Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne resigned Tuesday after agreeing to plead guilty to federal tax evasion and mail fraud charges after a corruption investigation uncovered crimes in his outside business dealings, federal prosecutors said.
The plea deal came as Jenne faced a possible grand jury indictment on more serious money-laundering charges, and it likely will mean at least a year in prison for the longtime force in state Democratic politics.
Under the agreement signed Friday, Jenne will plead guilty to three counts of tax evasion and one count of mail fraud conspiracy, U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.
“Ken Jenne has been a staple of South Florida government for decades. For many years, he served Broward County well,” Acosta said. “But he stayed too long, and in the end, he lost sight of what it means to serve the public.”
The total involved in the wrongdoing amounted to more than $80,000, including payments made from sheriff’s office vendors to Jenne’s secretaries, who arranged for the money to go to his personal accounts.
Jenne made his resignation official Tuesday morning in an e-mail to his employees and in a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist.
“I need to turn my attention to myself and my family,” Jenne wrote in the e-mail.
$700 million operation
Jenne, 60, has been sheriff of Florida’s second-most-populous county since his appointment in 1998 by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. He was re-elected in 2000 and 2004 to run an agency that has about 6,300 employees and an annual budget of nearly $700 million.
On Tuesday, Crist named as acting sheriff Maj. Alfred Lamberti, a 29-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. The governor told reporters he would look for a permanent replacement to serve the rest of Jenne’s term through 2008.
“This is a huge job,” Crist said. “I mean, the sheriff of Broward County is a big deal, and I want to do what’s right by the people of Broward County.”
Jenne was due in federal court Wednesday, though he might not enter the plea until a later hearing.
The resignation and guilty plea means that Jenne also would likely lose his license to practice law and would be barred from seeking public office in the future. It could also affect his state pension.
Jenne’s attorney, David Bogenschutz, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.
Probe launched after news reports
State and federal investigations were launched after news reports of Jenne’s outside business activities.
Among the witnesses called before a federal grand jury was developer Phillip Procacci, who owns a building that leases space to the sheriff’s office and to a federal-state drug task force.
According to court documents filed Tuesday, Procacci loaned $20,000 to one of Jenne’s secretaries, who in turn loaned it to Jenne to help the sheriff pay his income taxes in 2004. Procacci’s attorney, Edward O’Donnell Jr., said that his client thought the money was for the secretary and that there was no link between the sheriff’s office lease and the loan.
Procacci and Jenne’s two secretaries are not charged with any wrongdoing.