The controversial program that allows private companies to fund certain prosecutors at the State Attorney’s office has received a blow below the waterline and seems to be foundering.
We reported several weeks ago on an unusual contract entered into by the State Attorney by which the private companies, Guidance/Care Center (GCC) and Monroe County Coalition (MCC), were paying over $ 50,000 for the salary of a special DUI prosecutor.
The deal appeared disturbing in light of the fact that GCC receives money for court ordered treatment directly from people convicted of DUI.
State Attorney Catherine Vogel vehemently defended the deal as being perfectly legal. On US 1 Radio she claimed that the money was public money obtained from another non-profit group, the South Florida Behavioral Health Network (SFBHN).
But a few days later rumor had it that she was terminating the contract.
“I knew that deal was wrong says local defense attorney,” Jiulio Margalli, “so when I heard that Catherine Vogel was thinking of terminating the program I asked her to put it in writing.”
Margalli has a unique problem with the “private” prosecutor: the man hired for the job is Nick Trovato, an attorney who previously handled DUI cases in Margali’s law firm. “Trovato is now prosecuting his former clients,” says Margalli.
Catherine Vogel failed to answer Margalli’s request for a written commitment, so on Wednesday he filed a petition in Monroe County Circuit Court asking a Judge to declare the private funding of prosecutors illegal and unconstitutional.
So what’s the big deal anyway? Who doesn’t want more prosecutions of dangerous drunk drivers? Well, it’s not really about drunk driving anymore. It’s more like some sort of puzzling riddle about who our newly elected State Attorney is.
Why has Catherine Vogel so vehemently insisted that nothing is wrong?
The final blow to her untenable position was made public yesterday. A letter from SFBHN President and CEO John Dow notified her that the contract was terminated. Apparently SFBHN (the organization that granted the money to GCC and MCC) disapproves of this use of the money.
“We have decided that we prefer these funds to go to treatment rather than prosecution of offenders,” wrote John Dow.
Nobody is questioning the State Attorney’s commitment, but the projection of integrity is sometimes as important as integrity itself.
Catherine Vogel proclaimed on US 1 Radio that Attorney General Pam Bondi had somehow “dismissed” Margalli’s accusations. But KWTN received a copy of a letter from the office of the Attorney General stating that they had not made any determination as to the legality of the private funding of Vogel’s prosecutors.
We asked the State Attorney to send us a copy of the grant that she claimed was the legal basis for the funding. After a week of hide and seek, she finally admitted her office never had a copy of the grant.
So how could she be so sure the money was being used for an authorized purpose?
The strange part is that the infamous contract refers to an “Exhibit 1″:
“Copies of the SFBHN administered grants are attached hereto and made a part herof as if done so verbatim as collective Exhibit 1,” the contract states.
But Vogel’s copy has no attachment.
“Those people are lawyers,” says Margalli, “attachments are part of the contract and nobody signs a contract without looking at the attachments.”
So, what’s in those mysterious grants that no one wants us to see?