New, cheaply-produced attacks on former Broward Mayor Ken Keechl were funded by individuals tied to a company once banned from doing business with Broward County. The attacks on Keechl were produced by the A Better Florida political committee. David DiPietro is listed as the chairman and treasurer of A Better Florida. DiPietro claims to be the “political guru” behind Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca.
The two web-based videos from A Better Florida attack Keechl for being successful. The first video, entitled “Humble Ken,” bashes Keechl for owning more than one house. LaMarca allies have repeatedly claimed Keechl does not live in District 4. Keechl has recently moved into a home in the Coral Ridge section of Fort Lauderdale. This house lies within District 4. When LaMarca raised this bogus charge during a debate on Local 10 News, Keechl reminded viewers that LaMarca is facing foreclosure on his Lighthouse Point home after failing to make payments since October 2010.
In the second video, A Better Florida attacks Keechl for telling an audience that he never intended to become a politician. After moving to Fort Lauderdale after law school, Keechl said he just wanted to be a trial lawyer and “make money.” The makers of the video appear shocked anyone would rather make money by working instead of going into politics. DiPietro is also an attorney.
In September, DiPietro admitted A Better Florida was helping Chip LaMarca. “A Better Florida is an ECO (Electioneering Communications Organization) set up to support Chip LaMarca.” DiPietro candidly explained to Buddy Nevins at BrowardBeat.com. Nevins noted many LaMarca contributions came from individuals and businesses associated with the North Broward Hospital District (Broward Health). DiPietro is the appointed chairman of Broward Health.
Several contributors to A Better Florida do business with Broward Health. However, the most troubling contributions come from people associated with a company once banned from doing business with Broward County.
“A few hours before the corporate Christmas party in December 2005, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office came to collect Cliff Berry II. They hauled him off on six felony counts, including fraud, racketeering, and grand theft.” The Broward Palm Beach New Times reported in 2009. “Another blow to the Yuletide cheer: The company itself, Cliff Berry Inc., would also face felony charges.” Prosecutors alleged Cliff Berry Inc. had been bribing Miami Dade International Airport workers. The company had a contract for the removal of groundwater contaminated by jet fuel. Cliff Berry was acquitted but Cliff Berry Inc. was found guilty of grand theft. A Miami-Dade judge banned the company from seeking government contracts.
But as Thomas Francis reported in the New Times, Cliff Berry Inc. got a makeover and landed a Broward County contract. “Trucks got a coat of paint and a new logo for a company called Everglades Waste Removal Services. Aside from the aesthetic differences, the company also got a new leader: Cliff Berry Sr., the 78-year-old father of Cliff Berry II.That rebranding equaled forgiveness. Port Everglades awarded the new company a waste-removal franchise.”
Port Everglades saw no issue in awarding the contract to Berry. Everglades Waste Removal Services landed the contract just three months before being convicted. Port Director Phil Allen told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “We see them as completely separate entities.”
Months later, Francis reported Cliff Berry Inc. was still involved in MIA waste water. He received a tip Cliff Berry Inc. was working with Port Consolidated, the new contractor for airport wastewater. An employee of Cliff Berry Inc. denied any knowledge of Port Consolidated.
But Francis called “Allied Aviation, the company that operates the MIA fuel farm where Port Consolidated trucks pick up the dirty fuel, would know where those trucks take it. ‘They take it to Cliff Berry,’ answered Thomas Doherty, of Allied Aviation, in a matter-of-fact tone. I asked him how sure he was of this, and he said it was possible that Port Consolidated ‘changed vendors in the last month,’ but as far as he knew the stuff has always been going to Cliff Berry.”
Francis called the actions of Cliff Berry Inc., “A truly brilliant piece of corporate skullduggery.”
In January 2012, the Third District Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Cliff Berry Inc. after finding the Judge did not properly instruct the jury.
According to October financial reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections, A Better Florida received contributions from Phoenix Remediation Group LLC and Kathy S. Dalton.
State of Florida records show Phoenix Remediation Group LLC is owned by Cliff Berry II.
Kathy S. Dalton is the operations manager of Everglades Waste Removal Services.
Chip LaMarca has repeatedly claimed the growth of Port Everglades is his top priority.