By C. Ron Allen
Delray Beach Tribune
Boynton Beach Mayor Jose Rodriguez was arrested on Thursday on multiple corruption charges following an investigation by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office public corruption unit.
Rodriguez, 49, was charged with accepting unlawful compensation for official behavior, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He also was charged with solicitation to commit unlawful disclosure of confidential criminal information, and resisting or obstructing a law enforcement officer, both first-degree misdemeanors punishable by a year in jail.
Bail was set at $8,000 and he has a 9 a.m. first appearance before a judge on Friday.
Accompanied by his attorney, Rodriguez, sporting his trademark sun glasses, a blue plaid shirt and khakis turned himself into the Palm Beach County Jail around 5:30 p.m.
Rodriguez declined to comment but his attorney Kenneth D. Lemoine said “the charges speak for themselves.”
“Mayor Jose Rodriguez has served his community well for the past five years,” he said in a prepared statement. “He has always had the best interest of the City at hand, and has fought for the rights of the citizens.”
Investigators painted a picture of the mayor as a volatile and bullying figure who has a penchant for berating city officials.
The charges stem from multiple incidents including an August incident where Rodriguez tried to use his influence as mayor to obstruct an abuse investigation by Boynton Beach police and child welfare officials into his treatment of his estranged wife and her child, according to the arrest report.
Investigators also said he bullied police officers and offered the city’s interim City Manager Lori LaVerriere a full-time job in exchange for her help in interrupting the probe.
LaVerriere told the investigator that Rodriguez wanted her to question police about why they were investigating him, which she refused to do, according to the arrest report.
Rodriguez also took LaVerriere aside after discussing his displeasure with a police and told her: “It is your job to protect the mayor and commission, and I’m not feeling protected,” LaVerriere said Rodriguez told her, according to the arrest documents.
As she was leaving the vacant office in which the exchange occurred, the mayor said: “And in return you will get the same” – evidence, authorities said, that he attempted to influence LaVerriere’s decision-making.
“LaVerriere understood the mayor’s statement to mean that if she protected him regarding the criminal investigation, he would support her for the permanent city manager position,” the arrest report says.
During the investigation, Rodriguez screamed through the phone at G. Matt Immler, according to the report.
Immler declined to comment when reached at his office Thursday.
Immler told a State Attorney’s Office investigator that Rodriguez called him on Nov. 17 and screamed at him for officers trying to contact his wife as part of the child abuse investigation.
“Chief Immler stated that during that call, Mayor Rodriguez invoked his status as the Mayor and told the chief to stop pursuing the criminal investigation and to stop trying to contact his wife,” the arrest report says. “Chief Immler stated that there was no doubt that Mayor Jose Rodriguez was using his position as Mayor to intimidate him and the police department into stopping the investigation of the Mayor.”
Rodriguez’s attorney, Lemoine, accounts differed.
Recently when residents began to question the mayor about problems in the police department and officers being arrested, Rodriguez brought the issue to the city commission in hopes of improving the police department, according to the memo.
“The city commission voted to take on a review of the police department based on Mayor Rodriguez’s initiative,” the statement read. “That review has yet to get started.”
According to the memo, the charges are baseless and Rodriguez plans to fight them.
“Today Mayor Rodriguez is paying for standing up for his community and the citizens of Boynton Beach,” the statement read. “Mayor Rodriguez is innocent of all these charges and will enter a plea of not guilty and will vigorously fight these charges.”
Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said in a statement that the allegations involve an elected official using his position and status as mayor to intimidate law enforcement in order to protect himself from scrutiny.
“The alleged abuse of power also included using a mayor’s access to others in government to obtain confidential criminal investigative information – about a pending investigation into the mayor’s private conduct,” according to the statement. “Of course, these allegations center on using power to avoid scrutiny and accountability.”
Rodriguez was seen in and out of City Hall on Thursday.
Three ranking city officials and several employees expressed no remorse after they learned of his impending fate early Thursday.
“You can’t go around and crap on people and expects that everything is going to go well,” one employee said. “He is the mayor and he didn’t give a damn about the employees of this city.”
Rodriguez was elected to the city commission in 2006 and served one term as District Three commissioner from November 2006 to March 2010. He was sworn in as mayor in March of last year.
His tenure was often punctuated by bitter and cantankerous fights.
The former Boynton Community Redevelopment Agency director Lisa Bright sued the city in March 2011, claiming that Rodriguez pushed her out as the head of the CRA for “rejecting his sexual advances.”
And in a meeting last year, several city officials accused Rodriguez of assaulting then City Manager Kurt Bressner following a staff meeting. Bressner resigned shortly after.
In December 2011, he sued a political enemy, David Floering claiming Floering had spread lies since he lost a city towing contact competition last year.
In the suit, Rodriguez said that Floering asked area merchants to post signs in their stores critical of Rodriguez. Floering erected a billboard at a lot on Federal Highway and posted a sign on a trailer; both accused the mayor of tax fraud and “pay to play.”
Floering also erected similar signs on one of his tow trucks and drove around the city with it. He also repeated the allegations on the Dick Farrel radio show on WDJA-AM 1420.
“He will get his jail time soon enough I promise that” wrote Floering, who signed his real mane in an entry on a newspaper web site. “You and the rest of the PAY to PLAY gang will go to Jail just like Mary McCarty,” a former Palm Beach County Commissioner.
In August, the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics dismissed as “legally insufficient” an allegation by Floering that Rodriguez dodged taxes on two suburban West Palm Beach lots owned by his real estate firm.
“The complainant has no personal knowledge that the (mayor) used his official position to attain personal financial benefit,” the panel concluded.
Floering however intensified the crusade against Rodriguez. He amassed more than two banker’s boxes of documents about alleged wrongdoings by the mayor.
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