints to the CEO or chair of the board.

Stevens wrote, “Unknowingly, the board has been complicit with the CEO in maintaining Zack Spechler’s relationship with the organization, but in concern of reprisal from the CEO or Mr. Spechler, staff were unable to go to the board to utilize any whistle blowing opportunities. The result, at best, is that of negatively impacting morale as well as creating difficulties for how senior staff are able to carry out their jobs.

Stevens reported that Mindy Shrago was present in the room during all her interviews with staff. In private meetings, Stevens claimed staffers did not want to discuss nepotism, fearful of “retaliation from the CEO and/or Mr. Spechler.”

In its terse rebuttal, museum officials wrote, “YAA disagrees with these statements.”

YAA Board Changes Official Stance On Mindy Shrago’s Son

Young At Art was more forthcoming about Zack Spechler in its more formal response to the independent consultant’s report. The museum stated Spechler was hired as a contractor to “support the curating team…which includes a team of four YAA staffers.” YAA claimed Spechler’s duties included procurement of local artists and special guests for a summer workshop as well as “design of exhibits.” The museum stated Zack Spechler was paid $17,000 for 2013-2014 and $24,000 for 2014-2015.

Young At Art’s response stated, “We agree that this was not as transparent as it should have been and definitely appears as a conflict of interest. We have asked Zack to document his achievement and contributions and have them reviewed by the board so they can make a determination on value received.

YAA stated the position will be changed and Mindy Shrago would recuse herself from the process.

In August 2015, Jose Pagan, then the YAA Board Chairman, delivered an official response to Broward County Adminstrator Bertha Henry. YAA addressed “key finding 11” which focused on Zack Spechler, Bedlam Lorenz Assembly (BLA) and the conflict of interest.  YAA stated the BLA program had been “eliminated.”

YAA wrote, “YAA’s conflict of interest of policy was updated on June 9, 2015 to include both board and staff and will be formally approved by YAA’s Board at its September 2015 meeting. The updated policy will require prior approval by the Board of all conflict situations.

As to payments, YAA stated BLA “did not receive a check. To be clear, some of the members, as individual contractors, were paid for their services as artists and exhibit fabricators.

Pagan and the YAA Board made it clear that while Spechler’s payments appeared on the IRS Form 990, “Approval of the Board of Directors was not obtained prior to these disclosures.”

Within a few months, many of the Young At Art board members were removed. Jose Pagan was replaced by David Di Pietro, a close personal friend of Mindy Shrago’s husband, Jay Spechler.

As REDBROWARD reported earlier this year, David Di Pietro was removed as chairman of Broward Health by Governor Rick Scott amid charges of intimidation and interference in ongoing investigations.

On Tuesday, the Broward County Commission will discuss giving control of Young At Art  to the Broward County Cultural Division.

 

Mitchell Berger and Others Involved In Broward Health Legal Drama Keep Funding Judge Nina Di Pietro


The major players in the ongoing Broward Health legal drama continue to fund the re-election campaign of Judge Nina Weatherly Di Pietro. In March, her husband, former Broward Chairman David Di Pietro, was removed from his post by Governor Rick Scott after the Chief Inspector General claimed he was interfering in the Broward Health investigation. Last week, REDBROWARD revealed her husband’s legal team and the law firm he hired to oversee the State investigation into Broward Health contributed to her re-election campaign.

Two weeks ago, REDBROWARD exposed the close ties between Chip La Marca and Mitchell Berger. La Marca is a close friend of David and Nina Di Pietro.

BIG DEMOCRAT FUNDRAISER KEEPS FUNDING DI PIETRO

In March, the Broward Health board fired the Berger Singerman law firm after 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.

In June, LaMarca co-hosted a political fundraiser with Mitch Berger  at his Berger Singerman firm for Fort Lauderdale Commission candidate Ben Sorenson. Chip LaMarca was the second name listed on the Sorenson invitation. Politcial insiders wonder why LaMarca, the former chairman of the Broward Republican Party is so chummy with a big Democrat fundraiser like Berger.

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.

In September 2015, months before he was hired by Broward Health, Mitchell Berger gave a $500 contribution to Republican appointee Nina Di Pietro. Last week, Mitchell Berger gave Judge Nina Weatherly Di Pietro another $500 contribution.

LEGAL DREAM TEAM AND YOUNG AT ART STILL GIVING BIG BUCKS TO JUDGE NINA

After being removed from his post, David Di Pietro sued Governor Rick Scott in Broward County Court. Members of Di Pietro’s legal “dream team” also supported Judge Nina. REDBROWARD reported Judge Nina received large contributions from lawyers Bruce Green, Brian Silber and Jay Spechler.  Like Berger Singerman, all three lawyers want Broward taxpayers to pay their hefty legal fees for representing David Di Pietro.

Judge Nina also received money from Spechler’s wife, Mindy Shrago, the controversial executive director of the Young At Art Children’s Museum in Davie. After the August 30th primary, Spechler and Shrago each gave Judge Nina another $1,000 contribution.

David Di Pietro is the current chairman of the Young At Art board.

Players In Broward Health Drama Funding Judge Nina Weatherly Di Pietro’s Re-Election Campaign

Majors players in the legal drama surrounding the ongoing Broward Health investigation have funded the re-election campaign of Judge Nina Weatherly Di Pietro. Appointed last year by Governor Rick Scott, Nina Weatherly Di Pietro is married to former Broward Chairman David Di Pietro. In March, Governor Scott removed David Di Pietro from his position after the Chief Inspector General claimed he was interfering in the Broward Health investigation.

It should come as no surprise that Di Pietro is receiving campaign contributions from her husband. Broward elections records show Di Pietro has received $2,000 from her husband and his law firm.

What is surprising is the amount of money Nina Di Pietro received from Zimmerman Advertising. The Fort Lauderdale firm’s contract negotiations with Broward Health are at the center of the State investigation.

ZIMMERMAN FUNDRAISER FOR DI PIETRO

In February, published reports exposed a lavish fundraiser at Zimmerman’s new offices in Fort Lauderdale. According to The Florida Bulldog, the event was held just seven weeks after Broward Health gave Zimmerman a $2.1 million dollar contract, the first part of the proposed $71 million dollar deal. “Broward County Court Judge Nina Di Pietro…raised almost $22,000, nearly all of it from lawyers, auto dealers and other non-healthcare companies, campaign records say.”

David Di Pietro told the Florida Bulldog that Zimmerman’s support of his wife played no role in the contract. “I don’t run Nina’s campaign. I don’t directly solicit money. I haven’t since she started her campaign,” Di Pietro said. “We had horrible advertising…a football player. I want a marketing strategy so the public knows about the healthcare our doctors and staff provide. Even if it’s not Zimmerman we need a marketing plan.”

Chip La Marca and another ousted Broward Health Commissioner, Darryl Wright, attended Nina Di Pietro’s fundraiser.

Questions have been raised about pressure applied by former Zimmerman employee (and Broward County Commissioner) Chip LaMarca on Broward Health employees to sign off on the huge $71 million dollar deal.

LaMarca met the late Dr. Nabil El Sanadi and Doris Peek, a Broward Health senior vice president to discuss the Zimmerman Advertising contract. According to a 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.”

This information was contained in a report submitted by the Berger Singerman law firm. Before he was removed by the Governor, David Di Pietro hired Berger Singerman to run its own investigation of Broward Health. The head of the firm is Mitchell Berger, a prominent Democrat Party fundraiser.

Last week, REDBROWARD exposed the close ties between Chip La Marca and Mitchell Berger.

In June, LaMarca co-hosted a political fundraiser with Mitch Berger  at his Berger Singerman firm for Fort Lauderdale Commission candidate Ben Sorenson. Chip LaMarca was the second name listed on the Sorenson invitation.

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.

ZIMMERMAN AND DI PIETRO “DREAM TEAM” GIVE TO JUDGE NINA

In September 2015, months before he was hired by Broward Health, Mitchell Berger gave a $500 contribution to Republican appointee Nina Di Pietro. Did Berger Singerman host a fundraiser for Judge Nina? That’s unclear, but it does raise more questions about the relationship between Berger and David Di Pietro, a staunch of Donald Trump.

After being removed from his post, David Di Pietro sued Governor Rick Scott in Broward County Court. Members of Di Pietro’s legal “dream team” also supported Judge Nina.

In June 2015, attorney Bruce Green gave $500 to Judge Nina. Brian Silber gave $1000 to her campaign. Jay Spechler has given Judge Nina $2000 through his office. His wife, Mindy Shrago, the controversial director of the Young At Art children’s museum also gave $2,000 to Judge Nina.

Like Berger Singerman, all three lawyers want Broward taxpayers to pay their hefty legal fees for representing David Di Pietro.