Fearful that suspended city commissioner, David McLean, may be reinstated by the Florida governor, the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency agreed to launch a police investigation into wrongdoings dismissed by the federal government. ______
With suspended, Margate City Commissioner and CRA Director, David McLean, exonerated on federal bribery charges last month, city commissioners sitting as the CRA board Wednesday agreed to pursue an independent police investigation into McLean’s wrongdoings as an Agency Director.
McLean was caught on video accepting a bribe that involved a CRA business grant, but on federal appeal his attorney presented a reasonable doubt that the CRA was in possession of federal money at the time. Consequently, McLean could be reinstated to his office as city commissioner in Margate.
Commission, Lesa Peerman, motioned for the investigation, saying that McLean was undoubtedly guilty of falsifying CRA documents in an effort to profit from arranging the grant. McLean, in conjunction with a contractor, artificially inflated construction costs for a business façade grant issued by the CRA in the amount of $25,000. In return, the commissioner received cash and “free rent” from the owner of the business - his landlord.
“He came up here and he sat up here and he knew those documents were false,” Peerman told fellow commissioners after introducing her motion as an emergency agenda item at the monthly CRA meeting Wednesday.
Felony charges against McLean will soon expire, which was the reason for the emergency, said City Attorney, Eugene Steinfeld.
“But I can tell you that the statute of limitations is three years for felonies, and we’re getting very close to the time when these items transpire, and that’s part of the emergency when commissioner Peerman came to me and I did some of that research,” he said.
The grant, along with federal bribery charges, was part of a sting operation orchestrated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in an attempt to entrap McLean. From the beginning, McLean’s landlord acted as a confidential informant for the FBI. Grant monies were never expended and McLean didn't keep the cash.
“This board did not know it was an FBI sting, this board voted on it as a regular grant. “[The landlord] wouldn’t even have needed David for anything because we give façade grants numerous times as a CRA board. And they usually go straight through without any problem,” Peerman said.
While commissioners thought at one point they could prevent McLean from returning to the dais if reinstated by the governor, the recent outcome of a Miami Lakes case - also orchestrated by the FBI, shows otherwise. That case too involved an elected official who was acquitted on federal bribery charges last year and who sued Miami Lakes to reinstate him and won. Legal fees were said to top $1 million.
“In fact it was very much the same situation,” Steinfeld said. “The city didn’t want to put him back, the governor didn’t want to put him back...”
Steinfeld said the state could charge McLean without concern over double jeopardy but he wasn’t sure if that was going to happen.
Commissioner Frank Talerico wondered what the Margate police could undercover that the federal government hadn’t already.
No straight answer was provided, only that the CRA would have to coordinate with police and turn findings over to the state attorney.
Margate resident, Anthony Caggiano, said he thought Peerman’s motion for city police investigation presented a conflict of interest. Peerman announced publicly that she would resign if McLean returned to the dais, in which case she would be out her salary.
“There is an incredible amount of bias on this subject, because our twice ethically challenged commissioner(see 9/23/15 - Peerman Pays fines for Ethics Violations... MargateNews.net), has shown impeccable character judgement(see 10/10/15 - Peerman Gives Reference to Convicted Killer... MargateNews.net)is going after a person who has been found not guilty, granted under a technicality, of charges. Is this the same person that said if Dave returns would resign, therefore this by definition is an economic bias? She should not be allowed to talk on this; she should not be allowed to vote on this; she shouldn’t even be allowed to bring up the subject.
Commissioner Joyce Bryan, who would be unseated if McLean returned, asked Steinfeld if she should abstain from voting for the motion. Legally, he didn’t think she had too. Ethically, he suggested it.
“I think you can vote, but I recommend that you abstain, simply out of appearance of a conflict,” he told her.
Commissioners voted 4-0 to move forward with the investigation, marking the second Margate police investigation into McLean over illegal activities. The first was conducted last year to learn if Margate police were involved. Findings were negative.
“This is what this is; he committed a crime, he knowingly committed a crime and as a CRA boardmember and as a resident of Margate I’m offended by that and I want the police to investigate it,” said Peerman. “I think the CRA should take a stand and say this was illegal. This was illegally done to this board and we want him prosecuted.”
In addition to the federal bribery case, McLean has been on the radar for ethical challenges more than once. In 2014, headmitted to using his city-issued credit card for personal gain and last month was found in probable violation of 19 campaign finance laws dating back to 2012 by the county Inspector General. That same year, McLean, a long-time bar owner, was caught by the Division of Alcohol Beverage & Tobacco for the illegal purchase and sale of alcoholic beverages.