Broward School Board Member Stephanie Kraft, 54, was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for charges relating to alleged corruption. Arrested with her was her husband, Mitch Kraft, age 58. Both were released on bond late Monday.
The Krafts are the latest targets of a public corruption sweep being conducted by the Broward State Attorney’s Office. They are also the most recent targets created by the recent prosecution of Bruce and Shawn Chait.
In essence, the prosecution’s case comes down to the claim that the Krafts took advantage of Stephanie’s political position as a School Board member for personal financial gain. For their alleged illegal conduct, both are facing charges for unlawful compensation, bribery, and conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation. Stephanie is also charged with official misconduct since she was a public officer.
According to news reports, the Krafts are accused of illegally helping Bruce and Shawn Chait save approximately $500,000 in fees relating to the development of 700 homes in Broward County. Specifically, the fees in question are called “mitigation fees,” which are assessed to compensate the School Board for the added cost of educating the mass of new students created when a developer builds a new community.
Prosecutors claim that Mitch Kraft was paid $10,000 to help the Chaits gain access to Stephanie’s influence in the school board. It is alleged that in exchange for the $10,000 paid to her husband, Stephanie was able to get the matter concerning the mitigation fees placed on the School Board’s agenda. The School Board then voted 6-0 to approve the fee waiver.
What is odd about this case is that Stephanie Kraft’s alleged misconduct appears to be limited to placing the item on the agenda and then failing to disclose her husband’s connection to the Chaits.
It is extremely important to emphasize that Stephanie Kraft did not vote on the matter herself.
As a criminal defense lawyer I think this one fact is essential.
While Stephanie Kraft may have abused her political influence to give the Chaits the benefit of having their matter voted on by the School Board, which sounds pretty corrupt, it is not as though she fixed the vote or even participated in the vote herself.
Unless prosecutors have evidence that Kraft personally influenced the vote, such as from internal School Board emails, text messages, or other recordings, it seems as though this entire case may come down to claims made by the Chaits.
If that is the case, prosecutors may not have a strong argument to make. For those that are unaware, the Chaits have been cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to unlawful compensation charges themselves… which is the same charge the Krafts are facing.
This case may ultimately boil down to a bunch of corrupt real-estate developers snitching on public officials that they may have known in an innocent capacity just to save their own skin.
Few things irk me more than public corruption. But to have a positive effect on our community, prosecutors need to go forward on solid cases. They need to prosecute cases that have reliable evidence. Going forward on a prosecution which is based essentially on the unverified claims of another criminal makes no sense.
Why should we believe a convicted criminal, who was given a sweetheart plea bargain in exchange for testimony, over a person who is merely accused of a crime and who maintains their innocence? How ass-backward is that?
What is the criteria for choosing which criminals provide reliable testimony? Why do prosecutors only believe criminals when they are testifying for the prosecution? Why aren’t people believable when they testify for themselves or refuse to be a snitch? Sounds like a double standard to me.
Personally, the only time I would every believe a snitch’s testimony is if it was verified by other evidence.
Candidly, I am not privy to the prosecution’s evidence in this case. In reality, they may actually have other evidence that verifies the claims made by the Chaits. As a defense lawyer, my radar immediately lights up when I hear that an essential aspect of any prosecution is based solely on the testimony of a criminal snitch. Unless that testimony is verifiable, such as with audio recordings (as is common in drug cases) or other evidence, such as emails, then I personally would not believe a single word said by the snitch.
For the sake of our community, I sure hope the prosecution can prove its allegations with solid evidence, because that is what we deserve and nothing less.