Our rivers are dying. To save them, the University of Florida recommended buying land needed to clean the water and send it south where it will replenish the starving Everglades and protect Miami-Dade and Broward counties from saltwater intrusion.
“We the people” marched and petitioned in support. We’ve got contracts to buy the land and already have voted to put aside the money. It should be a no-brainer, a win-win for all of South Florida. Yet, some of our elected officials refuse to even consider it.
Why? Newspapers document the answer year after year: Big Sugar pays politicians hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions at all levels of government and foots the bill for lavish retreats. In return, Big Sugar gets whatever it wants, and it doesn’t want to sell.
It’s time to call this the crime we all know it is and do whatever it takes to see that the criminals are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
A campaign contribution constitutes a bribe when an elected official takes any public action because they received it. In Florida, this is a felony. Former mayor of Tamarac, Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco, is facing trial on four charges, including corruption and bribery, because she voted in favor of a developer who supported her campaign through affiliated corporations.
The trial court initially threw these charges out, reasoning Talabisco did not receive any “pecuniary or other benefit not authorized by law,” because the contribution went to her campaign rather than to her personally.
But in the case State v. Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco, the Fourth District Court of Appeal changed the conventional wisdom of Florida politics when it reinstated the charges and held that “the definition of ‘benefit’ in (Florida’s Corruption statutes) is broad enough to include receiving assistance in her election effort.”
The Fourth District also disagreed with the mayor’s argument campaign contributions may never constitute bribes because they are “authorized by law,” explaining that such a reading of the Florida statutes would lead to “absurd results.”
That left the question of “whether Talabisco obtained the benefit in exchange for an affirmative public policy vote.” This, the court concluded, is an issue of “intent,” which is a question of fact that must be presented to a “fact-finder to resolve.”
Bottom line? The charges stand and the case must to go to the jury!
To gain a conviction, the state must establish a “quid pro quo.” But the Fourth District also made that easier by adopting a federal court holding that “‘there is no requirement that this (quid pro quo) agreement be memorialized in a writing, or even ... be overheard by a third party.’ Although ‘the agreement must be explicit ... there is no requirement that it be express.’ … ‘To hold otherwise ... would allow defendants to escape criminal liability through ‘knowing winks and nods.’ ”
That means we don’t have to produce a “smoking gun” to bring charges and gain a conviction. We can use circumstantial evidence, such as the timing of events or politicians saying one thing and then voting in accordance with the money, or taking actions without proper review.
Sounds a lot like the unprecedented 30-year, no-bid leases given to Big Sugar in 2013 and the Legislature’s lightning-fast amendment of House Bill 999 in 2013 when Big Sugar needed to eliminate a lawsuit seeking to void those leases.
Talabisco appealed this ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which recently refused to hear the case. That means the lower-court ruling stands.
Sadly, criminal charges may be the only effective weapon “we the people” have left in this war for Florida’s future.
We should start an investigation: review emails, piece together timelines and reach out to potential whistle blowers.
Maybe even hire an investigator. When we have enough circumstantial and direct evidence to convince a jury that sugar money is buying votes, prosecutors should file charges.
Maybe then they’ll listen.
Former Martin County Commissioner Mary E. Dawson is a retired attorney who worked for the Fourth District Court of Appeal for 14 years. She is the author of two historical novels, one of which, “The River Way Home,” is set on the St. Lucie and Indian rivers in 1914. Mary E. Dawson
Case law offers a way to fight back against Big Sugar's influence on politicians.
Posted 1 day, 4 hours agoMary E. Dawson: Time to use legal options to counter Big Sugar's influence View this post
YIKES! This poll is saying 82% would RE-ELECT Florida politicians who are AGAINST buying the Sugar Lands to save the Everglades - please come vote!
ps: the wording is a little tortuous - VOTE NO - I WON'T re-elect politicians who are against the Sugar Lands buy to save the Everglades
Lawmakers hold the power to decide whether or not to buy land to divert polluted water away from the Indian River Lagoon.
Posted 1 day, 21 hours agoPoll: Re-elect Florida politicians who choose not to support U.S. Sugar land purchase? View this post
Everglades Coalition updated their cover photo.
Everglades Action Day 2015
Posted 3 days, 5 hours ago View this post