Posted on Wed, Jan. 11, 2012
Poitier: Still crooked after all these years
Remorse for an ethical transgression was not much on display as Sylvia Poitier left her sentencing hearing in the Broward County Courthouse Wednesday. “I want the whole world to know that I’m not guilty.”
A jury, after a three-day trial in November, had thought otherwise, deliberating just 90 minutes to find the suspended Deerfield commissioner guilty on four misdemeanor charges. But Judge Melinda Brown decided to let the 76-year-old Poitier off Wednesday with a $1,000 fine, 200 hours of community service, a year’s administrative probation and court costs. The judge withheld adjudication.
Perhaps the judge was acknowledging that Poitier, after a long career flouting ethics and conflict-of-interest rules, was technically a first offender.
And there she was after the sentencing hearing, in the hallway outside Judge Brown’s courtroom in her black sweater, leaning on her hand-carved cane, surrounded by her happy supporters, talking about reclaiming her seat on the Deerfield Beach commission. It was as if she had interpreted the judge’s decision to go easy on her as something like redemption.
“I think I am the most morally correct politician in the world, because I have not done anything wrong,” she insisted.
Poitier clearly thought the prosecution was misguided and the jury verdict unfair. And from her perspective, maybe it was unfair, or least ironic, that a politician with such a long and ignominious history of ethical lapses and undisclosed conflicts was finally nabbed on piddling misdemeanors.
The jury found Poitier guilty of falsifying city records by shrouding her brother’s financial interest in a non-profit housing agency seeking a bail-out from Deerfield Beach.
It was her first criminal conviction, but Poitier has been indulging in questionable behavior since she was first elected to the Deerfield City Commission 38 years ago. Just a few months into office she was admonished for using city stationery to bolster her private business deals. As mayor, in 1976, she had managed to exhaust much of the city’s travel budget on unauthorized junkets.
Her behavior as a Broward County commissioner, from 1985 to 1998, hardly improved. There was that infamous moment, for instance, when Poitier couldn’t remember just who had paid for her junket to Liberia. And she seemed to have hired a phantom campaign worker, paid $1,000 a week from her campaign contributions, with an address at an abandoned house.
She was the county commissioner who pushed relentlessly for a minority-owned convention hotel to be built on county-owned land — a potentially lucrative deal in which she had secretly invested $60,000 of her own money. When The Herald uncovered the blatant, undisclosed conflict and killed the deal, Poitier charged our reporter with racism.
County voters finally tossed the scandal-plagued commissioner out of office in 1998, but in those days, the State Attorney’s Office had little enthusiasm for prosecuting errant local politicians. She was free to run for her old seat back in Deerfield Beach.
One can understand her confusion last year when she was finally arrested for neglecting to disclose that a non-profit asking the city for financial help happened to owe her brother $46,000. But times have changed. Some 16 other Broward County public officials, including the mayor and a fellow Deerfield Beach city commissioner, have been busted on corruption charges over the last six years.
Unseemly behavior by election officials is supposedly no longer tolerated in Broward County. Though in the courthouse hallway, the message seemed to have eluded Poitier.
At Wednesday’s hearing, two of her supporters testifying as character witnesses called the Poitier’s trial a “waste of time.” Listening to Poitier afterward, it was hard not to conclude they were right. The old scoundrel made a $1,000 fine and a withhold of adjudication sound like a lot like vindication.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/11/v-print/2585201/poitier-still-crooked-after-all.html#storylink=cpy