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New Times - Broward-Palm Beach
February 17, 2010

Deerfield Beach City Manager Downplays Criminal Potential of Investigation

By Thomas Francis

Any time public money goes missing in Broward County, we're conditioned to reach for our tomatoes and wait for a public official to do a perp walk. But Deerfield Beach interim city manager Burgess Hanson is trying to dampen that speculation in the weeks following an internal investigation into how the city's federal funds for housing were spent.

At last night's commission meeting, Hanson received permission to hire an independent forensic auditor, Kessler International, to take a closer look at the city's books. Kessler is the same auditor that performed an audit of Fort Pierce that bloomed into a massive corruption scandal.

This afternoon, I asked Hanson whether he chose Kessler based on a hunch that the case in Deerfield Beach has similar potential for criminal charges.

"I don't think we're concerned about 'potential,'" says Hanson. "This is an internal control review to ensure that the procedures that officers in that division followed were in compliance with federal guidelines."

Nor does Hanson want local political hobbyists to make an issue out of the fact that city staff paid a recent visit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The purpose, says Hanson, was simply "to make them aware that we did find areas where there were discrepancies in the documentation. We wanted to notify them that we were looking into those areas and get their input before we moved forward."

Hanson says that HUD isn't launching an investigation of its own -- but he hastened to add that "I'm sure they'll take a close look at the Kessler International report."

Pressed for an estimate on how long that Kessler audit might take, Hanson guessed two weeks. Tomorrow, he and City Attorney Andy Maurodis are scheduled to have a meeting with the firm to define the scope of the audit.

The question of those federal housing dollars looms largest, if only because the nonprofit corporation involved has connections to Vice Mayor Sylvia Poitier. But there's another subplot: In 2007, the city gave $30,000 to a nonprofit group called Arlington Park Family for "community outreach." Since taking over in early January, Hanson's staff has tried to figure out how that money was spent.

"Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of details on it," says Maurodis. "The grant was liberal with the details, you might say." He's written the organization two letters -- the most recent one Monday -- asking for "records reflecting actions undertaken in pursuit of those outreach activities." Thus far, he's gotten no response.

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